From Ancient Worlds to New Technology: Catherine and Harriet’s trip around Manchester

The ‘chandelier’

The ‘chandelier’

This week we’ve had a meander around Manchester and visited a couple of our favourite museums. First on the list, was the Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI) where we met with our lovely former colleague Kate Chatfield, who is now Exhibitions Interpretation Manager at MOSI. We wanted to investigate how the hi-tech interpretation methods worked in the Revolution Manchester gallery and what we could learn from these approaches.

The Revolution Manchester gallery opened in January 2011 so we were interested in how the technology used in the gallery has dated over time and wanted to find out more about how visitors interacted with it. As you first walk in you are faced with a large installation – basically a massive ‘chandelier’ made up of video screens, merged with photographs of famous Manchester innovators (it’s difficult to describe, so look at the picture!!). Visitors can add their faces to the chandelier by scanning a barcode at one of the20130902_142338 introductory digital stations, entering some information, and having their photo taken. You are asked your name, email address and asked to select your areas of interest from a list presented to you. We assumed this would then signpost us to a selection of displays which came within our interest bracket, but unfortunately this was not the case. Excitingly however, your face then became part of the giant digital sculpture. Visitors really seemed to love this, and spent a considerable amount of time getting the perfect picture! This had the effect of making you feel you were really part of MOSI, and secured your investment in the museum from the start.

20130902_142347The barcode could then be used at a number of the interactives throughout the Revolution Manchester gallery. However, we did have a few problems getting these to work. A number either refused to scan the card, or were out of order which made the barcode quite redundant. 20130902_152225We were able to use it on one interactive game however, and it was really exciting to see your name come up on the screen before you started to play. Later, at home, you could then input the barcode number along with your name into MOSI’s website. This enabled you to find out more information related to the interests you had stated at the outset. We liked the way MOSI have promoted other museums in this way; however it would be interesting to know how many people actually took the time to look at the website after their visit. Also, it would have been nice to see further links to MOSI’s collection using this method.

It was great to speak to Kate about the gallery as she was able to give us a real insight into how the gallery is used, and how visitors respond to it. We discussed the merits and drawbacks of using state of the art technology in a museum setting with relation to our Play Your Part project. We do not want anything that won’t last in the future and will appear out of date (or out of order!) in a few years time. This got us thinking about the use of mobile technology in the gallery space, and how this would provide an immersive interactive experience – without the massive price tag!

With this information in mind, we went off to Manchester Museum to explore how they utilise technology and especially mobiles in their new Ancient Worlds gallery. As you walk into the gallery you are treated to fusion of traditional museum cases enclosing objects and labels and new technology in the form of videos and directions to the gallery’s own mobile site. This design is very inclusive and therefore people who do not own mobiles or have access to the internet are still able to find out a wealth of information about the objects on show.

Screenshot_2013-09-05-17-16-16Screenshot_2013-09-05-17-16-41The mobile site is very well designed. Visitors can input a combination of symbols in order to find out information about the object the symbols relate to. For some objects this is just basic information and a photograph, whereas for others you are able to listen to audio and browse through a selection of photographs. You are also able to share the page on Facebook, Twitter and Google+, something which we feel is very important when using technology today. In theory, you can access this information at home, however you would need the code of symbols to access specific objects, so realistically you would have to randomly select items to look at, therefore the site is very much designed to complement the museum experience, and not so much as a standalone site.

Whilst we enjoyed using the mobile site, we didn’t observe many other visitors using it. We also visited the Living Worlds gallery in which you are required to download an app to access interactive content. We felt the use of a mobile site instead of a downloadable app was quicker to access and therefore presented fewer barriers to use.

These visits were really useful and inspiring. The next stage for us is to investigate how we can use mobile technology at the PHM. Watch this space!

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