What are three things you never leave your house with? For me, it’s my keys, my wallet, and most importantly, my phone. I take my phone with me everywhere I go, and I can almost guarantee everyone reading is right there with me. So since we always have our smartphones on us, it makes sense businesses should start incorporating mobile into their customer experiences, even museums. Now I know what you are thinking, phones do not belong in museums. I get it. If you would’ve asked me a year ago I probably would have agreed with you. I feel like there has been an unspoken rule in museum etiquette that you shouldn’t be on your phone and taking pictures, but rather enjoying the experience around you. But after 2020, everyone needs to rethink how they can make indoor experiences safe while still enriching, and incorporating mobile might just be the way to do that.
Pairing an app with a museum is actually more helpful than you might think. The options when it comes to mobile apps are endless. It could serve as an informational app that simply provides general museum information like where to park, admission prices, hours, special events, wayfinding, etc. Going this route will help visitors easily access important information about the museum, without being distracting in the exhibits. However, you could also have an app that compliments the exhibits. For example, you could follow along in the app to get more information about a particular piece on display. Or there could be an audio guide incorporated with it. There are many ways you can incorporate an app into exhibits without hurting other visitors' experiences. You also don’t have to have a native mobile app that visitors need to download. Instead, you could look into a Progressive Web App (PWA) and provide visitors with a QR code or send an SMS message so they can quickly activate it on the go.
The National Art Gallery in Washington DC is a great example of a successful museum app. The app has a wayfinding feature helping visitors find different pieces of art. There is also an audio commentary feature by art experts serving as a tour guide. And there is even a section for kids introducing them to artistic concepts and engaging them in art history. Plus, the app is available in six different languages so its reach is huge.
Taking things a step further than just an informational app, you could also choose to include an augmented reality (AR) feature in your app. AR is a cool way for museums to bring exhibits to life and help visitors gain a deeper understanding of the history behind collections. Some ways AR can be used include having artists appear next to their work to talk about the piece or showing the evolution of an artifact or how something was made. There are so many options here, and giving this real-life experience provides a lot of value to visitors.
The Smithsonian Institution introduced AR into the museum back in 2017 as a part of their iconic Bone Hall. Visitors can download the app “Skin and Bones”. The app features 13 skeletons and will layer on skin and muscle to show users what the animals would have looked like and how they would have moved.
Improves Health and Safety
Finally, introducing mobile into museums can help with extra health and safety measures and ensure that museums can safely reopen. When you include mobile touchpoints into the museum it will eliminate how many germs are spread across the institution and can mitigate the risk of spreading COVID-19. Think about how many interactive museums you have been to in the past. Where everyone is touching stuff, wearing the same headphones to listen to the audio commentary, pressing buttons to make exhibits interactive… when you think about doing that now it sounds kind of gross. But if those touchpoints are replaced with a QR code you can scan on your smartphone and then access all the information on your phone, it becomes much safer.
When you think about going to a museum you think more about learning and reflecting on different exhibits, not being on your phone. But since everyone is already bringing their phones to museums anyway, it makes a lot of sense for museums to start incorporating mobile into exhibits. And with how far technology has come, it can be done in very discreet, non-disruptive ways that benefit visitors.