Friday, November 17, 2006

Visitor experience and technology in the Getty Center.

I was recently pointed toward the podcast of Dave Cronin's presentation at this year's Ideas Conference (the slides and podcast can be found here), Art for the public: supporting a visitor-directed museum experience. Cronin works for Cooper, a consulting company brought in to develop and implement new technologies to enhance visitor experience to the Getty Center art museum in LA; the podcast was essentially a presentation of this as a case study, and was a very interesting listen.

They redeveloped the computer 'kiosk' system, replaced audioguides with handhelds, and integrated it all with the Getty Center's website. They fed a lot of visitor experience data into the development of this, which is a fantastic way to make sure the technologies you're putting in are going to work for the visitors, rather than dumping technologies in and trying to make the visitors use and enjoy it. What I liked about their approach to developing this stuff was that it wasn't all just about education/information about what was in galleries, but also about wayfinding and orientation in the museum. I like that mix of practical and educational info.

I also found the way they examined the visitors interesting - they looked at the varying levels of art knowledge people have, the things they might be interested in when viewing a piece (i.e materials or artist, or subject etc), the different ways people learn in museums, as well as attitudes to the use of technology in museums. It's a nice broad approach that informs the development of the technology they were looking to install - and it's valuable visitor information for the museum to use in the future. Out of their visitor research the group came up with "Personas" - or "Archetypal user models based on behavior patterns observed during research" - which Cronin states are design models and not statistical realities. I like the idea of this - rather than a strict statistical demographic group, it's more informed by statistics and research and actual visitor observation to get down to sorts of individuals - which, while painted with broad brushes, are probably more useful than large demographically based groups. As well as including visitors, they had a docent persona - what a great idea! I think a lot of museum administrators try so hard to provide for their visitors that they tend to forget their employees are important to consider when planning exhibitions/new technologies/programs/activities etc.

The stuff that Cooper ended up producing sounds terrific - full of information (of varying forms) - and accessible in the 3 different ways. I had a look at the slides, and the appearance of them is quite good, too (for something that could've been too complicated to present) - the handheld looks particularly awesome! After using something like that in Te Papa in Wellington (they were testing the technology), it's awesome to see it being integrated into museums as a valid guide tool. The Getty's been terrifically lucky in who they chose as consultants, because I think Cooper are really clued in as far as where you can go with this sort of technology for visitors in museums now. I would love to see my museum go anywhere even NEAR having these sorts of things on offer for visitors - we don't even have proper guide booklets, let alone tours or audioguides! Wishful thinking.. Anyhow - if you're interested in hearing about research and development with regard to museum visitors, I highly recommend giving this a listen!

No comments: