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Have you noticed how we all seem to have become so much more aware of our precious private bubble these last months? It’s that red alert that briefly goes off in your head when someone comes too close with their shopping cart in the supermarket, or the momentary reluctant feeling when you need to press the stop button on the bus. For public spaces and venue attractions it means they’ll have to rethink their entire visitor journey to make visitors feel secure. Museums too.
Time-slotted tickets that you buy online, a controlled visitor flow in the building and disinfection columns around every corner – it’s a start. But there’s more. With technology as their ally, museums are changing their ways to create a safe and welcoming environment for their guests. In this second blogpost based on the insights gained during our international panel discussion, we’re looking at the creativity of the museum industry in their search for technologies that will support the post-pandemic museum visit.
In the past, the museum industry has undergone a big transformation from passive to interactive experiences. In our museum e-book from last year (“How to future-proof your museum?”), we already mentioned the #musetech trend with an increasing number of museums utilizing new technologies to build such unique and immersive experiences. Enter 2020. The situation has changed. The importance of musetech has not. And so curators are exploring new solutions that still enable involvement, immersive storytelling and unique experiences.
Tactile exhibitions with hands-on activities and touchscreens are/were used to engage visitors in a memorable experience. By integrating one of our primary instincts (touch) in exhibitions, museums trigger the curiosity of their visitors and enable a deeper understanding of the story. But touch is a tricky thing to promote these days. Hence, the time may be right to explore the potential of gesture-based tools in museums.
“We’ve been approached by several parties about touchless interfaces,” confirms Hilary McVicker from Eluminati, a design and engineering firm creating innovative solutions for immersive visualization. And although there are still some doubts and hesitations surrounding touchless equipment - don’t we all have that little inner rebel that still wants to touch, even though a sign friendly warns us not too – McVicker believes that “COVID is going to be the impetus to move forward and develop these technologies to make them applicable for museums.”
You can try to build contactless experiences, but sometimes it’s just impossible. Then it comes down to cleaning. As mentioned in our previous post of this series, the visibility of cleaning and hygiene will be extremely important in the future. And again, technology can play an important role.
During the crisis, multiple companies have launched cleaning devices based on ultraviolet light technology. Studies are still running, but it’s been confirmed that UV radiation can be used to reduce the spread of bacteria on surfaces and inactivate viruses similar to Covid-19. These UV disinfection technologies are being applied to clean shopping carts, healthcare equipment and even fire trucks. Museums could use it to sanitize wearables, audio guides or other shared tools that are being used to interact with museum visitors.
And a final example of coronaproof museum technology is the use of mobile apps. Instead of relying on shared devices, mobile apps allow visitors to still get that immersive and interactive experience by using their own devices as audio guide or augmented reality tool.
“We did some research in the past looking at how people use phones in and out of museums. The barriers are many and people are not that keen on using them, I suspect this might change” explains Dave Patten, Head of New Media at The Science Museum in London. “It’s the one thing that is yours. You know it’s safe because only you were touching it. We built some exhibits in the past with interfaces on mobile phones, and it’s one thing we’ve got listed to test again when getting back into the museum.”
Inventiveness is a survival skill. Challenging times ask for creative solutions, and museums have shown that they understand this. Arnold van de Water, partner at Factorr, a creative consultancy agency, concludes: “There’s so much innovation going on right now, and I like it! It really shows the resilience of our industry.”
One technological solution we didn’t touch upon in this post, but was extremely important during the pandemic, is the virtual museum visit. In the next episode of this series, we’ll talk some more about how museums are breaking down their physical walls and the online experiences of our panelists.
Arnold van de Water is partner at Factorr, a creative consultancy agency, founded in 2005, that provides global services in Strategy, Spatial Concepts, and Transformations. In addition, Arnold is acting as general manager of the Meet Vincent van Gogh Experience for the Van Gogh Museum. With over 15 years of experience in the arts and culture and touring exhibitions sectors, Arnold believes in using technology to create more personalized experiences and immersive storytelling.
Dave Patten is Head of New Media at The Science Museum, London, where his role includes managing all aspects of new media and AV, from conceptual design, prototyping and production to project managing external developers and production companies. He has a background in electronics and computer science, and has worked at the Science Museum for over 30 years, developing exhibitions and leading development teams. Dave Patten runs the Science Museum Groups Digital Lab Initiative which experiments in emerging technologies and visitor experiences.
Global thought leader, speaker, creative strategist, founder and director of Molten Immersive Art, Dorothy Di Stefano leads a collective of experiential artists who create large-scale, site-specific, digital immersive experiences. As an ambassador and consultant for the arts and with 20 years' experience, Dorothy sits on many cultural committees and is the International Partner representing Australia in the Global Startup Leaders committee of the World Business Angels Investment Forum (WBAF).Awarded LinkedIn's Top Voice for 2019, Dorothy has a worldwide following on this platform which she uses to highlight the importance and impact of art on our world and to showcase global artists to a business-focused community.
Hilary McVicker is Communicatrix at The Elumenati – a title that would translate to VP of Sales and Marketing at most companies. The Elumenati are thought leaders in the field of immersive projection design, creating innovative applications in education, enterprise and entertainment. Partners and clients range from NASA and NOAA to Dreamworks and Deloitte. Hilary has managed collaborative projects for The Elumenati with leading museums from the California Academy of Sciences to the American Museum of Natural History, with a focus on incorporating technology to create transformative learning experiences.