Ephemera Mobile App

A location-based app that tells a different story every time you visit. Blanton Museum of Art, 2017


Ephemera was the Blanton’s first-ever mobile app, designed in partnership with Best Fit Mobile. It was an experimental prototype that made use of iBeacons infrastructure that had been installed for a previous project. The app’s primary goal was to increase stay times for visitors in specific galleries.

As a visitor enters a gallery, she will receive a short message via her device’s lock screen. This message might be witty, poetic, informative, or even nonsensical. The message might encourage her to look for a specific detail in the gallery, or to perform some action. The message is specific to that gallery, and unique to that visitor. Another visitor arriving in that gallery might receive an entirely different message, or no message at all.

Throughout the course of a visit, these messages stack up to create a narrative that is unique to that visitor and that visit. The next time she returns to the museum, she’ll receive different messages in different galleries. In this way, the app creates a distinct and unique experience layer on top of a visit.


The messages themselves were written by a rotating four- to six-person cross-departmental team (typically the curator in charge of the gallery, an educator, a gallery assistant, a visitor services specialist, the social media manager, and me). The process involved bringing the team into the gallery, and starting a timer. The team would have five minutes to individually come up with as many messages as he or she could in that time, which they would write in longhand on Post-It notes. After five minutes, the team would reconvene and read the messages aloud to each other, editing them collectively in real time.

The process for adding the messages to the app was fairly straightforward. The messages would be transcribed and added to a CSV file. The messages would be matched to gallery codes in the CSV file and then uploaded to the Django-based CMS used for the back-end of the application.

Sample messages from the app

  • Do you feel the need to whisper more in this gallery than in others?
  • This Bill Viola piece is 82 minutes long, but you can get the full effect by watching for a mere 79 minutes.
  • The dense arrangement of paintings in this gallery resembles the way most paintings were hung before the 20th Century.
  • Pairs of people. Arm-in-arm. Hand-in-hand. Side by side. In the ring.
  • Find one wall label, and actually read the entire thing.

Project URL: Ephemera Mobile App