THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Innovation and enterprise blog

19 December 2017

Smartify: an image recognition app that's changing the art world

Smartify user scanning Paul Emsley’s portrait of HRH The Duchess of Cambridge (2012)
Smartify user scanning Paul Emsley’s portrait of HRH The Duchess of Cambridge (2012)

 

Whether you're an art aficionado, or just an occasional culture buff, we have just the app for you. Smartify is a free gallery guide that launched earlier this year at the Royal Academy of Arts in London and is already in use in over 30 major galleries and museums around the world. It lets you scan a work of art with your smartphone and uncover the story behind it, revealing the title, artist and background to the piece you're looking at. You can save a digital copy of the painting and create your own library, just like you would on Spotify for your favourite songs. The app will also recommend similar works at a nearby venue. 

The company hope their product will turn the perception of smartphones in galleries as an object of disruption on its head, and enable users to engage with artwork in a more meaningful way instead.

We caught up with Anna Lowe, Director of Partnerships and co-founder of Smartify, to find out a bit more about their journey and hear how the Innovating for Growth programme helped Smartify scale up.

 

How did the idea for Smartify come about and did it take long to develop the app?

The Smartify co-founders have always loved visiting museums and seeing art. We also found that we developed a much deeper understanding and connection with an artwork when we learned about its context while looking at it. Imagine having an enthusiastic and knowledgeable friend telling you more about a work of art, and the extra enjoyment or connection that it brings. Finally, we were aware that there is disagreement around the etiquette of using digital devices in art galleries and wanted to reframe the use of mobile phones as engagement rather than distraction.

The development of the app is a constant process of user-centered design and improvement.

 

Smartify app demonstration
Smartify app demonstration

  

Smartify is now with some major galleries around the world. How easy (or hard) was it to have them buy into the concept?

Working with museums can be slow moving as it is a notoriously conservative sector with lots of internal stakeholders. However, as a social enterprise, part of Smartify's  mission is to support public arts organisations with audience reach and financial resilience. Our ambition therefore, is to build the platform in collaboration with museums and to evolve the arts sector for our digital economy and new cultural consumers.

 

What has been the businesses biggest achievement so far?

Apollo International Art Magazine selected Smartify as winner of the Digital Innovation Award 2017. After a really busy year it was a massive honour for the team and an indication of the impact we are starting to have in the sector.

 

Visitor scanning Rembrandt’s portrait of Herman Doomer (c.1595) with Open Access at The Met  NYC  2017
Visitor scanning Rembrandt’s portrait of Herman Doomer (c.1595) with Open Access at The Met, New York

 

What are your future plans for growth?

We are working to scale up our team to meet demand, to include more and more museums on the app, and to build new product features our users want!

When thinking of innovation in any sector, it is useful to consider the entire value chain and all the services, teams, people that might be impacted by the disruption. This approach has lead to what is called full-stack startups that look across all the different parts of the industry's/organisation's value chain and collaborate with partners and clients to identify solutions together.

Smartify user scanning Frans Hals’s The Laughing Cavalier (1624) at The Wallace Collection, London
Smartify user scanning Frans Hals’s The Laughing Cavalier (1624) at The Wallace Collection, London

 

How did Innovating for Growth help with Smartify?

The programme helped in lots of ways! It gave us the space to think about our company purpose and how to translate that into a sustainable business model. For example, when bringing ‘positive disruption’ into any sector is useful to consider the entire value chain and all the services, teams, people that might be impacted by the disruption. This approach has lead to what is called full-stack startups that look across all the different parts of the industry's/organisation's value chain and collaborate with partners and clients to identify solutions together. This model helps reframe some common obstacles as opportunities to differentiate yourself.

It was also brilliant to have access to the British Library’s extensive Business and IP library. It is an amazing resource for market research and ideas!

Finally, we made a few good friends on the Innovating for Growth* programme who are going through the same scale up challenges and who have been great people to bounce ideas off.

 

Ewa Domaradzka, Commercial Marketing Manager 

 

Innovating for Growth is a free three-month programme to help you turn your growth idea into a reality. Find out more here.

ERDF

This programme is fully-funded by the European Regional Development Fund and the British Library.

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