How can augmented reality (AR) help my heritage organisation?


5 minute read
Jo Reid

Jo Reid

Chief Executive Officer

Arts & Culture

Mobile Technology

Suspension Bridge - Heritage

We love the fact Pokémon Go has brought augmented reality to the wider consciousness. Here at Calvium, we’ve been working with AR for years, and our wealth of experience has made us experts in designing AR apps for heritage sites. The technology offers massive potential for organisations of all sizes but teams shouldn’t look to develop their app blindly.

Here are the questions heritage groups need to ask themselves before they make AR their own:

What experience do I want to create for my visitors?

This is the most important question to consider. Augmented reality apps create an extra layer of information on top of real-world environments, adding an interactive or informative element for visitors which is visually grounded in your actual location. Relying on augmented reality has the potential to alienate people who are not comfortable with modern technology, and if not considered properly the resulting app could be clumsy and detract from the splendour of your surroundings. However, AR also has many benefits: it‘s interactive, intuitive, and provides an easy way to ‘make history come to life’.

Bridge Tales, an app we built for the Clifton Suspension Bridge, brings storytelling to the fore of tourists’ time at the site through multi-media interactivity. It also allows users to virtually access areas of the bridge that may be off-limits, giving users an immersive experience.

What kind of audience do I want to attract?

Identifying your key demographic means your app can be tailored to their interests. We’ve created apps for a wide range of target audiences, from kids and families at Tower Bridge to older visitors to the City of London, and curious locals checking out architecture with Bristol Opening Doors. Your demographic will determine how your app looks and feels, as well as its functionality. Audio-based AR apps have cross-generational appeal, but the interactive visual AR typified by Pokémon Go is more targeted towards younger visitors.

How do I want to tell my stories?

If your site is a large building or has sprawling grounds, it may make sense for your AR app to respond to these locations, like Safe Haven’s AR journey around Seale-Hayne military hospital. But heritage organisations can vary in size and remit; there’s nothing to stop an app from taking in an entire city if the groundwork is in place for it. Belfast Soundwalks uses map data to create unique aural content based on its user’s GPS location.

Is there internet connectivity?

This is a pragmatic consideration. An AR app needs to be able to recognise and respond to the user’s environment. Equally importantly, it needs to work within the limitations of your site. If your heritage location has no 3G coverage then your developer must build your app to work offline. It’s perfectly possible to create a compelling app experience without internet coverage, but visitors will still need the internet to download your software before they begin using it. Ensuring your site has a WiFi hotspot at least in the entry area will make it easier for visitors to download an AR app which can then be enjoyed through their visit.

Can I commit to marketing the app to visitors?

Commissioning a new app is a developed process, and requires a solid marketing plan for the software to fulfil its potential for engagement and generate ROI. Many of our apps are focused on helping visitors find the lesser-seen parts of tourist spots: some successful app campaigns, such as the one surrounding Soho Stories, have revolved around promoting the product as a way to reveal secrets.


Soho Stories: An immersive app telling seedy tales from the area’s past

The immersive soundscape of Soho Stories tells seedy tales from the area’s past, and its slightly post-watershed content helped attract the millennial demographic the company wanted to appeal to. But most of its success can be pinned on its marketing strategy: the budget and strategy were in place from early on, and included everything from celebrity endorsements to banners on the Tube. If you want your AR app to succeed in a big way, you can’t underestimate the importance of marketing it.

Do I have the internal and external strategy to ensure app success?

Planning is the key to success in all areas of life, and this holds especially true of apps. Anything digital should also contain a linked analogue element to bring in a digitally-opposed audience. Once the app is in beta, use your staff as testers and persuade them to use, use and review your app. The best way to persuade a visitor to download your new software is via staff recommendation. Making sure your team are up-to-date on your visitor strategy is, therefore, crucial for ensuring a positive ROI.

If you’re interested in finding out more about apps for heritage organisations, visit our blog or find out how others have built theirs.

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