Digital Placemaking Heritage

Takeaways, learnings and insight from the Museums & Heritage Show 2018

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Museums and Heritage Show

In recent years, Calvium has given life to The Lost Palace of Whitehall, explored fashion with The Jewish Museum London and created a family trail for Tower Bridge. Our digital placemaking work beautifully complements the heritage sector in all its guises.

So it will come as no surprise that the Museums & Heritage Show was high on my “must visit” list for 2018. Calvium headed to Olympia London in May to take in some of the 50 talks around everything from visitor engagement to design to, of course, new technology.

The show illustrated just how people, places and technology are converging to revolutionise the museums and heritage sector. Didn’t attend? You missed out. Don’t worry, though. We’ve put together a round-up of some of my favourite and most interesting sessions from the show.

Going beyond the 3D experience – Opera: Passion, Power and Politics

On the Thursday afternoon, a team from the V&A Museum focused on exhibition design and interpretation, deconstructing their approach, curation and design of the 2017-2018 Opera: Passion, Power and Politics exhibition.

Museums and Heritage Show - Opera

The exhibition told the story of the history of opera, from Renaissance Italy to the present day, through a focus on seven operas staged in seven cities. Combining digital technology and historical artefacts, the exhibition explored the relationships between opera and cities, with the team’s preliminary research exploring how these operas convey the creative, cultural strength and vision of the city at any given moment.

The V&A’s Rebecca Lim explored the research, concept and narrative behind the exhibition, explaining how the team had to “think in 4D.” Combining traditional elements like costumes and musical scores with cutting edge infrared-triggered audio technology, the focus on the visitor experience truly blended people, place and technology.

Livestreaming – giving audiences remote control

How can museums and heritage sites access hard to reach audiences? One way, explained Jon Sleigh, Learning Officer at Birmingham’s Arts Council Collection, is through livestreaming. He shared how, using Periscope as his medium, Birmingham Museums have engaged new people online by reporting live from both cultural events and walkthroughs of museum works.

Museums and Heritage Show - Jon Sleigh

Sharing both the pitfalls and successes of this approach, it was fascinating to learn how he is able to use technology to break down the physical distance by providing a responsive and active online visitor experience. Digital attendees tweet Jon during the livestreams, some of which have attracted over 1,000 people, showing how digital technologies can harness new audiences when used intelligently.

Digitised collections at the heart of a location-based mobile experience

While the Birmingham Museums project enables people to “visit” a collection from the comfort of their own homes, the Wonders of the Peak project is aimed both at armchair visitors and those able to travel. Joe Perry of the Buxton Museum and Art Gallery and Dr Ben Bedwell of the University of Nottingham shared details of the project, which was designed to link museum exhibits more closely with their place of origin.

App users can explore exhibits in ‘arm chair mode’, but are also encouraged to use its location-based functionality to view objects on site in the Peak District itself.

Bringing exhibits to life by allowing their viewing in situ, the app is created using an open API, meaning other developers can add their own content to enrich it still further. Such location-based app experiences are nothing new, but we were impressed with how non-prescriptive it is. Each user receives their own bespoke trail, generated based on how they describe their interests. Those using the app on location can enjoy a heads-up trail that still allows them to navigate the landscape, without their head constantly buried in a mobile device.

New for old: choosing appropriate technology for a new museum

Using technology to enhance a visitor’s experience of a place was a key theme running throughout the show…but which technologies should be used? That was a question addressed by Martin Devereux and Rachel Kasbohm of The Postal Museum: a finalist in this year’s Art Fund Museum of the Year awards.

The pair discussed how technology can be used in the museum space to augment visitor experiences, improve access to museum collections and nurture the growth of sustainable digital facilities. One fascinating example they shared was that of Mail Rail: a 15-minute ride that allows visitors to explore the original tunnels and station platforms below the Mount Pleasant sorting office. A collaboration with ScanLAB Projects, Mail Rail uses 233 scans to visualise the subterranean space in 3D for the first time, creating a theatrical experience that allows visitors to see constructed city spaces that are otherwise hidden, and to immerse themselves in the railway’s 1930s heyday.


The BYOD (bring your own device) debate

A common theme running throughout the show was the choice of devices available: the difference between technological interpretation solutions provided by the museum on-site, and mobile devices owned by the visitors themselves. AR glasses, web apps, native apps, tablets and audio & multimedia guides all found themselves the subjects of discussion, with many of the talks we attended giving examples of where different technological choices had been made, and the project team’s reasons for their decision.

Whether designing a solution for on-site or off-site usage, apps can play a huge role in boosting engagement and giving visitors a true sense of place…if done in the right way.

Apps like Alight, and the Stations of the Cross experience we developed with King’s Cross London demand a seamless experience across a whole city, both in the streets and inside historic buildings. To that end, a personal device is the only alternative. Plus, for an experience where signal is not guaranteed, you need an app that will work offline.

And there are other considerations too: Has the app been designed with the visitor journey in mind? Can visitors use it without it detracting from their real-life experience of the site?

Done badly, a museum or heritage app can negate what could otherwise have been a positive visitor experience. But when designed well, it can significantly enhance a visitor’s experience, giving them a greater connection with your site – showing that the combination of people, place and technology is a winning blend for today’s heritage site visitors.

 

The 2018 Museums & Heritage Show demonstrated the breadth of creative projects currently happening within the sector. For Calvium, the trip to Olympia gave us some interesting insights from a range of cultural heritage professionals – and reinforced our enthusiasm for, and commitment to, this creative and evolving sector.

We’re looking forward to next year already!