Putting these theories to test in personal field trips to museums
In the past two years, I have visited many museums and exhibitions to examine state-of-the-art exhibit design. I usually visit museums with a critical eye, to question if interpretive planning can be done better in each gallery.
In my recent visit to London and Paris (wonderful cities, by the way!), I took the chance to research on world-class museums like the Louvre and the Natural History Museum in UK. Back in Singapore, I also did some research on local museums. In September last year, I visited the Expo Milano 2105. This chapter is a review of these field trips. I am playing the role and tracing the steps of a typical museum visitor to try and analyse the museum experience.
Having been forewarned that I should plan my visit carefully because I am visiting the world’s largest museum, I took the paper map from the reception counter the moment I reached the lobby.
The entering narrative
From there, my goal was to see the famous Da Vinci painting – Mona Lisa. I believe that is the goal of the majority of visitors from the world over. This is my entering narrative (As mentioned in Falk’s study)- To view famous works (Falk, 2013). The map directed me to the Denon section. The museum is rather comprehensive in its navigation as well, with large banners of famous masterpieces at the entrance to the sections they are in. So I saw Mona Lisa’s banner, Venus De Milo banner and the Sphinx banner even before I saw these art pieces at their location.
The Denon section houses many European paintings and decorative arts. Before we reached the paintings gallery, the famous Winged Victory of Samothrace greeted us at the staircase landing. Though impressive, I did not have much time to absorb the beauty of the sculpture before me. It was quite overwhelming once I got into the gallery, as there was simply too much information to absorb. I did not dwell too long on each painting. Time is of the essence as I have other places to rush to as a tourist.
A crowded museum
After rushing from portrait to portrait and squeezing with crowds, I finally reached the gallery of the bonafide Mona Lisa. As expected, there was a huge, unceasing crowd of admirers. Having taken some photos, we made our way to view the next few world-renowned masterpieces, but not before stopping to admire some huge paintings I’d not seen before.
My next goal was in the Sully wing – the Venus De Milo sculpture. This goal was only formulated upon my entrance to the louvre as they explained that it was a famous sculpture. I had no prior knowledge that this was a famous sculpture, though I had seen it before. My entering narrative was very simple – To see famous works. This entering narrative was reinforced by various navigational tools at the museum, the huge banners, the paper map and signages around the museum that reminded me of my goal(s). I believe that the majority of visitors shared the same goals with me, as did many other visitors in other famous museums.
Before I reached my second goal, I was wowed by another exhibit. This exhibit, a mid 1980s excavation of a castle from 1190AD until the early 16th century in the Sully wing itself, was impressive in stature and easy to understand because of the many audio visual aids that explained the existence of the castle. I was with my mother, and I was concerned that she understood and appreciated the art pieces as well, so I spent time understanding the animations and explained to her. Unbeknownst to me at that time, I was assuming the role of a “facilitator” as stated in Falk’s study. (Falk, 2013)
Getting lost in the Louvre
After the castle moat visit, I continued to my goal – the Venus de Milo. At this point, we got lost in our navigation. The paper map was not very useful in telling us where we were. We depended on signages that had the photo of the sculpture, but these led us in circles as well. Finally, after a few rounds, we got to where we were supposed to be – Room 7 in the Sully wing. The legendary story behind this mystical statue was placed on a wall near it. Having read it, and forgotten about it soon after, I reminded myself to research on it, and a hundred other art works after I’d ended my visit.
At this point, I checked if the louvre provided any apps. They do! I spent some time and precious tourist 4G data downloading the app. To my disappointment, to access to the Louvre Guide, I need to unlock with payment. I tried another Louvre app from eTips, again I had to pay $4.48. I did not want to pay for a technological experience at every museum I went as that will add up to at least $40. I see technology as supplementary to my experience and not the experience itself.
While walking to the last wing, the Richelieu, I chanced upon this counter with a queue. Looking up, I saw the sign “Louvre Nintendo 3DS guide”. They are renting this device to visitors. However, I’m too fatigued and lazy to consider renting a device and we are already at our 3rd and final section of the Louvre.
As I researched on this device upon my return to Singapore, I found that my experience might have been rather different if I had utilised it, especially the part about getting lost. It is available in 7 languages at €5 (“The Museum Audio Guide | Louvre Museum | Paris”). The video tour below shows us the capabilities of this device.
