institution: New-York Historical Society
category: Exhibition Media or Experience
In April 2017, the New-York Historical Society unveiled the revamped Henry Luce III Center, including the North Gallery permanent collection, the Tiffany Gallery of Lamps and the nation’s first Center for Women’s History. Formerly “open storage”, the Luce Center’s newly installed galleries sought to connect the people, places and events that shaped New York and the nation.The theme of “Objects Tell Stories” posed the interpretive challenge of providing this context, meaning and connective threads for over 500 collection objects. The museum also sought to create a highly interactive, engaging and novel experience through innovative technology and rich media production.
N-YHS sought to deliver both depth and breadth through 16 interactive kiosks (containing 29 unique digital experiences) that included 1,500 images, 61 videos & animations, and 13 scanned & photographed 3D objects.
Each object’s interpretive story showcased multiple voices from our nation’s leaders to average citizens and to the overlooked or traditionally excluded. This diversity of perspective, not typical of exhibition interpretation at this scale, resonates with the museum’s diverse audience – be they NYC’s cosmopolitan residents or the global community visiting NYC or the United States for the first time.
The interactive kiosk experiences:
- Serve a wide audience: casual visitors and history buffs; tourists and repeat visitors; the tech savvy and novice alike.
- Enable visitors to explore layers of interpretive content and stories, making the breadth and depth of content manageable and easy to digest
- Allow visitors to direct their own discovery pathways, digging deeper when interested
- Create experiences that serve all levels of engagement among visitors: skimmers, swimmers and divers; groups and solo visitors; all ages
- Provide an interactive experience that is meaningful, enhancing the dialog and connection between the museum, its collection and its visitors.
- Utilize forward thinking technologies like 3D scanning to create a dynamic and novel experience for visitors.
Prior to developing a solution, we embarked on an audience research study to validate assumptions, build consensus among diverse stakeholders, and better understand visitor preferences and behaviors. Methods included in-depth museum stakeholder interviews, timed observational studies in 3 galleries, docent survey, and visitor survey and 1:1 interviews. The study revealed a number of insights that informed both concepts and content.
A key design philosophy – creating layers of content – resolved several design challenges. Visitors were presented with lightly contextualized image-based menus of objects. When enticed, they could dig deeper. Then, for an even deeper dive, tap into supplemental media options revealing connections to other collection objects, an alternative point of view, more historical interpretation etc. – a level of interpretation for history buffs or returning visitors. And crucially, the visitor never got lost in a complex site map – at any time, with one tap, they could get back to the main object menu.
The layouts, features, and designs were all configurable in the content management system providing flexibility necessary to reflect the wide variety of objects, stories and media.
Ultimately, taking a platform (rather than a one-off project) approach allowed for interpretation at scale – both in collection size and the depth of multi-media interpretation. Moreover, the level of design control in the CMS allows for truly unique digital interactives to be built in the future – proven when the kiosks were extended to the Tiffany Gallery of Lamps. These factors made the approach to the underlying technology novel for museum’s in its return on investment.
Finally, the reporting and analytics system provides a detailed look at user behavior from dwell time to page visits and the CMS gives curators an easy way to manage the digital content for objects that go on loan or rotate out of cases.