Audio Visual technology is a powerful tool to enhance storytelling and if done skillfully turbocharge a museums content. New experiences that are able to making stories relevant to the broadest possible audience, experiences that provide selfie moments, experiences that enrich and enhance understanding. Solving the problems of context, scale audio visual solutions can transport the visitor to the time, place, location or social setting, embedding an object in context and conveying a richer story. The big picture can be brought into view and the minutest details made distinct.
A little spectacle and magic go a long way to removing barriers to access and reaching a wider audience. AV is also adept at creating shared encounters that families and groups can enjoy together.
Audio visual technology is clearly a curatorial problem solver, by filling in the gaps made by missing artifacts or creating dynamic context. It also brings with it a great deal of flexibility allowing content to be easily refreshed and more recently allowing whole galleries to be uploaded and switched from exhibition to exhibition, digitally curated off line and published to the gallery space. A digital approach also simplifies applying Design Thinking or User Experience design methods where iterative improvements are made to the content delivery based on visitor feedback. Ensuring that the content is as engaging as possible. When all of this is carefully crafted; people feel inspired, people feel engaged, they feel enlightened. There are countless new and exciting ways that storytelling can combine technological canvases with classically beautiful art forms and objects to connect with audiences.
For many visitors only willing to invest a few short minutes to see if an exhibit is worthwhile, immediately engaging with them intellectually, viscerally or emotionally is essential to avoiding the visitor from merely coasting through. Immersive audio visual technologies have this capacity, enveloping visitors in the story and bringing them intimately close with the content.
Interaction immediately builds a bond between the visitor and the experience as the visitor has a natural expectation for a meaningful response to the initial interaction. The strength of that bond being determined by the ability to keep on rewarding the visitor’s investment of time. Implementing a variety of interactive approaches keeps the transaction fresh and maintains visitor curiosity. In addition to gesture, proximity and touch, speech interaction supported by machine learning adds an extra string to the curators bow. Although some care is required in implementing a comfortable interaction. Often off the shelf items can be used to deliver unique and special experiences but to meet creative challenges and deliver exceptional experiences or to solve practical problems bespoke solutions with the appropriate development and engineering can take the experience beyond the norm and leave visitors to go away with something special.
Audio In our visually dominant world it’s easy to underestimate the effectiveness of sound. The use of audio within exhibits demonstrably boosts visitor recall and post visit retention. People are subconsciously stimulated by sound leading to richer more permanent memories. Audio also makes content more prominent and in fact louder and brighter experiences correlate to higher rates of attention and retention, whilst it is important not to over power or dominate objects, artifacts and other exhibit elements, audio and video can be used as an effective magnifying glass making prominent the detail and features that might otherwise pass unnoticed, enriching the experience and leveraging extra story telling capability from objects and artifacts.
Scent, Haptics & Touch
Extending out beyond sight and sound extra dimensionality can be brought into the experience by using Haptics, Scent and Gesture. Scent can be blended, controlled and programmed to increase immersion in a particular exhibit. Haptics work for both physical force interaction with an exhibit whilst Haptic sensing of a visitors hands provides extra depth to that of a flat panel touch interface. Using cameras it is not only possible to use hand gestures to interact but entire body gestures and positions, which may simply be the direction of walk towards or past an exhibit determining the initial attraction content.
A very functional aspect of audio visual technology is its ability to deliver content to users with varying needs. Overseas visitor often need content provided in alternative spoken and written languages. Hearing impaired visitors benefit enormously from assistive listening systems that deliver exhibit audio directly to a visitor’s hearing aid. Wheelchair users should also be fully accommodated, interactive video walls and touch screens offer practical methods for presenting user interfaces at a convenient height for children and wheelchair users as well as standing adults. Height adjustable interactive tables are also easily accessed by wheel chairs users and for groups of children. Foreign language visitors can benefit from either personalized content approaches or more simply by using language tags carried by the visitor that allow content displays, exhibit text panels and audio to switch to the desired language. Modern audio technology allows for multiple groups of visitors in the same exhibit space to hear the content in various languages without additional devices. This is a powerful solution as it does not detract from the experience or separate foreign language visitors from the main audience.
With the aim of appealing to a diverse public it is understood that different groups respond differently to exhibit content. Many visitors still want to read traditional wall text, others engage easily with participatory experiences and others participate more easily in group activity. Each visitor travels a unique discovery route, often surrounded by friends and family. To achieve content that is engaging for everyone requires lots of different entry points able to connect intellectually, viscerally and emotionally. The audio visual elements of an exhibition can be used to open these doors and capture the imagination of a diverse audience.
