The Insectarium’s mobile application: a companion that makes sense

Two youth consult the Insectarium mobile app to identify the naturalized insects.
Credit: Space for Life / Mélanie Dusseault
Deux jeunes consultent l’application mobile de l’Insectarium pour identifier les insectes.
  • Deux jeunes consultent l’application mobile de l’Insectarium pour identifier les insectes.
  • L'application Espace pour la vie permet de faire des découvertes supplémentaires lors de votre passage à l'Insectarium de Montréal.
  • L'application Espace pour la vie vous propose des contenus additionnels étonnants et vous offre un outil d'identification à portée de main.
  • Dans le Grand Vivarium, une fonction de reconnaissance visuelle identifie les papillons et coléoptères en liberté, simplement en prenant leur photo.
The Insectarium’s mobile application: a companion that makes sense

A mobile application as part of a museum visit that aims to bring humans closer to nature? The idea may sound like a contradiction. The experience offered at the Insectarium, inspired by the principle of biophilia, takes place by way of the senses. The use of screens, on the other hand, is better known as something that disconnects us from our environment, even from ourselves. So how do we get the maximum potential out of the tool while avoiding pitfalls? The adopted strategy had us going against the current of the normal reflexes of digital production.

Discrete and contrary

As a starting point, there was an obvious golden rule: continually redirect the public’s attention towards the real visit experience, outside the screen. That unusual position called for some rather unorthodox choices.

First, the content relating to the visited area appears automatically and exclusively thanks to Bluetooth detection. Besides ensuring consistency with the experience at every moment, the process aims to reduce the time and effort devoted to browsing. In a word, the fewest possible clicks to access the appropriate content.

The information presented, in a concise way, concentrates on the specific themes that arise in the course of the visit. It’s intended to be complementary, trying not to repeat what the public can observe, like an insect’s color or size. Rather, it invites visitors to take a closer look at that insect, and in so doing foster a new relationship with it. Also forget about links to social networks as well as games or other quizzes that might take up too much of a visitor’s focus!

The virtual-visit companion, in other words, conducts itself discretely. It merges as much as possible into the sensory experience: even in the visual interface that reproduces its spatial references, in its tone, or in its light intensity in dimly lit areas.

Simple yet substantial

This apparent simplicity nevertheless hides a considerable amount of information: the app makes it possible to identify all the live and naturalized insects encountered during the visit, meaning the possibility of 1,600 species! By doing so it responds to the desire most often expressed by the public: to know the name of what they’re observing.

In the Great Vivarium, a visual-recognition feature identifies the butterflies and beetles at liberty, simply by taking their photo. And better yet, the algorithm developed will constantly improve with the new pictures taken during its use.

A few figures are enough to convey the scope of the detailed information in the app: 42 themes explained, targeted facts or breeding anecdotes for the 130 insects featured on the visit, 900 photos, 72 showcases and some 2,500 specimens from the naturalized collection on display. A job that took more than a little while and that required the collaboration of more than a few people to document, illustrate, photograph, write, translate, validate and finally enter the data.

An effort, moreover, that’s continuing, because since it was launched, the app has already seen its content evolve. And that content will carry on adapting to the rhythm of the life cycle of the insects in Tête-à-tête, the specimens recently identified in the Dome, or the new species released in the Great Vivarium.

A suspected accomplice

The Insectarium museum experience is aimed at transforming the way we look at insects and at encouraging us to act on behalf of their preservation. At the end of the visit, the mobile app moreover invites the public to take up the Biodiversity Challenge, a community-science initiative. In channeling its thousands of identifications and its substantial content, the app makes it possible to devote the entire visit space to immersion and to a sensory encounter with the insects. Let’s hope that with its non-invasive and intimate approach, it turns into an accomplice in the desired transformation.

Before visiting the Insectarium, don’t forget to download the app:

Get it on Google Play Download on the App Store

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