Source: (“Nintendo Direct – Nintendo 3DS Guide: Louvre”)
In summary, it offers a wide range of capabilities:
- Navigation with iBeacons to detect where you are in the museum (It addresses the issue of getting lost in the museum)
- Audio guide in 7 languages
- 3D survey of the exhibit (So you can see the top of the exhibit even if it’s very much higher than you)
- Panoramic views from important spots, so you don’t get lost
- Touch the interactive map and a photo of that location will turn up
- Commentaries on different art pieces and high resolution images to observe fine details if you don’t have a chance to get up close
- Data from a visitor’s visit can be collected from this device, so the museum can find out where the visitors went, and how much time they spent
Some comments from the youtube channel shows that it is quite a useful device:
Wow, I’m impressed with what Nintendo has done here. I have visited the Louvre and there is so much to take in that you need a tour in order to not be overwhelmed. To be able to take my 3DS with me and be able to not only have a virtual tour available, but also use location mapping to find my way around? That’s genius. I’m also happy that I would get the same software as I would if I rented one of their 3DS’s and that it will work the next time I visit the Louvre. ETA: Of course I would completely forget to mention being able to look at some of the famous artwork stored there in a nice high-resolution picture. That’s also badass in itself. – Michael Mangi, 2014
And there was another visitor with the exact same experience as me. They should probably design the counter in a more prominent way.
When I went to the Louvre this summer, I was so confused when I saw so many people with 3DSs. I didn’t learn until later that they were audio guides! I had my 3DS in my pocket, and I was trying to get StreetPasses from all of them! But unfortunately, you can’t. – Alectrode, 2014
Source: (Nintendo Direct – Nintendo 3DS Guide: Louvre)
In retrospect, I would say I assumed 3 different identities in my visit to the Louvre. The top being the “Experience Seeker”, where I wanted to have “been there, done that”, the second being the “Facilitator”, making sure my mom enjoyed herself as well and the last, as the “Explorer”, as evident in my chance encounters with famous art works I’d not known before. I fulfilled all my goals in that visit and left as a happy art “connoisseur”.
Palace of Versailles
This is a huge palace which began as Louis XIII’s hunting lodge before Louis XIV transformed and expanded it in 1682. My experience here was more guided than it was at the Louvre. Starting from the gate, there were clear signages showing separate entrances for tour groups and individuals. As we queued at the entrance for individuals, we were directed to a forked entrance. Those who would like an audio guide went to the left and the rest to the right. So we got our audio guides and off we went.
Guided from beginning to end
There was no way for you to get lost in the palace building because the visitor experience was guided from the point of entry. The first area we went to was the State Apartments. Room by room, I utilised the audio guide which was easy to understand and the commentary helped me to imagine the history behind the artefacts I was seeing. It was done in a sequential storytelling style. There were even some points where the narrator asked questions and you may choose a multiple choice answer. After the state apartments, we moved on to the Mesdames Apartments, where the princesses stayed.
With the extravagant decoration of the rooms in my sight, and the storyteller weaving tales of the people who stayed in those rooms, i.e. Mesdames Victoire and Adelaide, and the concluding of their lives in their exile to Italy after the French Revolution, I was transported to 17th century France. This piqued my interest to find out more about the French Revolution after this visit. The information given was not too much as to make me fatigued and not too little as to make me unengaged. In fact, it left me hanging in a way to want to find out more about the people who lived in the palace – Louis XIV, Mesdames Victoire, Adelaide, and Marie Antoinette, who was beheaded during the French Revolution.
The audio guide was an essential tool in this exhibition. It has a simple interface, buttons with numbers for me to type the numbers in the room I am in, and a green button to start the commentary. There are some rooms where the narrator will ask a question and you have to pick an answer from 3 choices. I thought that was interactive and kept me engaged as I moved along. The whole experience in this palace was pleasant and easy because of the guided tour, both navigationally and also through the audio guide.
At the Grand Trianon
The next leg of the journey brought me to a cluster of smaller palaces that were 30 mins’ away on foot. I treaded through the huge gardens compound to the area where the Grand Trianon and Marie Antoinette’s abode were.
Churchill War Rooms
The tour to the war room began in a queue that led me to a basement, a bomb shelter during the time of the second World War, right in the Westminster district. This museum offers both a guided experience through the real war rooms where Winston Churchill commandeered his top officers during World War II, as well as a splendidly designed museum exhibiting the stories behind the great man Churchill. Again, this was a tightly guided tour and every visitor was handed an audio guide to activate at different rooms.
The first part of the tour was already impressive. It was fascinating we reached the first room – the Meeting Room, and the narrator directed us to the clock and said that the clock stopped at the time of the end of the war, a symbolic representation of the fact that the war rooms were “frozen in time” since the end of the World War. Peering in, I could see the table containing a red box. That was the exact spot Sir Winston Churchill sat at during his meetings.
In this particular museum, I did not have to worry too much about whether my mother was able to understand the tour as the audio guide was available in Chinese and the whole tour was rather natural and progressive.
Seeing the sleeping quarters of the officers in person and listening to the stories on the audio guide, I felt as though I was teleported to the tensed era of World War II, where the Allies had no inkling that they were going to win the war, but, as the narrator reiterated time and again, Sir Winston Churchill had.
