Four Ways That Technology Will Help Re-open Museums and Galleries

Four Ways That Technology Will Help Re-open Museums and Galleries

By Drew Wilkins June 2020

With museums and galleries set to open from July 4th, we outline four ways that technology will help institutions provide a safe and enhanced experience for visitors.

Museums and galleries in the UK have been closed since March, but from July 4th they can reopen with safety measures in place. Inevitably visitor numbers will be limited and exhibits reduced while institutions settle into new routines.

However, while that will take time, technology can step in immediately to help that process and provide ways of accessing exhibits for those who can’t visit.

  1. Contactless interactives
    Touchscreen interactive experiences deepen engagement with exhibits. They are a way of attracting and connecting people with objects and the stories that define them. But as most require people to touch shared devices, they are unlikely to return any time soon.

    How can interactives return to museums and galleries? The answer lies in contactless interfaces:

    • Connected floor lights allow the interactive to signal when it’s safe for visitors to approach
    • Motion sensors trigger interactives when visitors are positioned
    • Simple hand gestures are used for exploring content
    • Audio sensors allow clapping or other noises to become part of the interaction
    • Voice recognition allows more sophisticated experiences
  2. Own mobile device tour apps
    Museums and galleries will think hard before returning to issuing their own audio tour hardware. The overhead of extra sanitising routines will be arduous and expensive, and visitor confidence will no doubt keep uptake low.

    The approach here will be to encourage and increase the use of tour apps on a visitor’s own mobile device. Apps should have:

    • Short download times, suitable for installing using a visitor’s own mobile data
    • A quick way of finding the app – QR codes and short, catchy URLs
    • Clear signage and a physical ‘stop-point’ before entering the venue (with mobile signal boosters if needed) to encourage visitors to install the app before proceeding
    • Integration with a ticketing system – providing visitors with specific time slots for their visit
    • Pre-visit route planning – providing visitors with a route that includes the exhibits they want to see and takes into account visitor flow management
    • Features that enhance the experience for visitors and encourage them to install and use it while they explore
  3. Visitor flow management
    The challenge of managing visitor flow in museums and galleries used to be about encouraging visitors towards areas of exhibits that they might otherwise miss. There is now an important safety aspect to this – helping limit the volume of people in busy areas and allowing people to safely explore the site.

    Established technology can step in here and integrate easily with tour apps and digital signage:

    • People counting devices divide buildings into zones and allow easy capacity management
    • Integration with tour apps and connected screens guide people to alternative routes during busy times
    • Realtime hotspot maps within tour apps show visitors which exhibits are experiencing lower volumes of people
  4. Virtual tours and the virtual museum
    Virtual tours have become an important way of opening museum and gallery access to the global community, and for those who are unable to visit in person.

    This freedom of access was a key motivator for the Japan Prize nominated Ai Weiwei 360 virtual tour that we developed for the Royal Academy of Arts.

    Virtual tours and virtual museums not only provide access to those people who can’t make it in person, they also provide deeper connections to exhibitions, before and after the event, for those people who are able to visit.

    These experiences don’t have to be large and expensive and can be achieved in a number of different ways. These tours have been shown to generate visitor engagement and increase the desire to visit venues in person.

    Photogrammetry and high resolution digital photography provide relatively quick and easy ways to create digital assets that can be experienced online or via an app.

    • Virtual reality and augmented reality can allow people to view exhibitions in ways that aren’t possible in reality
    • Visitors can examine and explore digital assets more closely than they can in real life
    • Access to long form content and archives that aren’t practical to explore in person
    • Enhanced experiences – pre-recorded academic and artist guided tours
    • Live appointment experiences – lectures and events accessed live through virtual experiences

While museums and galleries will cautiously open to a limited number of visitors with a restricted set of exhibits, technology is ready to provide access to the wider public in a safe and engaging way. As restrictions ease further these technologies will continue to enhance visitor experiences even when visitor numbers reach previous levels.

Drew Wilkins
Blog Author:
Drew Wilkins
Drew is one of our Co-founders and Head of Educational Content at fish in a bottle. He has a wealth of experience in creating interactive content, games, websites and applications for web and mobile.

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