Storylab attended the Museums and the Web annual conference in Cleveland, Ohio (April 19-22, 2017) and the American Alliance of Museums annual meeting in St. Louis, MO (May 7-10, 2017).
Technology, particularly AR and VR, were at the forefront of the discussion - how will museums use technology to further the visitor experience in the future?
It seems that most museums are grappling with how to bring technology into their spaces. Budgetary constraints as well as fear of making the right choices on how to create something new and exciting for visitors, while maintaining relevancy, are just a few of the stumbling blocks for these institutions. The strongest message at both of these meetings is that it is crucial for museums to incorporate digital technology to stay relevant and to sustain and grow visitorship. What are the current conversations regarding museums and digital technology? When it comes to technology, media and exhibit development it is not surprising that much of the discussion focused on the importance of digital storytelling via augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) amid the overarching themes of immersion, tech disruption and phygital experiences.
Trends in Augmented Reality (AR)
Augmented reality is currently being discussed as a cost-effective means to breathe new life into current exhibits. AR provides an interactive means for visitors to engage with content, while subsequently providing a platform for gaining access to new stories, content and interpretation. The big question for museums is that of hardware--should visitors be asked to use their own device and download an app before or during a visit, or should a museum provide devices for visitors to use while in the space. Or maybe perhaps both. This is not an easy answer and each museum needs to consider its ability to maintain the relevant hardware and software, not to mention how or who will create the systems in the first place.
Trends in Virtual Reality (VR)
The big question-how to make shareable, social VR experiences? After all, museums are public, social spaces and VR inherently provides individualized experiences. Current thinking is to first examine why to incorporate VR and what the main objectives of the exhibit/experience would be. Maybe an individualistic experience as a side to a wider exhibit is ok. Or maybe a museum wants to create a social experience using VR that is in essence gamified. For example, a group is asked to solve a problem. Not everyone wears the goggles, but everyone can see what the goggle wearer sees. The group must work together to solve the problem and the non-goggle wearers are the ones that steer the goggle wearers. It is also possible to create VR experiences where each user could see where other users are. VR experiences can also be social as they are currently devised, as long as visitors have enough time and the space to explore in a safe environment.
Transformative, digital storytelling is key: exhibits should be inclusive and allow for different types of engagement, including passive, active, interactive, immersive. This engagement should allow viewers to share ownership and gain personal relevance as visitors are looking for their own unique experience and don’t all necessarily want the same thing.
When developing new exhibits or ways to engage visitors, museums should look to disrupt the expectation of what a museum interaction can be.
The common thread through presentations and subsequent discussions is that community, technology, and museums all impact success.
It’s all about immersion. Audiences have changed and so have their expectations. Museums should consider creating bespoke experiences that can only be had in their physical spaces. AR and VR are just two ways to create immersive experiences--projection mapping, motion tracking, and other space-based technologies are also available.
Phygital experiences are important--thoughtful blending of the physical with the digital will foster memorable visitor experiences, enhance visitor engagement, and cultivate innovative environments that reinforce learning objectives. “Good experience design begins with the physical”- Scott Gillam.
Alexander, Jane, Lori Wienke and Phillip Tiongson. "Removing the barriers of Gallery One: a new approach to integrating art, interpretation, and technology." MW17: MW 2017. Published February 16, 2017. Consulted May 20, 2017. http://mw17.mwconf.org/paper/removing-the-barriers-of-gallery-one-a-new-approach-to-integrating-art-interpretation-and-technology/
Gillam, Scott. "Spotlight VR/AR: Innovation in transformative storytelling." MW17: MW 2017. Published February 28, 2017. Consulted May 19, 2017. http://mw17.mwconf.org/paper/spotlight-vrar-innovation-in-transformative-storytelling/
Pitt, F. (2015). “New Report: Virtual Reality Journalism.” Tow Center for Digital Journalism Blog. Published November 11, 2015. Consulted December 2016. Available http://towcenter.org/new-report-virtual-reality-journalism/
Sierra, Albert, Gabriel de Prado, Isis Ruiz Soler and Ferran Codina. "Virtual reality and archaeological reconstruction: be there, back then." MW17: MW 2017. Published February 14, 2017. Consulted May 20, 2017. http://mw17.mwconf.org/paper/virtual-reality-and-archaeological-reconstruction-be-there-be-back-then-ullastret3d-and-vr-experience-in-htc-vive-and-immersive-room/