THE MUSEUM VISITOR EXPERIENCE:
IN A DIGITAL AGE
As society has shifted into the 21st century, there has been a collective push toward embracing digital technology. Digital resources hold potential to revolutionize the way many institutions approach and actualize their opportunities. Digital technology offers opportunities to broaden the relationship between visitors and the museum, with its digital extension. A museum’s website, and other digital counterparts, now have opportunities to become more than just a way to inform a visit, but become their own experience, that may or may not inform a physical museum visit.
By exploring and understanding museum visitors, and through current case studies and examples, this thesis looks to enhance the visitors’ experience, and to add value and meaning through the use of digital technology. Museums should continue to invest efforts into expanding the visitor experience further into the digital realm. This will establish a dynamic relationship between the visitor and museum, adding value and meaning.
Participation, The Visitor, & The Museum
The audience is the heart of a museum. Museums serve the public; therefore, it is important to understand “who” the audience is and what they value in the museum and their experience. Typically, museums use surveys, as a tool to unveil information about visitor wants, needs, and expectations. The same technique can be applied to determine “where” an audience is within digital technology. It can help determine if audiences have a desire for digital technology, what type and format, and what they are using currently. Looking broadly at museum audiences, figure 4 below, illustrates typical roles and behaviors visitors enact with related motivations, desires, and expectations during their experience. It is important to remember that these categories are fluid and flexible. A visitor may shift in and out of these different categories throughout a visit.
MUSEUM, Digital Resources & dEsign Considerations
Before expanding, there are some institutional considerations that may help shape and create an effective digital presence, which contributes to the visitors’ experience.
VISITOR EXPERIENCE POSSIBILITIES
How will museums know they have achieved their intentions? While creating experiences with digital potential, it may prove useful to incorporate a method for checking strengths and weakness of the visitor experience. It may help reveal possible gaps or an imbalance in the visitors’ experience, providing an opportunity to address potential frustrations that may develop. This will help ensure that visitor expectations, needs, and motivations are being met.
This thesis has explored the potential possibilities digital technology has for the visitor experience. It has established the importance of understanding the museum’s audience, looking at visitor motivations, expectations, and ways they participate, specifically with digital technology. It has demonstrated how museums have the opportunity to provide experiences to visitors that extends outside of the physical museum visit.
It is my hopes that this framework provides museums with a method to help realize the full potential of incorporating digital technology into the visitors’ experience. This process can act as a guide illustrating considerations for museum and possibilities for the visitor. Although each museum and exhibition ultimately have different audiences, access to resources, and goals this process can be used as a starting point, broadening museums to available possibilities.
There is a dynamic relationship between society and digital technology. This technology is often shaped and designed with the users’ motivations and expectations in mind. Digital technology is always evolving, continually offering more possibilities at a faster pace. What may be current one day can become obsolete the next. As visitors adapt to and become more comfortable with technology their expectations and participation evolves, prompting a response from the technology. Therefore, it is important for museums to understand their visitors and the role digital technology has in their everyday life so it can then be applied to their museum experience.
Lastly, it has been demonstrated ways digital technology can add value to the museum and visitors’ experience, specifically with issues dealing with social, political, economic, and cultural themes. This will keep the museum relevant, while also extending the meaning of museums, through the use of digital technology