Long seen as a dusty, stale environment filled with stuffy artifacts, museums are slowly changing their image as they adopt technology, giving visitors a more immersive and diverse experience. And when the pandemic struck, the need for a more innovative solution to provide engaging content and experiences has only been amplified.
It's no surprise then that many have begun exploring ways to leverage apps—mobile, web-based programs designed to enhance user experience - to bridge the gap between physical and virtual experiences.
As traditional as these institutions are, most museums have already integrated technology into their offerings in some way. For example, interactive exhibits and audio tours are commonplace, as are digital kiosks - embedded screens at the museum entrance that provide visitors with a map of the facility and information about current exhibitions.
Augmented and virtual reality are also becoming more popular, allowing visitors to explore content more immersive than traditional displays. But while these tools can be powerful engagement drivers, they're extremely expensive and difficult to implement.
Now, enter mobile apps...
An app could take this to another level by providing instant access to these same features and then some. Imagine signing into a museum and accessing detailed information about current and upcoming exhibitions, interactive audio tours and augmented reality experiences, all in one place.
This would enable museums to provide an unparalleled experience to their visitors and help them better track user engagement data and personalize the content for each individual. In other words, it would be like having your guide to the museum—all accessible through a single app.
If one wishes to see an example of how mobile apps can be incorporated into the museum experience, look no further than The Smithsonian. The museum offers a variety of mobile apps and websites that allow visitors to interact with exhibits while they are visiting the museum or remotely accessing them.
Infinity of Nations for the National Museum of the American Indian - One of the Smithsonian's many mobile apps - gives users access to information (English and Spanish) about indigenous cultures worldwide. The app includes interactive maps, audio recordings and pictures, making it easy for visitors to explore the museum's impressive collection.
Yves Klein: With the Void, Full Powers - This mobile app provides an overview of select art pieces, with high-resolution images, video, audio and quotes directly from the artist.
Set in Style - This app is made exclusively for iPad, where over 60 objects are showcased from a Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum. The lineup includes Van Cleef & Arpels' timepieces, jewels, and accessories.
Unlike AR and VR technologies, museums don't have to shell out thousands of dollars to incorporate customer-facing devices designed to drive customer engagement. Instead, they can distribute iPads and iPhones pre-loaded with their mobile apps.
These devices will enable visitors to explore exhibits in greater detail, though users may want to download the app before visiting the museum to take advantage of all its features. The ability for museums to deploy these devices across different locations means they can collect user and engagement data in real time.
Case in Point: Australia's The Powerhouse Museum replaced the traditional LCD screen with mobile tablets for its audio-visual displays. The change in strategy was brought by the need to promote a better visitor experience for people who are not tech-savvy.
The Powerhouse Museum's mobile devices also feature push notifications for special exhibitions, podcasts, and upcoming events. This helps promote the museum's various activities without bombarding visitors with all the available content.
Enhanced Self-Guided Tours
Another way that museums should leverage apps for better visitor experiences is by integrating them into their self-guided tours. These apps can provide users with detailed information on exhibitions and interactive audio tours that help them learn about certain pieces or exhibits.
For example, you may use mobile tablets to play specific audio or media files based on the visitor's input.
real-timeAt specific intervals throughout your museum, provide visitors with access to audio and video content to enhance their experience, like when they reach a particular display or exhibit.
This content could be pre-loaded onto the museum's mobile app, which visitors can download before their visit.
Alternatively, you can provide customers with access codes to a specific audio or video file—allowing them to listen to it while they explore the exhibition.
Museums also improve visitor experience with the help of mobile apps through individual learning kiosks. This works because visitors conveniently enter a code into their app and gain access to information about the exhibit they are viewing.
An infinite amount of information can be injected into one kiosk, i.e., audio recordings, images, or other media files that help explain what is on display - bringing the exhibitions to life for the visitor in an interactive way.
