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Students Build AR Storytelling App for Vancouver Chinatown Foundation

Apr 04, 2018 By Crissy Campbell

In the second semester of the Master of Digital Media program, MDM students work in teams on Industry Projects where they are assigned a client and problem they have to help their client solve. Throughout the term, students develop prototypes or applications from concept to deliverable. Industry projectswith their hands-on, real-world experienceform the basis of the Master of Digital Media program.

Back in January, six MDM students were matched with the Vancouver Chinatown Foundation and the Chinatown Story Centre to help them find ways to use digital media to tell their stories in the museum. We sat down with the team to find out more about their project, their solution and what they’ve learned working with AR.

The Problem

We were paired up with the Vancouver Chinatown Foundation and the Chinatown Storytelling Centre. The Chinatown Storytelling Centre is the first museum of its kind in Canada, dedicated to sharing the story of the Chinese Canadian journey. 

The challenge is that they are trying to tell a big story in a small space. There are many stories and images that the musuem can’t display because there is no physical room to showcase them.

The Solution

To solve this problem, we created an app called Hidden Stories that is an AR storytelling experience. Visitors to the museum can use their phone to hover over placemarkers and get more information about stories behind the artifacts.

The app adds a digital layer to the museum and expands the space.

The museum hasn’t built the actual exhibit area yet, which adds another challenge to our team because AR is really dependant on the physical area of where it’s used. So a lot of things—like where we place the markers, what images we’re working with in the surrounding area—haven’t been determined yet. This means that much of the work we’re doing is based on assuming what’s going to happen.

The Chinatown Storytelling Centre has a ton of different things they’re not able to show in the permanent exhibit and this is a solution to that problem.

The Deliverable

Our app will be delivered as a proof of concept. Since the client is a non-profit organization, they’re hoping to get a grant to continue developing the app and also show the digital possibilities to other museums.

At the end of semester, we’ve agreed to deliver:

Within the app:

  • 3 stories provided by the client
  • A progress indicator page 

Outside of the app:

  • Video trailer
  • Design and tech guidelines
  • Information for museum visitors on how to use the app

What Did You Learn?

So much!

Working with AR was a totally new experience. It’s a very new space.

Wilson Tang from Yumebau came in and explained to us how to design user experience for AR. We had to learn the pipeline of working with AR, which is so different than building a website. It’s not page by page but frame by frame.

Whenever you’re creating a wireframe or a mockup for a website you can visualize it in your mind because it’s in 2D. But with AR you’re dealing with 3D space AND the physical space around where it’s being used—for example, how many steps people take when using the app, how tall they are...there are a lot of other aspects that have to come into the design.

We learned how to provide a mockup based on the context of the technology.

Client’s Reaction

“Naturally, we were intrigued by the opportunity to work with the CDM students on using technology to add to our square footage of storytelling space.

 We had a great experience working with the students. They were a good team with each person bringing a different talent to our project. They were engaged and responded as if we were real clients.

 In the end, we were thrilled with the final product. It was cool looking, it was useful, and it added value to our space and to the visitor experience. A bonus is that it accomplished all this through a relatively inexpensive financial investment on our part.

Our aim is to expand on the tools that CDM gave us. Right now, we have three hidden stories built into the app. We would like to expand this to at least 10 stories. The CDM students have given us a good start. We highly recommend other organizations consider collaborating with this program.”

- Catherine Clement Curator, Special Exhibitions, Chinatown Storytelling Centre

Watch the Trailer For the AR App Hidden Stories