Getty Unshuttered is an app that mixes a familiar photo sharing flow with a photography learning system - taught through a variety of gamification elements inspired in the best console games out there.

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About Getty

Getty Unshuttered is an initiative by The J. Paul Getty Trust (The Getty Museum, Getty Images, etc), that is one of the world's leading cultural and philanthropic organizations dedicated to the visual arts. They started the Unshuttered program as a way to teach teens the basics of photography - so they could, then, impact their communities through photographic activism, and impact their own lives taking photography as their future career.

Unshuttered 1.0

On the first phase of the program, they selected a small group of teens and taught them, in person, principles of photography. The Unshuttered app, then, was simply a way for them to publish their work and inspire others.

Unshuttered 2.0: the expansion

I was brought in as the UX Designer and UI Designer for phase 2 with a clear mission: teach the concepts of photography to anyone interested in the subject - be it someone that just want to take better selfies, someone aspiring to enhance their photography skills and shine as the next instagram influencer, all the way to users aspiring to be full on photographers. Teens were still the core audience, but the app would be open to anyone.

The Audience: Teens

Even though the app welcomes anyone interested in photography, the main target audience and focus of the initiative is still teens, as Getty understands impacting their lives today will have a bigger impact in the future of our society. Keeping that in mind, we then started brainstorming ways to teach the photography course program in a way that would be fun and seamless to this audience.

Photography Fundamentals Program

Low Level
High Level
Birdseye View
Eye Level

Rule of Thirds
Leading Lines

Shot Size
Extreme Closeup
Medium Shot
Long Shot
Extreme Long Shot

Natural Light
Artificial Light
Window Light
Light Color


The Skill Tree: a gaming inspired experience

It's a known fact that this generation spends a lot of time on their phones, and they are no strangers to a variety of mobile - and console - games. So, we decided to borrow from this medium and transform the learning experience into a fun experience, adding a few interconnected gamification elements.

The skill tree was the first of those elements: any video game player is instantly familiar to how this works. We took inspiration from the most recent and recognized games in the industry, like the Tomb Raider Series, Assassin's Creed, Final Fantasy, Watch Dogs 2, amongst others.

Skill Tree inspiration from games

Final Fantasy X

Assassin's Creed: Origins

Watch Dogs 2

Skill Tree Design Exploration

Vertical linear Design

Horizontal linear Design

Circular Design

Design Exploration

Some of the designs above were made before we knew what the program was going to be, as it was being developed while we were proposing design options. The initial vertical linear design was based on apps like Duolingo, that enforces a path for learning - that was not an ideal solution, since we wanted users to choose the path they want, just like they can do on games and learn the skills they are most interested on first. The horizontal design wouldn't offer a good way of visualizing the tree without scrolling. The circular design was the most promising - but once the program was defined, we learned that we wouldn't need a full circle to accommodate the learning categories: actually, we just needed half of a circle.

The Final Design

The new design uses a semi-circle, with each of the 5 categories connected to a central circle - the app icon - and each of them would allow for different paths and unique branching, some being linear, some enforcing a certain skill to be learned before you can move to the next one.

Final Skill Tree UX Design

Zoomed-out view

Zoomed-in View

Final Skill Tree Visual Design

Starting Point

Partial Completion

Fully Complete

Peer Review: Validating skill submissions

When discussing the dynamic of skill trees in gaming, we talked about how the game AI knows if a condition has been satisfied in order to award the player the skill points. This would be a more different task to accomplish for the Unshuttered app, since each skill would need a level of image recognition to award the points: if the skill challenge asks for a canted alignment, we can't award points for an image that doesn't show that type of composition.

We had two paths: have the Getty team manually check each submission, or hire an off-shore team to check the submissions and train them to do so. Both options were deemed too costly. A third path was then proposed: have the users of the app give back through peer review.

Once a user learns a skill, they are now enabled to judge other people's work. For example, if a user has mastered the skills for framing, closeup and low level, the app might ask them to review similar images and say if they are appropriate for the challenge. The app, then, will ask 3 or more users to check an image - and the image is approved with skill points assignment when a majority agrees.

Needs a 3 out of 5 saying "yes" to awards skill points and receive a checkmark

Challenges: the "Side Missions"

If the Skill Tree can be considered the main missions of this game, the Challenges would then be the side missions. To participate in a challenge, users have to have acquired the skills required, or sometimes have the appropriate level to participate. All rules are set by the Getty Team, in order to engage the app users and/or promote app utilization.

Types of Challenges

Theme Based
Post a number of pictures follwoing the established theme. Goal: encourage users to post more pictures

Time Based
Post a picture a day, for a determined time. Goal: increase app engagement

Skill Based
Acquired a set of skills from the Skill Tree before time runs out. Goal: encourage users to use the Skill Tree.

Other gamification elements

Besides the regular "like" feature, the app borrows even more from games and consoles in the form of Levels and Trophies. Users level up by completing a variety of different actions in the app (such as posting photos, completing skill points, receiving and giving likes, and more), and Trophies work as clear visual representation / goals of the leveling system: users can get a bronze, silver or golden trophy by achieving different benchmarks, such as receiving a high number of likes on a picture, completing a certain number of skills, or completing challenges.

"Winning" the game

What is all this hard work for (despite learning photography, of course)? The high prizes of the Unshuttered game are getting noticed and recognized. Likes, high levels, a number of trophies and skills developed are indicators you are playing the game right, but the ultimate goal is being noticed by the Getty staff itself. From time to time, the team looks at the pictures being posted, and awards a badge to a deserving user that excels at a skill or photo post. For that recognition, there are 4 types of badges: Pick of the Day, Pick of the Week, Curator's Choice, and the ultimate being Getty Artist, where users gain a Getty badge to on their profile - a unique distinction.

The highest prize: the annual event

But above all that there is the truly unique honor of being one of the 10 teenagers selected to be showcased at LA Unshuttered, a live event at the Getty Museum.

From "LA #Unshuttered showcases the photography of young artists advocating for social justice. Located in the Museum Entrance Hall, Plaza Level, the projections in this installation provide a unique gallery experience. Featured are works by ten Los Angeles-based, high-school students who have been learning about, engaging in, and working for causes greater than themselves. They collaborated with nonprofit organizations and community establishments to explore topics such as mental health, African American hair and identity, immigration experiences, stereotypes about aging and beauty, religious tolerance, and LGBTQ+ pride."

What's next

The Unshuttered 2.0 was launched on May 28th. Currently, the team is collecting metrics and gearing up for the next set of updates. Some of the plans include more gamification elements such a weekly leaderboard that will list users by how many level points they received in a week, a level 2 skill tree to keep teaching and developing photographers, and a more polished interaction design and transitions.


  • UX Design
  • Visual Design
  • Information Architecture


  • Spark 6

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