New CEO for Axiell – accelerating industry leadership through improved access to world’s collective knowledge!

New CEO for Axiell – accelerating industry leadership through improved access to world’s collective knowledge!

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CASE STUDY:

Houston Museum of Natural Science

STRATEGY WORKSHOPS |  ADVANCED INTERACTIVES | COLLECTIONS INTEGRATION

In September 2022, the Houston Museum of Natural Science (HMNS) celebrated the reopening of the John P. McGovern Hall of the Americas. This renovation project reimagined the collection display, interpretation, and visitor experience of the museum’s anthropology collection with more than 400 objects on view.

HMNS partnered with us to streamline the digital infrastructure and content creation for the new Hall. Collaborating closely with the museum team, we led workshops and developed both a content strategy for the digital experiences featured in the Hall of the Americas, as well as a broader digital strategy for future exhibitions.

Learnings from this consultation process were used to structure the digital labels and interactives now powering the Hall of the Americas. The Museum elected for an Enterprise CultureConnect License that allows for unlimited application builds so that these learnings can enhance other Museum galleries in the future.

Ten touchscreens were launched throughout the Hall of the Americas; 1 introductory screen features a timeline of Indigenous history and contemporary events across South, Central, and North America. The remaining 9 screens showcase Indigenous cultural areas that correlate to objects on display in the Hall.

The digital interactives feature in-depth, multimedia-rich stories about the people, culture, and objects featured within a specific cultural area. They also offer visitors the ability to search through a visual database of all the objects on view. This “collections discovery” functionality is powered by an integration between the CultureConnect platform and the museum’s Collections Management System (EMu).

With the guiding interpretive mission, “We Are Here,” the new Hall succeeds in sharing ancient histories alongside their contemporary Indigenous communities to provide a multilayered exploration of Indigenous communities past and present.

SERVICES

  • Digital Strategy Engagement
  • Content Strategy Workshops

PRODUCTS

  • Enterprise License
  • Advanced Interactives / In-Gallery Touchscreens

FEATURES

  • Collections Integration
  • Interactive Map

Project Goals

The CultureConnect team led the design, build, and launch of 10 in-gallery touchscreens in partnership with Curatorial and Collections staff at the Houston Museum of Natural Science. There were two primary objectives for the digital interpretation facet of the new hall:

  1. Inspire deeper engagement with Indigenous cultures, past and present, through interactive multimedia learning.
  2. Create a long-term system that enables museum staff to easily update stories presented on in-gallery touchscreens to highlight new collection items, new interpretation and content developed, and even recent news and scholarship.

To meet HMNS’s project goals, CultureConnect designed an engagement plan that could meet the needs of the Hall of the Americas reopening while also establishing a foundation to build a museum-wide system for digital interpretation and education. This included:

  • Audience research & content strategy workshops
  • Development of a digital strategy for current and future digital interpretation projects
  • End-to-end project services in the Hall of the Americas including design, content strategy, application build, testing, and installation.
  • Enterprise License for unlimited applications throughout the museum and staff departments
  • Collections Management Software integration with the Collections Management System (EMu)
  • Museum staff training and ongoing support for the CultureConnect platform
Photo from onsite workshops with HMNS and CultureConnect staff.

Designing for Your Audience

The Houston Museum of Natural Science serves a large and diverse audience. So, when it comes to designing digital experiences, identifying their key audiences and their needs is essential to offering a meaningful visitor experience. For HMNS, these key audiences were families and school groups, local repeat visitors, and tourists.

CultureConnect worked through a series of workshops with the HMNS team to identify each audience’s needs and desires around storytelling, interactivity, and multimedia. Check out our Empathy Map and User Personas tool-kits to see how we approach these processes.

The workshops helped us refine audience dwell time and engagement goals, determine how these align to content development and organization, and map the user journey through the layers of story in each digital experience. This enabled the HMNS team to develop interpretive content tailored to their audience and their collection stories.

