The Meow Wolf pocket companion is your totally indispensable tool for traversing the Meow Wolf multiverse. I spent around a year as lead designer, with my team helping Meow Wolf to realise their first venture into the mobile market.


Meow Wolf had previously attempted to launch a mobile product, but due to eclectic nature of their offering and the many creative visionaries involved, they were unable to realise a clear vision of what that product could be.

Problem

Meow Wolf required assistance in refining and executing their many ideas. We flew out to the US to spend a week visiting two of their four locations to gather insights and talk to their customers.

This helped us prioritise some potential business opportunities and what users would expect from a Meow Wolf app.
Meow Wolf has its own universe, containing a mixture of art and performance with an interlinked narrative running throughout each exhibition. Exhibits are presented as something familiar however expectations are subverted at each. For example Omega Mart (Vegas) presents itself as real life supermarket. It’s not until you look closer at the products on the shelves (individual art pieces) you realise things aren’t as they seem.

The major challenge was how could we condense their rich and plentiful material into one mobile platform whilst maintaining the concept of subversion.

Research

Upon our return, we collated our findings and set about defining our users, their pain points and an extensive, unprioritised list of possible features to meet their needs.

We also explored the existing landscape with a competitor audit (a tough ask given Meow Wolf’s uniqueness), collated some visual inspiration from what we experienced onsite and began to plan the before, during and post visit experiences.

Exploration

We explored many containers for the app, which could exists on a mobile device but with a Meow Wolf twist. We explored concepts such as a Meow Wolf social network, a collaborative gallery in your pocket which would although users to contribute their own artwork.

Ultimately we settled on the concept of what would an OS look like from the Meow Wolf universe where nothing is as you’d expect (without hampering usability). This gave us the opportunity to house all their eclectic art, literature and sales opportunities within one platform. We produced a mock Home Screen with many apps or applets that launched various examples art, story and content.

Mission Statement

The Meow Wolf App is a subversive pocket portal that connects audiences deeper into imaginative realms of exploration, play and discovery

THE 'CONTAINER'

We explored many containers for the app, which could exist on a mobile device but with a Meow Wolf twist. We explored concepts such as a Meow Wolf social network, a collaborative gallery in your pocket which would allow users to contribute their own artwork.

Ultimately we settled on the concept of what would an OS look like from the Meow Wolf universe where nothing is as you’d expect (without hampering usability). This gave us the opportunity to house all their eclectic art, literature and sales opportunities within one platform. We produced a mock Home Screen with many apps or applets that launched various examples art, story and content.
We explored several visual styles for the OS homescreen based on the styles we’d observed on location in Vegas and Denver. These included themes based on vaporwave, retro digital UI such as Windows 98 and sci fi influenced interfaces.

The ultimate goals was to present something familiar to the user which would subvert their expectations, much like the Meow Wolf exhibitions.

MINI APPS

The OS concept afforded us the opportunity to produce several mini apps or applets which lived within the ‘MeOw-S’. These applets would serve as containers to present Meow Wolf’s content to it’s customers in a familiar (but subverted) medium.

Some of the earlier applet ideas included a social media app presented as a side scrolling, 8-bit game, a Siri-like companion AI to join you on your journey through the app and a calculator which didn’t function as you’d expect, with missing keys you’d have to find elsewhere in the app.

Gyre

One of the first applets we settled on was the Gyre.

Gyre is presented in exhibition as an intercom for an apartment/tenement building for 2,306,490,360,608 “unlisted residents” and 29 who are listed in the intercom directory.

Using the intercom with the correct directory code ‘connects’ you to one of the residents where you can then take a peek into their world.

We wanted to mimic Gyre’s interactivity and visual style as closely as we could on mobile. Therefore we created a skeuomorphic representation of the intercom and replicated the display into the mobile UX to serve the same video content to the app’s users.

SUBVERTING EXPECTATIONS & getting literal

Part of Meow Wolf’s charm is it’s unique weirdness and attention to detail. When visiting their exhibits nothing is at seems so we were keen to translate that experience into the digital experience. Although the app is presented with the familiarity of a mobile operating system, not everything is as it seems.

We explored this concept in some of the mini applets in an attempt to subvert user’s expectations and in some cases were quite literal in their presentation. As an example we presented the audio app as a radio station users could tune in to and control. We even explored a literal Ham Radio designed to look like a SPAM tin.

We were actually reigned at this point as the Meow Wolf team felt we were getting too weird, even for them!

Refining the OS visual style

One of the biggest challenges we faced was working with the many stakeholders involved on the Meow Wolf team. As they were primarily artists, we found visual ideation was the best way to communicate our ideas. We worked up extensive versions of how the app could look and behave, creating new and exciting interactions to push the envelope.

The final approach

Ultimately we landed on a visual style closer to the Meow Wolf brand seen in their other literature. The main driver behind this decision was to A) keep the app on brand and B) to enhance the concept of subverting expectations.

The home screen ultimately looks like a relatively ‘normal’ home screen but once you interact things aren’t what they seem.

We included audio and motion to suggest this, but it’s once the user really dives in they get the full Meow Wolf experience, that you would in the exhibits.

What did we achieve?

→ 10,000+ organic downloads since launch and prior to any marketing push.

→ Digitised and brought some of the Meow Wolf experience to users mobile devices.