GLAMi nomination: Headhunt!

nominated by: Gillian Raymond, National Portrait Gallery, Canberra, Australia
institution: National Portrait Gallery, Canberra, Australia
category: Museum-Wide Guide or Program

Headhunt! is an interactive Gallery experience for visitors aged 7-15 (and their adults!) connecting participants with each other and our portraits. The experience encourages the kids to take the lead and independently explore the Gallery, to look closely at the portraits that intrigue them and to delve into the artistic elements of the work and the stories of the people featured. At the end of the exploration, a report is generated containing the content (text, image and audio recordings) created by the participants which is then able to be shared with their teachers/carers/parents during their Gallery visit or as a post-visit activity emailed to the supervising adult.

Children ‘tap’ connect their iPad to their adult’s and are then free to explore the galleries. Their progress is delivered to the supervisor’s iPad in real-time. The teachers or parents’ version of the app allows them to locate their children in the galleries, monitor their progress and research the portraits selected by the children online. Teachers and parents can message their children through the app with questions about their selected portraits, suggestions for places to meet when they are finished for conversations about the experience or even something as simple as reminding them not to get too close to the artworks.  There is a third version of the app for NPG supervising staff which enables us to turn galleries on or off, depending on rehangs or maintenance, and the ability to message either the teachers or supervising adults or the children, or both.

While Headhunt! can be a solo activity (one child and an adult or adults), one of the most innovative aspects of the app is that it encourages interactivity, conversation and discovery between children in a group, be it others on a school excursion, or siblings or friends. The experience is designed to drive the children to look closely at the artworks rather than the device and engage in interactive discussion about portraiture, firstly with other members of the group and then with their teachers/carers. We’re particularly proud of the fact that the technology doesn’t encroach on the experience as the tech build is actually extremely complex!

The tech build of Headhunt! includes;

  • iBeacons to locate and guide participants through the galleries
  • Bluetooth to link the supervisor’s iPad to the children
  • Image recognition software (Catchoom) to serve further information about the portraits the participants are interested in
  • CloudKit so carers can receive a real-time feed about the portraits their children are exploring
  • push notifications so National Portrait Gallery staff and teachers can interact with their children throughout the experience and
  • post-visit activities emailed to the participants.

When designing Headhunt! we had hoped that it would give unfacilitated visiting groups with children a deeper and more engaging experience then they might otherwise have if exploring unaided, but we’ve been blown away by the responses we’ve received to the app. We now have hoards of happy, engaged kids independently exploring the galleries (a bit of a culture shock for our security staff!) and directing their own learning. Headhunt! has exceeded all our expectations.