Gamify Your App
There's more to leveraging mobile apps than providing visitors with interactive audio and video tours. You can also create a gamified experience for visitors by incentivizing them to complete challenges or achieve certain goals.
For example, you could incorporate a points-based system into your mobile app and provide users with rewards for completing various activities in the museum. Virtual currency may be used to purchase items from the museum's store or to gain access to exclusive events.
You can also allow users to compete for top leaderboard positions and reward them for completing puzzles, quizzes, and other activities. This encourages repeat visits, as users want to complete more challenges and rank higher in the leaderboards.
All these "gaming" concepts are made possible when you leverage mobile apps in the museum. This also appeals to the younger generation of visitors who are used to playing video games and other interactive media.
How To Build An App
If you want to build an app there are several steps that you need to take.
Step #1 Decide The Scope Of Your App
Before you start building anything, you need to think about your app’s core functionality and what you are trying to accomplish. Do you want the app to communicate new exhibitions, do you want it to have a virtual tour, or an audio tour? Deciding on the features will help you figure out the scope and the budget you need for your app.
Step #2 Hire Developers
Once you’ve figured out the scope of your app, you need hire app developers to help you to build the app. There are a ton of different app developers all over the world and they will offer you a variety of prices anywhere from $2,000 to even $100,000. With such a wide range of pricing, it can be difficult to decide which company is right.
You should get a detailed plan from these companies about what they will do, what’s included in their pricing, and how they work. Next, you should shortlist the most promising companies and then interview them.
Step #3 Create a Wireframe
A wireframe is essentially an outline that sketches out what features the app will have. Work with your chosen app developer to develop the wireframe. The wireframe should have basic design features and you should be able to see how the app will be used.
It’s just important to discuss what won’t be included as it is what features will be included. Once the wireframe is done, you should be able to lock down the price. If possible, it’s best to work on a set price rather than per hour as hours can quickly get out of control and cause frustration on both sides.
Step #4 Decide on Technical Specifications
Next your app developer should be able to recommend what tech should be used to develop the app. There are a lot of different tools a developer can use and the app developer will likely have a couple of favourite.
Makes sure you understand the pros and con of all the tools you are using. For example, some tools might only work on Apple while others work on both Apple and Google.
Step #5 Create a Beta App
Next the app developer should have all the information to start coding your app.
This is the fun part as you can gradually see your app come to life. Make sure you create a timeline and some milestones. App developers are notorious for taking twice as long and over budget so try to keep them on schedule with regular check-ins and process updates.
Step #6 Quality Assurance
Once you have a beta version of your app you will need to do some quality assurance testing.
This is where you test the user experience and the journey your user will have in your app. There will be bugs and errors and other problems with your app.
This is to be expected during the beta phase. It’s great to have spouses, friends, and families test out the app because they will have fresh eyes and will be able to spot errors or problems that you won’t. Combine all the feedback onto one sheet and give to your app developer to fix.
Step #7 Fix Bugs
The app developer should be able to fix all your bugs and add any additional features that you want if they are still in the budget. It’s important that your user have a good experience using your app. People’s expectations are higher than ever and they expect great user experiences so it’s important that you deliver.
Step #8 Deploy
Next you need to launch your app. This is where you put it out into the world. Keep in mind, just because the app is deployed doesn’t mean you can just leave it along. Your app will need patches, security updates, and other features added. Discuss with your app developer the cost for ongoing maintenance.
Museums can use mobile apps for various objectives, from providing customers with detailed information on exhibits to creating a more engaging visit through gamification. By leveraging these technologies correctly, these institutions could provide visitors with an enhanced experience tailored to what they perceive is important to them.
Ultimately, leveraging mobile apps in museums creates more value for visitors, increasing foot traffic. You encourage repeat visits, enhance visitor engagement, and promote your museum's activities by providing customers with multimedia content and interactive games.
Ultimately, it's about creating better experiences for those visiting your museum. And nothing could be more important than that.