A couple of weeks ago I attended a Colloquium about Rediscovering the Object (orgainsed by Kings and Goldsmiths) which looked at provoking dialogue about techniques and technologies to enhance engagement and participation in museums and galleries. It was a really interesting day, focusing on the perspectives of a range of researchers, designers and museum staff on how they have utilised technology to enhance interpretation and engagement and in essence create a re-appreciation of the role of objects and collections in museums.
There were so many interesting talks, but I have managed to narrow it down to my favourite two:
Ben Gammon: Using Tech to interpret tech? And Beau Lotto: Making space for ‘Seeing Myself See’ (I’ll write about Beau and seeing myself see in another post.)
Using Tech to interpret tech?
Ben specifically focused on science and technology museums. Most science tech objects don’t speak for themselves, well basically because it was never intended to be on public display. It doesn’t have clear communication aims. Can a simple paper based label accurately and engagingly convey scientific terms, concepts and motions to a visitor? Should we instead by utilising nifty technology to do that for us instead?
Ben sent us on a quest that has been going on for generations in museums: the quest for the perfect label.
The perfect label makes you look long and hard at the object, encourage critical thinking and seek answers from the objects. See connections between this and other objects, the themes of the exhibition and its context in society. Is tech the answer? This provoked quite a lot of discussion, some of the questions I jotted down during that are below:
- How can museums seamlessly merge the virtual and the real? And should they?
- How do you ensure visitors have useful mental models of operation?
- How do you avoid drowning visitors in content? How do you avoid the accusation of ‘dumming down’?
- How can you apply ideal object interpretation if it needs to cover the human interest story, the creative challenges, how it affected society. As well as catering for vast array of users. How do you do that? To date museums have met these challenges by mostly utilise small bits of paper and text. Is that appropriate? Does it distract from the object? is it to simplistic?
- If you’re going to use technology as label interpretations how do you make it cheap enough to develop? is it sustainable?
- Should interesting things simply be written on labels? Is it more about an intrinsic ability to speak interestingly?
- Paper labels doesn’t allow you to cater for all audiences. You can cater for specific audiences in one small label but not all. Should museums just stick to doing one thing, and do that one thing well? Are we trying to do far too much?
- Should we be aiming for conversations? Constructive learning experiences. Engagment.
- Issues of tech? Or issues of content? Enable tailored Recipient designed content. The tool is not the issue?