How can apps define the heritage experience beyond tours and trails?


5 minute read
Alumni: Kieron Gurner

Alumni: Kieron Gurner

UX & Design Lead

Arts & Culture

Digital Insights

Mobile Technology

Think about your favourite ever gig. What made it so special? Maybe it was the music itself, or perhaps it was the sheer spectacle of it all, or was it the crowd that made it so special? Either way, we’re betting very few of you would point to expert queue management, excellent security protocol or a well managed cloakroom as the reason.

However, as inconsequential as they may seem, these little things are still a big part of the overall experience. Let’s imagine that same gig, but when you arrived the queue was huge and badly signposted, the people on the door were rude and your jacket got stolen from the cloakroom. Less fun.

For crowds at gig venues, read also heritage visitors. When we talk about heritage experiences, you’ll likely think about the creative, immersive tours such as The Lost Palace or engaging family trails like our work on Tower Bridge first. But beyond the creative tours, apps are also perfectly placed to address the functional needs of visitors, and sites should use technology to support visitors from planning their trip through to the visit itself, and beyond. Here’s what you should consider.

Putting the visitor first

The need for functionality is not just a nice to have, it taps into something deeper. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is a well known psychological model, developed in the 1950’s to explain human needs and motivations. As the foundation – our basic human needs – Maslow places ‘physiological needs’ like food, water and shelter and then ‘safety needs’ like security and, well, safety.

At the same time as wowing people with creative ways to tell stories and enhance places, apps can tap into these safety needs, making sure visitors have access to all the information they require to feel comfortable within the space. The ‘safer’ that visitors feel – the better looked after they are by your app – the more positively they’ll view their whole experience and, by association, your organisation.

By mapping out the customer journey from start to finish, we can identify challenges and design appropriate solutions to resolve them. And apps can start this process before the visitor is even on site.

Before arrival

If you can encourage visitors to download the app before they arrive on the site, it can be a goldmine of information for them. Allowing people early access to pertinent information immediately taps into these (their) safety needs. Where do I park? Is there a café on site? What else is nearby? The app can play that role – providing basic information in an easy-to-navigate way.

The app doesn’t have to be a one-way information hub either. If they have specific needs like wheelchair or pram access, apps can make it easy to access that information, resolve issues and answer questions. We can show time slots for events, cafés, or limited-access parts of the site – and allow visitors to book too, helping them plan their time more efficiently

For any further questions, they’ll need easy access to contact details; a contact form and phone number for general enquiries will handle this.

During the visit

Functional information should still be available to visitors when they arrive, so they can find refreshments, toilets and lost property easily. But we can be more nuanced, too.

If visitors have booked to see an exhibit at a specific time, push notifications can serve as a friendly reminder to start making their way to the right part of the site. An app could even use GPS to work out where the visitor is, how long it takes to get where they need to be, and provide a map to help them find their way.

Similarly, wayfinding can help users to navigate between places on the site. This can be built into the overall narrative experience. Imagine, for instance, an audio-tour that still flows even if a user wants to stop and sit, or have a drink for a while. We can go further, breaking content into chapters with planned gaps near the café or toilet facilities so we don’t ruin immersion, but also cater to visitors’ needs.

After the visit

Post-event, apps can continue to provide a functional service to visitors, for instance offering follow-up customer service queries like lost property. A feedback function can help you improve the overall experience for future visitors (and is also a potential source for testimonials), you can encourage membership and repeat business by offering the chance to recommend friends, sign-up to mailing lists and buy tickets for friends or family.

Great user experience in the heritage sector begins with people. With an holistic approach to innovation, digital technologies can enhance the customer journey from start to finish, supporting the needs of the visitor both logistically and creatively.

In other words, apps can provide the headline act, security and support staff to make your heritage site, the audience’s new favourite gig.

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