Inside your museum: an outsider's perspective (part 3 of 3)

By Giles Brown

Click Suite

Read part 1 of this post

Read part 2 of this post

Involve people (everyone has a story to tell)

Using the ‘wisdom of the crowd’ is a hot topic today (not just within the museum world), but in any sphere where knowledge is contestable. With the proliferation of digital and social tools to quickly, easily and meaningfully aggregate opinion, ‘crowd sourcing’ (sorry to use the buzzword du jour) is here to stay.

And it’s not some earnestly liberal post-modern fantasy where ‘anything goes, anything is valid and anything is possible’. It just means that museums don’t know everything there is to know on any given topic and visitors can actually be used to augment an exhibition’s content with their own intelligence, wisdom and experiences.

This is where the role of curation and moderation is important in sorting out the best, most interesting, most timely content and so on. Not to mention giving it some historical context. However you feel about the role of the ‘general public’ operating as de facto curators for some or all of your exhibition, concepts like ‘visitor-generated metadata’ (letting people ‘tag’ or name what they see in ways that are meaningful to them) and the recent idea of the ‘Open Source museum’ (a collection of artefacts that is either partially or fully curated by public opinion) are trends that are not going to go away.

Here is an example of a crowdsourced exhibition from The Brooklyn Museum (The Black List project). They installed laptops in their exhibit space to encourage visitor engagement. They then used YouTube quick capture to solicit responses to the question “What does race mean to you?”

You can watch some of the clips on the exhibition’s YouTube channel.

Consider playing games

Finally, museums have been experimenting more and more with the idea of gameplay to engage visitors and extend the learning experience. One such example is WolfQuest – a 3D wildlife simulation game developed by Eduweb and the Minnesota Zoo, and freely distributed online. Was the game any good? I don’t know. Was it successful? The game clearly found an audience (with over 250,000 game downloads and 30,000 multiplayer game sessions per month).

Were players learning what the creators had intended?

The results are encouraging: “Summative evaluation found that players do indeed report knowledge gain, stronger emotional attachment to wolves, and significant behavioral outcomes, with large percentages of players following their game sessions with other wolf-related activities, including such further explorations of wolves on the Internet, in books and on television.”

In another example, The Museum of Science and Industry (Chicago) has a great little website that is fully game-based. It uses problem solving, great animation, delightful characterisation and superb sound design (the highlight) to explain simple physics concepts (e.g. how to make an inclined plane, lever, wheel and axel etc). It’s carefully thought through and beautifully executed. If you want to see how to make science concepts integrated into an attractive game environment, and especially if you don’t think you’re a big fan of online games, you should definitely check it out.

And finally, for a real combination of the online and the offline experiences, it’s worth reading about ‘Ghosts of a Chance’ (an Alternate Reality Game created by the Smithsonian American Art Museum and their multimedia partners).

The game was designed to offer new and existing audiences a different way to engage with the collection in its Luce Foundation Centre for American Art (a facility of over 3,300 artworks in floor-to-ceiling glass cases). Game participants were encouraged to decipher codes, follow treasure maps, send text messages, and uncover hidden objects in this multimedia scavenger hunt.

And finally…

There’s just so much happening in the museum, gallery, exhibition and visitor experience space that it’s hard to know where to start. This post is really a very brief overview of just some of the emerging trends with a handful of examples from the many that cross our screens each day. We’ll be blogging a lot more about it in the weeks and months ahead. Please let us know if you have any interesting examples you’d like to share.

About Click Suite:

We have been merrily making international award-winning interactive media since 1994. We are completely ‘technology agnostic’ in our approach, and use the most appropriate media for your audience(s) and the stories you wish to tell. Have a look at some of the work we’ve done

for museums and cultural institutions.

Further reading:

“Are screens killing museums?”

“Screens” Aren’t Killing Museums

The work of American conceptual artist, Jenny Holzer, who uses text, typography and projection (in public spaces) (this one is really great) in very powerful and interesting ways.

The Black List Project – Brooklyn Museum

Wolfquest effectiveness study

Strategies and Prototypes for the Future – Abstract from the Children’s Interactive Library Project 2004-2006

Stephanie Kelly, one of our senior designers, has blogged more extensively about data visualisation.

An interesting article from the Guardian referencing ‘two titans of the British museum world’: Museums’ future lies on the internet, say Serota and McGregor

Image two:

Image four: Image caption: Participants in the multimedia scavenger hunt, ‘Ghosts of a chance’. Source:

Giles BrownGiles Brown

Writing and Information Design, Click Suite

Giles Brown is a senior writer, user experience strategist and information designer at Click Suite – one of New Zealand’s leading and most awarded interactive media companies. He is particularly interested in people, content and stories and how to best use interactive media to join them together. He’s been with Click Suite (with a few breaks for travel) since 1998. You can read further posts by him on the Click Suite blog or contact him on