Visitors, apps, post-visit experiences … and a re-think of digital engagement Part 1

as kids 5In response to the interest in my tweet about museum visitors, apps and post-visit experiences, thought I need to explain further the research we have been undertaking in this area. The museum is about to launch Action Stations, an amazing new experience / re-interpretation of our iconic warships. As part of developing the interpretive approach three studies were undertaken to test out visitor responses to a range of proposed digital products:

  1. user-testing with 40 participants (12 general groups of families and couples; 18 teachers; 10 museum volunteers) to feed into interface development for a proposed interactive table
  2. in-depth interviews with twelve member families and their children (total of 28 individuals) looking at a potential mobile app and their use of technology, including device ownership / use
  3. online survey of 200 randomly selected people living in the Greater Sydney region who had visited a museum / gallery in previous twelve months focussing on online activities / behaviours and device ownership

There were many great findings from these studies that informed the final development of Action Stations. In these posts I am focussing on two that intrigued #MWA2015 folks the most – what did respondents think about a mobile app for Action Stations, and what did they think a post-visit experience could be?

This first post focusses on their responses to us providing a mobile app to enhance their experience, and the second discusses their views around a post-visit experience.

To app or not to app?

  • We found that device ownership and use varied dramatically, which will influence our choices around providing app via a store or a mobile website
  • Concerns raised around how visitors can access content without a device
  • Why do we need to use devices on board the vessels? They are the “heroes” of the experience (more about the HMAS Vampire and HMAS Onslow)
  • Safety concerns on board a vessel – will I drop my device? Will I fall overboard while using it? (this is somewhat unique to the Maritime Museum, situated as we are right on the water…).

From those that want an app:

  • It’s expected these days
  • I can control the levels and type of information I access

And from those that don’t:

  • Don’t have a device
  • Not confident in how to download
  • Why have an app when you have the objects there? “I prefer to have the physical, non-tech experience especially at a museum rather than a tech one”
  • I don’t want it on my device: “It’s not what I use my iPhone for. I use it for music and games” (Year 10 student)
  • Is wireless available?
  • Unsure about file size – will it use up my data?
  • Will it work on MY device?
  • How will I find out about it?
  • Will it just sit on / clutter up my device as I’ll never use it again?

Across the member families interviewed there were mixed views about whether an app was needed, required or even expected. If an app was provided they wanted it to:

  • be easy and intuitive to use
  • be integrated with the experience
  • extend the experience by providing rich content, games etc

While they expected to download the app (if provided) when they bought their ticket they felt it needed to be made clear how and why to do so (it’s all in the roll-out strategy!). I found that mums, in particular, wanted “screen-free time” for their children and thought a museum visit was a great way to spend time together away from devices (television included). This somewhat contrasts with some other research we did around downloading apps reported on here.

Some comments:

  • “Where does the experience start and end between the 3-dimensional experience and the 2-dimensional experience of the device?”
  • “Will the app undermine the element of surprise/ what’s to surprise when you get here? Do you get something unlocked when you get into the Wi-Fi environment at the experience?”
  • “Wouldn’t bother unless my kids ask me – it’s just another thing on my phone”
  • “I’d do a battleships app where they could play each other on the way home, otherwise I’d politely ignore it”
  • “Wouldn’t want to encourage bringing a device [as] on a day we’re out away from screens”
  • “Interested in an audio guide in the ship itself if it works. But sometimes that can be off-putting if have multiple devices going off everywhere”
  • “Can use another language in audio guide”
  • “I’d rather see the thing rather than a screen”
  • [there is a] Fine line between giving too much and not enough”
  • “I don’t want to waste five minutes downloading something that I don’t know we’d like, especially when I’m with the kids”
  • “The more you put on the better”
  • “I’d want to use the game outside of the museum, not while I’m here”
  • “For kids it needs to be educational – depends how engaging it is, they are hard to do well”

The MONA effect

MONA’s “O” was consistently mentioned across all groups in this research as a great mobile (and visitor) experience:

  • easy to collect and use – was part of your entry experience
  • easy to navigate around the site
  • interesting content
  • you can email yourself after (but when pressed most hadn’t bothered to look at it!)

It seems to me that MONA is becoming the benchmark for provision of mobile digital content across many regular museum visitors that I talk to – and is still the one to watch.

The next post discusses the post-visit experience, and wonders – is there one?

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