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Frida Kahlo Mobile Guide at NY Botanical Gardens

Entered in Virtual Reality


Every summer, the New York Botanical Gardens has a big exhibit, and for three years in a row now we've worked with them using money from a Bloomberg grant that aims to create interactive experiences with educational spaces. This summer, from May-November, NYBG was showing "Art.Garden.Life." an exhibit on Frida Kahlo that smashed attendance records for the gardens (even Beyonce turned out).Our task this year was to get users to engage with the garden in ways they never have before. To create not just an educational tool, but an experience. To feel as though you can reproduce Frida's work as you're guided through her story. Our Frida Kahlo Mobile Guide was just that: a guide for NYBG that allowed you to engage with the entire exhibit interactively instead of carrying a thick printed brochure and a big brick audio device with a necklace.

Strategy and Execution

To enhance the user experience at every stop of an exhibit, you first have to ensure everyone can access your experience. Instead of building a mobile app, we set out to design a mobile website for a multitude of reasons. First the expected age range for the exhibit was higher than the average age range known to download multiple apps to their phone. Second, connectivity at the garden is spotty. Without getting too much into the science of photosynthesis, plants absorb energy from the electromagnetic spectrum that slows wifi. Not a big deal if you have a plant or two on the windowsill in your apartment, but something to consider if you're in a flush garden with hundreds of internet connected visitors milling around. Third, we could save NYBG money by being cross platform without building an Android app or a tablet compatible app (NYBG has tablets on site for use).

Building the guide itself was an immersive UX experience. We conducted rounds and rounds of both user and stakeholder interviews to ensure every step of the guide was fluid and made sense to a broad audience. Because Frida Kahlo was Mexican, and the event was expected to have lots of Hispanic visitors (there were), the guide had to be bilingual.

And finally, the Frida selfie. To truly showcase all the elements of Frida's work (the plants, the animals, the eyebrows), and to truly immerse visitors in the exhibit and give them something sharable as a result, we built an app inside the guide that allowed anyone to take a selfie and decorate it with icons we drew inspired by Frida's work. The result? Your very own selfie, inspired by the original queen of the selfie.


A widely regarded success. Frida's exhibit now travels, headed to Tucson next.

A previous NYBG app (Wild Medicine, 2013) had a 27.67% bounce rate with the average visitor to the exhibit spending 2:42 engaging with it. Our Frida app had a 3% bounce rate with the average visitor to the exhibit spending 3:19 engaged. What's more, 47.3% of visitors of the Frida app came back more than once.

The selfie app was received so well that people outside NYBG began to interact with it (the guide is accessible everywhere). The app even garnered coverage separate from the exhibit coverage by outlets like Vulture ("Everyone Loves Frida Kahlo, So Why Not Just Become a Frida?").


Entrant Company / Organization Name

Madwell, NY Botanical Gardens


Entry Credits