"Beyond Culture”

Engaging technologies to improve museum visitors experience - QR Codes & Museums.
“Today, no organization is immune to the disruptions caused by technological innovation.”
G. Wayne Clough, Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution.

Museums and cultural institutions around the world are facing the challenge of increasing and maintaining visitor numbers, especially with younger audiences. A fall in visitors is seen by most as a negative outcome, both financially and in terms of wider social and educational impact. It can happen due to a range of factors, but one of the most important is that Museums and cultural institutions can often find themselves competing with the products of the entertainment industry, which at its heart is in the business of telling a good story.

A solution can be found in the so called interactive digital storytelling which combines participation with story generation and narration to focus in on making storytelling more personal and mobile. In other words, edutainment, something that both educates and entertains for a more engaging, adaptive and fundamentally enjoyable visitors’ experience. Interactive digital storytelling means: "Tell me an interesting and engaging story that makes my conversation more fascinating".

There are several technologies that nowadays, can make the cultural proposal more fascinating, and in so doing both educate and entertain visitors. Let’s have a look at some of them…

Mobile tagging & QR Code

QR CODE (Quick Response Code) are two-dimensional barcode, first designed in 1994 by Denso Wave in Japan to rapidly scan components in the automotive sector. A QR Code is machine-readable optical label that contains information about the item to which it is attached. Simply, QR Codes are barcodes that anyone can print and use with a QR Code Reader… the only limit then is your imagination. Qr codes may establish a connection between the physic world and the electronic one, enhancing the cultural experience with multimedia and interactive contents, let's see how:

Denver Art Museum:

DAM Scout: the app. helps visitors to uncover hidden layers of multimedia content, share them with friends on Facebook, Twitter, or e-mail …”Use it to scan QR codes wherever you see them in the museum and tune into conversations with artists, seek out hidden information about the museum, and tap into related content”.

The National Aquarium of New Zealand:

The National Aquarium of New Zealand: branded QR code. Visitors hook into the free Wi-Fi service on entry to the Napier-based aquarium, then scan a series of QR codes that led to informational video and audio tours, showcasing featured animals or exhibits, presented by staff members.

Manchester Art Gallery, Remembering Slavery: Revealing History 2009:

QR Codes distributed along the exhibition itinerary allow curators to extend the informativeness of textual and multimedia elements, pushing the limits of space and time of a traditional exhibition. QR Codes placed alongside the works to enable real-time access to movies, documents, discussions and contributions without resorting to invasive and often very expensive installations.

Venice Architecture Biennale, Russian Pavillon, 2012:

Every surface inside the top floor of the Russian Pavilion at the Venice Architecture Biennale was covered in QR codes, which visitors decode to explore ideas for a new Russian city dedicated to science.

Other usages of the QR Codes are:

Catalogs and other publications, can be updated, augmented and enhanced through links to external resources accessed by QR Codes. The publication stops being a closed universe in the linearity of the text, and becomes an element of the complex world of the hypertext.

QR Codes can facilitate the storage of information such as web addresses, references, publications, and so on, they can also be places on advertisments to promote exhibitions, special openings, special events and so on.

Let’s make a short digression and think about QR Code usages all the way around … any ideas? NCR Mobile Cash Withdrawal: consumers pre-stage the transaction via the NCR App, and choose the amount of their transaction. Once at their bank’s ATM, the pre-staged cash transaction will be authorised and funds dispensed just showing the QR Code to the QR Code Reader embedded in the ATM machine.

In museums QR code on admissions ticket can be used let visitors access additional information and track their behavior, getting in real time an incredible amount of information about visitor's experience.

Open Points

QR Codes require very little investment to implement: minimal cost to create, minimal cost to display, as it is usually already covered by the cost to print the main content. However...

  • Most visitors do not use QR codes because it’s difficult to scan them.
  • The right software is needed.
  • Very often QR Codes bring to a useless site or set of information.
  • QR codes tend to exclude visitors who lack access to technology.

"If I am going to have to install or worse still, find on my phone, a QR code reading application then the reason I am going to all this trouble has to be really really worthwhile."