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The Futurist

A Survey of Interactive Museums of the UK

Embracing Interactive, A survey of Museums of the UK

Museums around the world are embracing interactive technologies to help communicate content and educate visitors. Rather than replacing the need for physical collections, these technologies are being used to enhance collections and offer a broader range of information.

David spent some time in the UK last month and documented the flavours of digital exhibition that inhabit the British Isles.

Museums around the world are embracing interactive technologies to help communicate content and educate visitors. Rather than replacing the need for physical collections, these technologies are being used to enhance collections and offer a broader range of information.

During my visit to the UK in September I visited quite a few museums and kept an eye out for any examples of how interactive technologies can be utilised. The following is a round-up of how interactive museums in the UK are embracing this technology.

Presenting the facts

This is the starting point for museums looking to embrace technology. Using touch-screen displays to provide background and supporting information reduces the need to have copious amounts of written content surrounding an asset, clearing up space to pay more attention to the asset's physical surroundings and better use the real estate available.

The Cutty Sark is the second oldest surviving clipper ship in the world. After being restored following a ravaging fire in 2007, the Cutty Sark is now at least a functioning museum. Within the bowels of the Cutty Sark is a series of touch screen interactives where visitors can learn about the ships functions, crew, and travels.

The National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh also incorporated simple info screens into some of their exhibitions.

Games and edutainment

Who would have thought they could make a battleship any more exciting? In the upper deck of the HMS Belfast is a situation room that immerses visitors in the search for a downed plane. The room combines sound effects and lighting with two touch screen displays through which visitors scour islands and the ocean for pieces of the wreckage.

Back in the Cutty Sark, visitors try their best to beat the Cutty Sark's time for travelling from [this place] to [this other place]. For the second oldest clipper ship in the world, the technology within the ship is surprisingly entertaining.

Digital Exhibitions

The London Transport Museum is dedicated to telling the story of the evolution of transport in and around London, from horses to carts to trains to cars. The Art of the Poster exhibit celebrates 100 years of poster design commissioned by the Underground, London Transport and Transport for London. Sponsored by American Express, the exhibit includes a touch screen display that allows visitors to browse all of the posters and vote on their favourite.

The exciting thing about this type of interactive is that if done well an institution is only a hop, skip and a jump away from moving the exhibit online for the world to see. This is actually what the London Transport Museum has done, placing the full collection online for browsing through their website.

The British Museum has also gone down this route. While there are no touch-screen displays in the museum, the website is a treasure trove – so far there are photos and written content covering 800,000 items in the collection.

Showing what you've learnt

The National Army Museum took a slightly different approach to educating its visitors, in a way that only an museum dedicated to the armed forces could.

Touch screen displays detailed what soldiers look for when detecting IEDs, such as disturbed ground, exposed wires or brush or litter. Users then took a quiz to find the IEDs in a series of photographs from the Middle East. Fun, not-at-all-disturbing times, hey?

Troubleshooting

Interactive displays are also under the pressure to never break. A second of frustration is enough to break the spell, at which point the user will simply move on to the next exciting item vying for their attention. I witnessed this phenomenon first-hand while travelling with my partner who isn't the most patient fellow when it comes to malfunctioning technology.

This is what you're trying to avoid:

Hurdles

While there is definitely a trend in museums integrating interactive technologies there are some hurdles to overcome along the way, both for the museum and the studio developing the display.

For the studio, the hurdles lie in how people use touch screens in public spaces. From our experience, the major problems are how to capture visitor's attention in the seconds available as they wander past and how to keep a user's attention in an environment where things are begging for their attention around every corner.

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