Innovation and Disruptive Product Design, Technology

EBD – Making museums future ready

Anna Wall

Anna Wall, Journalist
@uxconnections

With media citing concerns over the effect of tech on our political and social lives, have we neglected to consider tech’s impact on our cultural lives?

The idea that advances in tech will dramatically alter both democracy and privacy has been debated in the media.

But what of culture? How exactly will advances in tech impact our cultural lives now and in the future?

Evidence-based design (EBD) is being utilised by museums to combine research and advances in technology in order to create an interactive visitor experience within cultural spaces.

A (very) brief history

EBD started out in hospitals, where research in 1984 showed that building design that incorporated natural light and greenery had a positive impact on patient recovery times.

According to the British Gypsum-hosted website Evidence Space, EBD has gone on to be used in schools, prisons, hotels, retail outlets, and museums.

Research, design, and technology has been combined to inspire learning, calm inmates, encourage spending, and engage visitors.

EBD – using the latest tech

David Whitemyer, Director of Business Development at Luci Creative, describes the use of digital designs to gather visitor data on the use of exhibits:

BPI designs digital experiences, including computer interactive touch screen displays and touch tables, used by visitors to dig down and access more information, or connect with social media accounts and share what they are seeing and learning.

Along with sensory gloves that measure visitor’s physiological responses and radio-frequency identification (RFID) to record visitor movement, data and tech are being used to design our cultural spaces.

Is there really a need for EBD in museums?

Laura Wilkinson, Museum of London Programme Director, would likely argue that there is.

Whilst hospitals, schools, and prisons have greater accountability, museums are at risk of becoming irrelevant in a rapidly changing world if they do not utilise research and tech in their design.

Contributing to The #FutureMuseum Project, Wilkinson says:

The speed of technological change is transforming the way people access, enjoy and create culture and if we don’t seek to fully grasp its potential there is a real risk that we become obsolete for those we seek to engage.

Wilkinson advocates for the hierarchical structures of museums to be dismantled and the institutions to incorporate our contemporary reality of social inequality, environmental degradation, and technological advances. Tech, she argues, can keep museums relevant.

Tech – the death of sensory experience

But what are the consequences of using EBD to shape our cultural spaces?

Diana Chen, Independent Curator / Art Advisor, argues that museums must evolve to become spaces of shared humanity:

By focusing too much on digital experience, we disconnect from our human senses—smell, taste, sight, hearing, and touch—and, in the process, lose our artistic sensibility. A museum should be a place to help us be conscious of the things that make us human.

An overreliance or misuse of technology risks detaching visitors from the immersive experience that museums are trying to create.

So, whether gathering visitor data, designing museums, or creating a digital exhibit, Chen argues that tech must not overshadow sensory engagement with our cultural spaces.

Success story

The Cleveland Museum of Art has reportedly been successful in using EBD and combined tech with immersive sensory experience.

The ArtLens Gallery uses eye-tracking, motion detection, and facial recognition in their exhibits. These features allow visitors to fully interact with works of art by touching them and even rearranging them, or by creating their own individually designed tour.

Here, technology is used to encourage visitors to play with art whilst marvelling at the original object.

It seems that EBD has the potential to make museums future ready by using technology to create immersive cultural experiences that appeal to contemporary audiences.

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