The Content Strategy

The Hall of the Americas is organized into nine culture areas with additional spaces to share contemporary stories: Arctic, Northwest, Plains, Southeast, Southwest, Northern Mesoamerica, Maya, Andes, and the Amazon.

Within each of these areas, the touchscreen experience offers two paths for exploration:

  1. Stories
  2. Collection Objects

The touchscreen home page encourages visitors to connect with each culture through a series of stories geared towards enriching the visitor understanding of a particular region, its Indigenous communities, and the related collection on display. When the touchscreens are not in use, the application times out and a video plays highlighting the region.

In addition to this story-driven interpretation, every touchscreen in the Hall offers an ‘All Objects’ section featuring every item on display in its cultural area. The visitor can scroll through the collection and tap on the object’s imagine tile to learn more. This opens the collection record and all the images available for that object including alternative views. All the collections data in this All Objects section draws directly from the museum’s collections management system through an API integration.

In addition to this story-driven interpretation, every touchscreen in the Hall offers an ‘All Objects’ section featuring every item on display in its cultural area. The visitor can scroll through the collection and tap on the object’s imagine tile to learn more. This opens the collection record and all the images available for that object including alternative views. All the collections data in this All Objects section draws directly from the museum’s collections management system through an API integration.

Creating a Welcoming Design

The CultureConnect Advanced Interactive product used to power these in-gallery interactives offers flexible layout configurations and sophisticated design control. A high-level of polish was important to ensure the touchscreen’s style aligned with the physical exhibition’s modern, sophisticated, and beautiful aesthetic and presentation of the collection objects. In addition to being beautiful, it was important that the touch screens were approachable and user-friendly.

The fonts, colors, and motifs deployed in each app were styled to align with the physical exhibit’s style guide. The interactives not only reflect the design of the space, they also work together seamlessly to create a rich and consistent digital experience.

Style guide for the physical Arctic Gallery.

Digital touchscreens created using the style guide.

As part of the renovation and reinstallation project, the museum re-photographed each collection object with the same norms for file format, silhouetting, lighting, and background/positioning. In addition to becoming a part of the museum’s collection records, these photographs further benefited the in-gallery touchscreen display as the size of the screens (42 inches) allowed visitors to explore the intricacies of each artifact. The object became a truly eye-catching, dynamic element on the screen and showcased the beauty of the collection.

Making Connections Across Time

We collaborated with the museum team to develop an interactive timeline experience to explore Indigenous history from the earliest records to present day.

To easily navigate a multitude of events, the timeline was divided according to cultural area as well as pre-contact, colonial, and post-colonial periods.

Creating a Long-Term Plan

An important project outcome was not only to launch the new Hall of the Americas touchscreens, but also to establish a plan for maintaining these digital experiences in the long-term and expanding the digital program across the museum.

To accomplish this, we:

  • Developed a go-to strategy for design, content strategy, and workflows the museum team can apply in any future exhibition or renovation.
  • Integrated the CultureConnect platform with the museum’s collections management system enabling both the maintenance of existing applications featuring the museum’s collection but also empowering the museum to bring other collection objects into visitor-facing digital engagement projects built on the CultureConnect platform.
  • Partnered with the museum as an Enterprise customer meaning the museum has access to the entire platform, products, and features as well as unlimited application builds. Collections, marketing, and education can experiment and build an entire digital interpretation program for a fixed annual fee.

Integrating with Axiell’s EMu Collections Management Software

Like many peer museums, HMNS’s vast collection outpaces the physical space available to exhibit it. For HMNS, digital interpretation is the solution for sharing collection stories, even when the space won’t permit for physical engagement.

HMNS opted for a collection integration in order to seamlessly import collection content into the Advanced Interactive product. This offers several benefits:

  • Quicker App Building: Collection integrations speed up the process of creating an app within the CultureConnect platform (be this a mobile guide, audio guide, in-gallery touchscreen or online exhibition). Instead of manually adding content an integration allows for building whole app sections in one go.
  • Centralizing content and collection information: An integration between the collections management system and CultureConnect enables the HMNS team to keep their collections content in a single, centralized place and prevents the creation of duplicates.

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