award winning digital agency

Digital and Heritage – striking a balance

What is the correct balance of technology for your cultural or heritage attraction? Do you want your audiences tethered to their phones to supplement the experience – or do you encourage visitors to put away their technology and disconnect? At Indigo, we believe the key to success is allowing visitors to make relevant choices for themselves.

Consistent research has shown that guests visit arts and heritage sites for a variety of reasons – most notably social, educational and entertainment. Arts and heritage organisations have taken this on board and have produced immersive elements at their facilities where visitors become a part of the story. This includes taking on the persona of a passenger on a famous form of transport, a worker in a particular industrial sector, or a citizen in a particular location or particular period of time.

There are many ways to re-imagine how a visitor could engage with other guests and with collections to create a strong attachment that will remain as a strong memory long beyond the visit. Producing “memory” tickets in the form of boarding cards, signup papers, identification papers, etc., are all key devices that can help to keep the visitor engaged beyond the initial visit and can carry the message of the organisation to a broader audience. Linking such immersion experiences to online experiences post-visit is also helping to deepen visitor relationships between visitors and arts and heritage organisations.

Organisations such as the Titanic Museums (with their passenger and crew experiences), the Concorde exhibition at Aerospace Bristol (with its boarding card experience) and the ss Great Britain (with its Transatlantic voyage experience) are all examples where visitors are actively encouraged to become involved, emotionally and physically, in the subject areas that the organisations are passionate about.

Indigo started as a multimedia design and production company but we’ve always looked past just the technology, to its impact and effects on audiences and mostly to convert audiences into participatory actors, creators, generators within the context of an arts or heritage site.

Our approach uses what we call the constructivist view of education. We think that humans learn best when they’re involved and engaged and when they create and generate things. So we look to how we can affect people and create situations where people generate new ideas. Technology is a huge facilitator for that, but there is always something ‘real’, something tangible or historical or profound at the heart of arts and heritage experiences that the technology hangs off.

We look at architecture, we look at storytelling and most of all we look at emotional impact.

So when we design a new visitor experience, we think about how will this be emotionally engaging? Because in our mind, whether or not that user is high technology, low technology or old technology, emotional engagement is really what will age well. That’s why, when we were commissioned to develop a brand new visitor experience centred around the Tees Transporter Bridge in Middlesbrough, we started the design process with co-creative workshops with local people in order to tease out the key stories that would impact visitors the most by creating the most human connection.

An unintended but happy consequence of these consultations was the realization that the visitor experience went beyond the location of the Transporter Bridge site, and that we could use digital to send and guide visitors out into the town with a Digital Heritage Trail App with augmented reality. Users are taken on a journey around the heritage of Middlesbrough by the ‘Blue Dragonfly’ character (representing the Transporter Bridge). Dramatized audio scenes allow the characters to speak for themselves and tell the user the stories of the town

The key opportunity with this project was to engage and inspire new and returning visitors to the Tees Transporter Bridge and to convey the pivotal role that Middlesbrough had in the industrial revolution and its incredible impact on bridge building and engineering throughout the world.

Digital provides a unique opportunity to enhance visitor engagement, by providing interactivity, the ability to present large amounts of information within limited space through screens, and the increasing availability of cellular broadband brings the opportunity to take visitors on a virtual journey around heritage sites.

Ultimately, we believe the right balance for arts and heritage attractions is to offer audiences choices when it comes to digital. The changing needs and expectations of our audiences are the key drivers for change and innovation and although the stories may not have changed, the way future generations experience them will help them stay relevant in a rapidly changing world.