New Thinkwell Group Report Explores Digital Tech in Museums
Posted by Elizabeth Alton on Tuesday, December 9th, 2014
The Thinkwell Group has published its second annual Guest Experience Trend Report. This year’s report focuses on Museums & The Digital Revolution: Consumer Trends in Mobile and Interactive Technology Integration in Museums. The authors asked important questions about the role of mobile and interactive technologies in the museum context, building on last year’s insights from the theme park world. The survey also delved into current museum visitors’ expectations and behaviors. The insights are both surprising and important for museums that are thinking through these challenges in the year ahead…
Mobile devices: Mobile devices are a major part of today’s museum visits. 69% of the 1400 individuals surveyed across the nation bring a mobile device with them to museums. 73% use them while in the museums, for a variety of purposes including taking photos. This trend squares visitor behaviors that the Thinkwell Group revealed last year, when taking a similar look at mobile integration in theme parks. Other popular mobile phone activity included communicating with family and friends, posting to social media, researching topics related to exhibits, looking at the museum’s digital content, and taking notes.
GPS-based apps: Location-aware apps have been a major trend taking hold in museums. Essentially, the museums use indoor GPS systems to pinpoint a user’s location and then serve them customized content based on what they’re looking at – typically within an app. But the survey reveals that there may be a mismatch between this approach and the audience’s desired experience. Just 32% of respondents showed interest in these types of location-based applications. More than half of respondents didn’t install an offered app or uninstalled it based on concerns about their personal data. 19% have gone as far as disconnecting their device’s GPS features.
Authenticity and learning: Learning and growth are the major motivations for guests visiting museums, from art museums to science centers. Respondents ranked the three most important experiential elements of visiting a museum as educational opportunities, the chance to see “real” art and artifacts, and the content of exhibits. What’s interesting about this is the context that it places digital in as part of the bigger museum ecosystem: supportive or helping visitors achieve a deeper understanding and appreciation of the museum’s main collections. In that sense, visitors are pushing back against technology for technology’s sake. Instead, they’re more interested in opportunities that help them interact meaningfully with collections and interpret what they’re seeing.
Interactivity: What respondents crave is more interactivity. Interestingly, they are defining interactivity as both digital and the kinds of interaction that “breaks the four walls of the museum.” Audio features were highly requested. At the same time, guests are asking for after-hours events, expert talks, hands-on classes, and themed activities geared toward children. Opportunities for learning and gaining access to subject matter experts remain front and center.
Logistics: Complaints were more logistical: museum entry costs, facilities being too crowded, and out of date content were highlighted as the biggest negatives. A percentage of respondents suggested solutions such as adult-only hours. Interestingly and perhaps counterintuitively, younger guests are visiting museums more frequently than older visitors and staying longer during each visit.
Ultimately, the report concludes: “In an increasingly interconnected and digital world that gives easy access to infinite amounts of data and information, the value and role of museums has come into question. While it’s clear that museums need to adapt to shifts in technology, guests still look to them for authority and authenticity. Digital technologies can be helpful to museums in order to supplement their content, but visitors still crave social interactions, personal enrichment and access to original, authentic objects. Custom experiences can be tailored to the individual, but guests still want those experiences to take place in a physical space with real live experts there to teach them and answer questions.”
As the authors highlight, visitors are most interested in authority and authenticity. Digital content creation and technological integration is important, but primarily in its capacity to allow audiences to learn more, go deeper, and connect with the storylines being presented at museums. We encourage interested readers to explore the entire white paper for more insights, which is available online here.