Audio visual spectacle is not all that is needed to bring moments of awe and education. The interface through which the visitor interacts is absolutely key to a successful experience. Done skillfully we can deliver visitors moments of joy and create a place that promotes energized human interaction. The techniques for creating broad appeal and accessibility should not get in the way or over shadow the absorption of content or sense of wonder derived directly from the content, this may mean the creation of a variety of experiences to accommodate a range of group and individual learning styles and doing so such that a memorable connection is established. The design of exhibits is then made more difficult by the need to maintain people’s attention which can wain quickly if there is not significant contextual richness and a spectrum of ways to connect with that. As is perhaps apparent simply using touch panels everywhere quickly lead to visitor fatigue and loss of attention. A more diverse range of techniques should be employed to maintain a stimulating and engaging interaction with the visitor.
Tell your story in your own unique way.
Audio Visual technology as well as having an associated cost has associated financial benefits. While it may be commonly recognised that there is a relationship between the audio visual and an increase in visitor numbers and memberships often a direct connection is difficult to establish. Cost benefit analysis can be used to estimate the contribution of audio visual to financial revenue. This is particularly apparent when spaces are used for special events, although the effect on visitor numbers is potentially much more significant.
Another consideration is that it is almost always possible to do a lot with a little and if budget restrictions are addressed early on then design can focus on techniques that maximize the user experience while working to tight financial constraints. Often ingenious use of simple solutions applied to a specific scenario can be highly effective.
Gallery construction and renovations represent a significant investment and it is desirable to build in a degree of future proofing to accommodate exhibit changes and changes in technology. Often these measure are surprisingly simple but require coordination during the design phase of a gallery space when they can be implemented cheaply and easily.
Reliability & Sustainability
Museum public opening requires continuous operation often for 6 or 7 days per week and 8-10 hours per day all year for the lifetime of the exhibit. A significant contributor to sustainability is the longevity of the system as the environmental impact of the exhibit can be spread over a longer period. There is no reason why a well-designed audio visual exhibit cannot exceed 10 years (36,500 hours). Any replacement of equipment during the desired lifetime of an exhibit will reduce sustainability. Many pieces of audio visual equipment are extremely reliable and may be re-used over and over again in different exhibits. Long-term reliability is also a function of maintenance, timely repairs and operation. Larger museum installations benefit from centralized monitoring, reporting on the operational status and allowing any failure to be addressed rapidly by support staff. As systems increase in complexity the possibility or risk of an element failing is increased and even though individual elements may be extremely reliable in large systems the probability of a failure on any given day increases. As the risk is understood it is straightforward to manage and requires that timely maintenance without exhibit downtime is facilitated within the design.
Museums are special places with special environments and consequently provide an attractive and interesting location of special events. The association with the museum also imparts a certain uniqueness and authenticity to the event which is highly desirable to event organisers and attendees. Audio Visual technology also plays its part in attracting event business and the extra revenue it brings to the museum. The dynamic provided by museum audio visual exhibits are in themselves highly attractive whilst having spaces equipped for events allows immediate transition from public exhibition to private gatherings. Auditoriums and theatre spaces can provide excellent venues for events but it is the galleries and themed spaces of a museum that are especially sort after. Here the integration of event technology within a gallery or galleries opens up a great number of opportunities. Considered at the design stage of a project this type of multi-purpose fit out can be completely seamless without impact to the visitor experience and yet providing a rich space that can accommodate a wide range of private events. Interactive kiosks and displays as may already form part of the exhibit can also be dual purpose and can switch seamlessly to corporate or branded content to suit the event. A common feature of museums the orientation area, used for school parties and larger groups is also ideal for having an additional event mode and can provide an attractive stage area immersed in the museum environment and delivering the surroundings sort after for events.
Personalizing the Experience
As we have seen different visitors tend to have different trajectories through an exhibition and tend to be attracted by different formats and levels of content presentation. We can personalize the visitor experience by either learning from their visit in real time or by ascertaining some simple preferences at the start of the experience. Armed with this knowledge we can deliver tailored content specific to each visitor. For the deep diver or for those who prefer content to wash over them. Of course age, language and other visitor characteristics can be taken into account when delivering an individual users experience.
In addition to the core gallery spaces of a museum supporting spaces also benefit from audio visual fit out. Auditoriums and theaters have relatively complex audio visual fit outs and are discussed here. Spaces that benefit from digital signage include cafeterias, rest areas and staff break rooms providing and informational channel linking visitors to the museum and staff to management.