“Creatures of Light” – iPad App – AMNH 2012

“Creatures of Light” – iPad App – AMNH 2012

“Creatures of Light” – iPad App – AMNH 2012

Creatures of Light” is an OS application developed as part of the exhibition of the same name at the American Museum of Natural History. It explores bioluminescent creatures and the scientific phenomena that causes them to glow. The gallery offers a fully immersive experience where visitors “talk” to fireflies, “swim” between dinoflagelates and explore the fluorescent creatures that live in a coral reef. Evocative landscapes are filled with large murals, dioramas, models and interactive projections.

Nominated for the Webby Awards 2013

The app, distributed along the exhibition through fixed ipads in each section, adds a dynamic layer of interpretation filled with a rich collection of animations, videos and small interactives.

Design Considerations

Designing an iPad-based experience for “Creatures of Light” presented curious challenges. The exhibition is highly immersive, so the presence of digital information had to be designed in a very unobtrusive way. Michael Meister, Cine Ostrow, David Clinard and Amy Vlastelika- our Design Director and his design team- created a space filled with beautiful environments to immerse visitors in the world of luminescent creatures while distributing the ipads along the show, repeated in clusters at specific locations.

Users would have to access information from different points in the narrative, and would have have to access them from both the gallery’s graphics and from the iPads. They would have to interact with the digital content while standing, in an immersive gallery filled with magical landscapes. We didn’t want these experiences to compete, but to support each other. Therefore, we needed to make both –the gallery experience and the digital content- equally magical and fulfilling.

We made sure the content was sequential, but not overly narrative. While there is a first introductory page, visitors can enter the section from any point. For this, the Editorial team of Margaret Dornfield, JoAnn Gutin and Stuart Fox, led by Sasha Nemecek, wrote the content in independent modules. To avoid going back and forth, we connected both ends of the section and made a loop (see my storyboard below).

Users would scroll through the content by sliding sideways, creating a horizontal looping band. This band would be composed by about 8 content units, that snap to a position like the passing of a page. Additionally, vertical pages would be added when the stories needed more depth. Harry Borrelli and I worked together at designing all the structure, interaction and user experience, providing guidance with the UI during the graphic development. We also planed this navigation to minimize the coding effort, creating interaction units that worked as templates and were repeated along the app. Our fantastic programming team Patrick O’Shaughnessey, Brian Ronan worked in the back end of the project.

Each content unit would be presented in different ways, sometimes as text and pictures, but more often as animations, clickable displays, photo albums or videos. We call these interaction units “hot spots”. These hotspots would have a common programming background, but would be presented with different interfaces, allowing us to create as many as we needed without burdening the coding part of our production. We ended up having six types of hotspots: Looping video, clickable video, scroller and a simple Clicker configirable in many ways, including sequential photo albums.

A very special element of the app would be the use of interactive animations. These features would be controlled by a slider to tell the story of natural processes in the world of bioluminescense, either by narrating chemical sequences, or by displaying behavioral dynamics between the creatures. The movement of these animations ended up being the cherry on top of the cake. They make this app/e-book into something new. Camila Engelbert –Senior animator in my team- developed these sequences and went through a complex production process to allow a decent performance of the app.

Additionally, we knew that visitors combining messages from the different mediums in the gallery. They would be reading the graphic panels, getting cues from the architectural design and playing with the interactive experience. So the Graphics team –Elizabeth Anderson, Laura McBride and Dan Ownbey led by Catharine Weese- made sure to repeat elements between all the mediums, to align all the messages, reinforce specific concepts and unify the design. They were responsible for all the graphic interface and most of the illustrations, combining the app with the color palettes, typographic treatments and overall style of the show.

This is how ended up looking. The menu in the beginning was added later on, to prepare the app for public download.


American Museum of Natural History, 2012
“Creatures of Light”
iPad app
Scientific Advisors: John Sparks, David Gruber with Zachary Baldwin
Creative Direction/Project Lead: Helene Alonso, Catharine Weese, Sasha Nemecek
Communications: Eugenia Levinson, Robert Duffy
Interaction & Media Direction: Helene Alonso
Editorial Direction
: Sasha Nemecek
Art Direction:
Catharine Weese
Production Coordination:
Harry Borrelli, Dan Ownbey
UX Design: Helene Alonso, Harry Borrelli
Animation: Camila Engelbert
Video: Jill Bauerle, Karen Santiago
Patrick O’Shaughnessey, Brian Ronan
Licensing: Jose Ramos, Karen Santiago
Writing: Margaret Dornfeld, Stuart Fox, JoAnn Gutin
Graphic Design: Elizabeth Anderson, Camila Engelbert, Laura McBride, Dan Ownbey
Illustrations: Elizabeth Anderson, Laura McBride, Camila Engelbert
Assets Production: Molly Crickman
Housing design:
Michael Meister, Cine Ostrow, Amy Vlastelica

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