Holograms, AR, VR, Robots...grad thesis explores what's right for which museums

New media tools will help museums to become attractive to various – partially
new – target audiences, by offering new ways of interaction with the museum
visitor. Thus, museums will be better prepared in their quest to attract visitors
and to be noticed in a marketplace which is increasingly shaped by the private
sector (which offer more and more personalised, interactive and innovative


New media tools are necessary today to attract various target audiences, and also hold current audiences. They can fluctuate with the ever-changing exhibitions at a museum, as well as offer a “third space” to engage with an institution, or new experience to drive repeat visitation. This excerpt from a grad student’s thesis is very interesting, as she tries to tackle the questions that wrack many museum professional brain “Which multimedia suits my museum’s needs best?”

The author takes a crack at this tricky question, and offers a “New Media Matrix” chart comparing new media tools with their influence and suitability for different demographics, museum types, and objectives in implementation. This is a really good place to start for museums that have not yet dabbled in the tech and multimedia world. 

Some observations I have made in agreement with her research (which collates feedback as ‘+’s and ‘-‘s) are as follows:

  1. Holograms, AR/VR, and Robots, as shown in the chart are fleeting – they are great for the “WOW” effect, but are far too costly to be effective on a mass scale. Right now, they are an experiment.
  2. Audio, Video, and Info Displays are suitable for all museum types, and all types of exhibitions – be they temporary or permanent. In fact, Audio & Video are the only media that receive ++ for every visitor type. 
  3. Websites are the most common and effective offsite media – this seems like a no-brainer, since almost every visitor will check hours, ticket prices, or a museum’s “what’s on” page previsit. 

Some things that stood out to me in disagreement, or to be confusing, would be the following:

  1. Portable Audio Guides, Mobile Applications, and Audio and Video are sited as mutually exclusive, which they are not.
  2. Audio can, and does create a “WOW” effect, as well as attract new visitors. 3D audio, podcasts, and ASMR are very hot right now, and only gaining momentum and popularity. Audio done right is art, and generates plenty of “WOW”.
  3. Ages 0-12 love using handheld guides… we have seen this in practice at multiple of our partner sites. 
  4. Portable devices can, and do, create opportunities for sponsorship (donors put their name on the hardware), are affordable when considering the return, and are sustainable for the near future due to their flexibility in changing content and evolving capabilities. 
  5. Her chart sites what is most “suitable,” not what is most effective – and there is a difference. What may seem logical to be suitable, may not necessarily be true in practice.

I think the student should have explored “handheld media devices” in general, opposed to exclusively focusing on “portable audio devices.” For example, reliable research has found that downloadable apps, do not work. The expected demographic of younger audiences do not download them, and definitely will not if they have to pay. However, put that app on an ADA compliant handheld device, then not only do you have highly engaging content, but you can generate revenue, offer one solution for multiple demographics, then in turn be cost effective by investing in only one solution for all visitor types.

Ways of making this better

Perhaps if the student had offered an ideal point score that would suggest x-amount of + signs to make an initiative worth it, these discrepancies would be addressed. 

For example: 50 + signs = a successful initiative, subtract a point for every – sign and stay neutral for every o sign.

Let’s take my example above in the context of an art museum: this one solution includes audio and video in an APP form which is offered on a handheld device to generate revenue, and be effective for all visitor types and demographics. This one solution would warrant 86 points!

This is a really good effort in steering museum professionals in the right direction – unfortunately the perfect new media solution is not so clean cut. It will incorporate multiple elements on this chart into one solution, in order for the initiative to be worth the time and investment, as well as be effective for the short and long term.

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We make audio tours, mobile apps, multimedia guides, podcasts, interactives, and superior story-driven content for the museum and cultural sector.

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