4 important considerations for an effective digital museum experience

Planning a digital Museum experience is not easy - it can be difficult to accurately predict whether or not a strategy will have the intended effect on visitors. If you’ve been trawling through those #musetech tweets and are weighing up your options for an effective digital Museum experience, you know that there are an overwhelming number of solutions so: where should you start?

“The more museums can empower their visitors to control their attention, to be in charge of how the digital mediates their experience, the more museums can contribute towards helping us all find the balance we seek.” — Barry Joseph

We’ve gathered together a list of the top 4 things that are worth considering when planning for a digital Museum experience based on a myriad of research, coupled with our personal learnings.

1. Experience, not technology

Will the technology distract visitors from the exhibition or will it enhance their experience? It’s unlikely that parents intend to bring their kids to Museums only to have them stare at a another screen the entire time. Clearly defining the mobile experience is crucial: your digital strategy should enable deeper engagements with art - not distract them.

We know a thing or two about beacons, but our focus has always been on the experience that is made possible with technology, not on the novelty of the technology itself. Beacons allow for proximity-triggered push notifications, but how can this be relevant and meaningful without being disregarded as spam? Visitors are welcomed when they enter your museum and can open the notification to present their membership number. The experience is not only seamless but also personalised - delivering the right message, at just the right time.

“The goal of a successful mobile roll-out strategy should not be to reach more users, but rather to reach more of the right users.” — Koven Smith

2. Accessibility

Don't look for the one magical digital solution that suits every single visitor. You can’t please everyone so instead, focus on identifying and integrating the key features that work for most. Offering an app in different languages is perfect for international visitors. Curate self-guided walking tours for those short on time, who like to explore at their own pace or simply don’t know where to begin. Interactive, labelled maps for discovery and wayfinding. Audio tours for those who prefer to listen and learn, who squint at placards or in busy areas where they can’t get close enough.

Some features are more important in some museums than others. Part of planning an effective digital experience involves tailoring it to what your museum offers, and what will improve the experience and journey for visitors.


3. Motivation

So you’ve nailed the planning, the identifying and the testing and now you've got a Museum app, or other digital experience, ready for visitors to start using. But why are your numbers lower than expected? It's likely that most visitors don't even know your app exists or don’t want to waste data, time and effort downloading an app they don't feel is helpful.

Dr Lynda Kelly shared some excellent findings on her blog which looked at visitor responses to a mobile Museum app. While some were concerned with the potential distraction from the physical Museum experience, other visitors mentioned the “[undermining] of the element of surprise” and the “fine line between giving too much and not enough”. It’s no surprise that different visitors have different concerns and interests, but it highlights the importance of a clear, targeted marketing strategy and understanding the audience you want to reach - whether it’s through mass appeal or a ‘stealth’ approach.

This strategy needs to be established at an early stage: knowing the particular needs and problems of a group will aid the design of an effective digital experience, and focus the efforts of your marketing strategy.

Visitors need a good reason to download (and keep) an app on their phone. But even before that, they need to know that such an app even exists.

This is where your carefully planned roll-out strategy comes in so that visitors know what to expect and be informed enough to choose the experience that best suits them.


4. Content

What will visitors get out of your digital experience? What drives their need to use an app, instead of relying of physical placards and flyers?

Digital solutions make your museum's content more accessible to visitors - and more relevant on-site - but the content should be thoughtfully curated to tell a story and provide clarity to the journey.

It's important to realise that not everything should be presented—just because it can. Your digital solution should be specific, and intentional.

“…mobile experiences in museums no longer need to be designed for a museum’s entire audience in order to be cost-effective.” — Koven Smith

With all that said and done, ultimately, the most effective digital museum experience is the one that is designed for your content, your museum and your audience. No two museums are alike — and no two digital solutions are alike.

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