We were naturally guided from room to room in a sequential manner. Things and artefacts were arranged and displayed as close to history as possible. It was awe-inspiring to learn of the man Churchill through interviews with his staff, through his office, his dining area, which is a sacred place where he kept to a strict regime of 3 meals with his wife daily and his bedroom, which was right next to a very important operations room.
Upon completion of the war rooms tour, we went directly to the museum, which showcases interesting details about the man himself.
The complex character that was Sir Winston Churchill was explained to museum visitors in a mix of interactive display that included an eclectic selection of multi-sensory interpretive exhibits. There was the use of simple video which kept me entranced as I watched the funeral service of this great man, the clever use of projection mapping of famous quotes from his great speeches to create an fascinating multimedia show. Typography and quotes were the first things to greet the visitor. These are fitting of a man who is a great orator, one whom demoralised frontline soldiers needed in war-torn Europe.
London Natural History Museum
For a museum that contains dinosaurs fossils and exhibits, one may expect it to be a huge venue. It was indeed huge, but the size of the venue was complemented by excellent space planning and visitor flow.
Upon entrance into the museum, we were greeted by a physical 3D human evolution chart. This set the stage and context for our visit. Thus began a “7-million year journey” of discovering evolution in this fascinating museum filled with intricately modelled physical exhibits, and tactile and interactive displays. As we can see from the colour coded floorplan, the exhibits are well organised into sections such as dinosaurs and mammals in the blue zone, evolution and geology in the red zone, fossils in the green zone and so on and so forth. (Nhm.ac.uk, 2016) There is a storyline in each of these zones, so the exhibits are not haphazardly placed without relation to each other.
Intricately designed physical models filled the museum.
The exhibits that left the deepest impression on me were not exactly “digitally interactive” exhibits, as what we are familiar with today. I love the way they “preserved” the past with the entire gallery of fossils and displayed showcases as they were shown in the 19th century.
Another memorable exhibit is a part of the volcanoes and earthquakes section where there was an earthquake simulator. They designed this simulator like a Kobe supermarket. This rouses curiosity as Kobe was known to many as a place with one of the biggest earthquakes in recent history. Then curiosity leads to more interest as people wait for the simulator to start, so that we can experience an “earthquake” in the safety of the museum. For visitors like me who hasn’t had such an experience before (and I’m sure many others too), it’s quite intriguing.
World Expo Milano 2015
I was given the chance to visit the World Expo Milano in September 2015. It was an eye opener and these are some of the highlights of the amazing exhibit designs showcased in different country pavilions.
Artscience Museum Singapore
Each exhibition I went to provided a different kind of experience. The most memorable experiences involved ingenious and creative ways of presenting information, like the UAE pavilion holographic boxes, Future World’s Crystal Universe and augmented reality colouring activity. World Expo’s pavilions showcase the world’s best. As such, interactive designs fill every nook and cranny of the exhibition. However, not every interactive display is effective, as it all depends on the message delivered. The exhibit designer needs to consider whether an interactive solution is needful for the purpose. Every country wants to showcase their best plans for that year’s expo theme. Some pain points in my own customer journeys need to be considered here for an extensive analysis.
- Barriers to downloading the app – precious 4G data for tourists and unstable wifi
- Annoying “Pay to unlock” app for 90% of the app
- Navigation is difficult for huge museums
- Audio guides have been around for a long while and are very useful in giving information. Could we do more with those like what Nintendo have done with their Louvre guide? Using iBeacon technology might make it a more seamless experience. Instead of pushing buttons at different rooms, there can be visual and audio prompts once we reach a certain location.
- Can we have a seamless technological aid experience where visitors could use their existing smart devices without having to download an app?
- It is good for crowd flow to be controlled for a better experience. ArtScience sells tickets according to time slots. If the time slots are full, then the visitor can only choose other slots. Louvre is a very popular and large museum, so it may take a more complicated system to implement this.
- Falk J.H., Understanding Museum Visitors’ Motivations and Learnings. 2013
The Museum Audio Guide | Louvre Museum | Paris. Louvre.fr. N.p., 2016. Web.
- Louvre.fr. (2016). Cite a Website – Cite This For Me. [online] Available at: http://www.louvre.fr/en
Nintendo Direct – Nintendo 3DS Guide: Louvre”. YouTube. N.p., 2016. Web. 22 Oct. 2016.
Galleries And Museum Map | Natural History Museum. Nhm.ac.uk. N.p., 2016. Web. 25 Oct. 2016.
- Earthquake Simulator At The Natural History Museum. YouTube. N.p., 2016. Web.
- Future World – New Permanent Exhibition At Artscience Museum (60S). YouTube. N.p., 2016. Web.