The 3-step process to create the best exhibit tech

As a museum technologist, I have received many requests for exhibit technology. Often these requests began with “we need a touchscreen” or sometimes even “we need 3 technology interactives in this exhibit”. My reply was always the same…”What’s the content?”

Content has historically taken a back seat to the “WOW” factor that technology provides. Museum leaders often think that visitors expect technology and that our goal should be to prioritize including it. That is only half right.

Visitors do expect technology. Not only do they expect it to be there, they expect it to work flawlessly, be an extension of their physical experience and be a relevant and complementary part of their visit. Visitors do NOT want to listen to audio on weird handsets, mess with unstable tech that is always broken or download new apps to their personal devices (unless they are REALLLLLLY good).

With those high expectations, it can feel intimidating – and maybe even impossible – to make good exhibit tech for visitors. But it isn’t. The secret is in simplicity.

Step 1: Focus on content instead of format.

Visitors are in your building because they care about your content and they want to interact with it in a way they can’t any place else. So, begin your tech planning session with a deep dive into the content. You need subject matter experts – curators, educators, external advisors. Anyone who can give you a peek into the content that no one knows about your objects and exhibits.

Plan a one-hour workshop with your content experts and make a list of everything they can think of that is interesting to know about the exhibit or objects you are working with. Focus on quantity and edit later.

Once you have a solid list of ides, it’s on to step 2.

Step 2: Make it memorable.

Take a look at your list of content ideas and identify 2 or 3 that are unique and lend themselves to an experiential interpretation. Good candidates are:

  • Sights and sounds you can’t find anywhere else
  • Process or behind-the-scenes content only you have
  • Experiences that are impractical in your physical space
  • Visitor stories that you’ve gathered

You get the idea. It’s cool stuff that doesn’t fit in a case or on a label. Now on to step 3.

Step 3: Figure out the format

Making it memorable is good advice here too. As you think about how to best bring your idea to life, don’t immediately go to a custom app that takes a year to build and costs $75K. There are so many simple formats that create multi-media experiences that visitors will remember. Here are some examples:

  • Immersive sound and light with simple gobos and looping audio
  • KODEX experiences to organize audio and video to make it searchable or browsable
  • Large wall-mounted TVs with looping silent videos that demonstrate how an object is used or the process of making something

And, of course, sometimes there is a cool idea that needs augmented reality or a custom app in order to come to life. When you find those in your content list, you’ll already be halfway there in terms of justifying it – because you started with the most interesting and compelling content. So, your ask for budget doesn’t start with “we need this cool technology to…” instead it can start with, “there is this amazing story that visitors need to hear and [insert technology here] is the best way to convey it.”

If you need help with this process or guidance when you get to step 3, don’t hesitate to reach out. It’s what I do best!