Preserving the Future: A Guide to Creating a Successful Digital Museum

Keram M-S
7 min readAug 14, 2023

Digital museums are a cutting-edge way to preserve and present cultural heritage, art, history, and science. By leveraging technology, digital museums can provide immersive, interactive, and accessible experiences to visitors worldwide. Here are the best practices and considerations to ensure a powerful and successful digital museum.

1. Understanding the Audience

Accessibility

Accessibility is vital for reaching a global audience. Offer multiple languages and user-friendly interfaces, including screen reader support and alternative text for images. Make sure color contrast is high for controls, icons and text and allow the interface to be resized. Ensure videos have captions and consider including haptic (vibration) technology. Creating a customized user experience makes it accessible to people with disabilities.

Consider language barriers and how you can develop designs that overcome them. Can you use abstraction? How do those abstractions play in different cultures and parts of the world? Test. Ask questions. Make your spaces easy to navigate, participate in, and enjoy.

Engagement

Engagement is key to retaining visitors. Create interactive experiences that appeal to various age groups, including games and quizzes. Offer personalized content and learning pathways to enhance user engagement and satisfaction, fostering a connection between the museum and its audience.

Look for opportunities for participants to discover emergent play. Rather than try to design the fun, create opportunities to create a setting that fosters it, along with curiosity, and contemplation.

Appeal To Different Learning Styles

Create interactive experiences that appeal to various age groups and learning styles, including games and quizzes.

Some folks are introverted, others more social. Do have contexts for these and other qualities?

3. Technology Integration

Artificial Intelligence Engagement

AI, including humanoid robots, adds a new dimension to visitor engagement by enabling unique interactions with historical figures and more. How might these translate to virtual space?

Mobile Optimization

Mobile optimization ensures accessibility when AFK. Provide a seamless mobile experience through dedicated apps or mobile-responsive websites, allowing visitors to explore the museum from anywhere. Ensure that your textures, materials, dynamic lights, shaders, meshes, and rich media are all contributing to a more seamless, widely available experience, rather than forming a barrier to it.

Projection-Mapping in Virtual Museums

Projection mapping involves mapping videos to virtual surfaces within a museum, extending stories, and bringing environments to life. By aligning digital content with virtual architecture, it creates visually stunning and interactive experiences that can transform how visitors explore and engage with exhibits. Modelers can take advantage of UV maps to come up with creative ways to express video content.

Spatial Audio

Spatial audio utilizes 3D sound to create immersive experiences within museums. Providing sound in a three-dimensional space enhances the sense of presence and realism in virtual environments. Additionally, spatial audio can aid in accessibility by offering auditory cues and guidance for visually impaired visitors.

Spatial Web

The spatial web gives us new tools to express data and ideas, enhancing how we understand and interact with various levels of place within museums. It provides a platform for looking at the past and historiography of objects, improving our comprehension of cultural interconnectedness and the development of collections. The Spatial Web also does not require special equipment or downloads and thus welcomes a broader spectrum of participants.

On the other hands, it can like a moving tectonic plate as different browsers, SDKs, API, repos and languages change. Stay on of these changes as best you can. Test across a wide variety of target devices, operating systems, and browsers.

Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR)

VR and AR are at the forefront of immersive technology. Use them to create experiences that transport visitors into the exhibits. Ensure compatibility with various devices and platforms to make these experiences accessible. One of the most powerful aspects of spatial media is the relationship of scale, and the other of proprioception. Understand these effects and use them to help tell your story.

Terminology and Concepts

The field of digital museums incorporates various disciplines, including technology, art, education, and cultural heritage. As a result, newcomers may encounter a range of specialized terms related to techniques and affordances. Here are some key terms that might require further exploration:

  • Accessibility Design: Designing products, devices, services, or environments to be accessible to people with disabilities. Application: Ensuring digital museum content is accessible to all visitors, including those with visual, auditory, or mobility impairments.
  • Adaptive Learning Pathways: Customizing educational content and experiences based on individual learner needs and preferences. Application: Tailoring educational programs within a digital museum to suit different learning styles, interests, and levels.
  • Augmented Reality (AR): A technology that overlays digital information in the real world through devices like smartphones or AR glasses. Application: Enhancing physical exhibits with additional information, animations, or interactive features.
  • Content Management System (CMS): A software system that enables users to manage digital content easily. Application: Organizing and updating digital exhibits, information, and multimedia content within a digital museum.
  • Digital Curation: The selection, preservation, maintenance, and archiving of digital assets. Application: Ensuring digital exhibits are accurately represented, preserved, and accessible over time.
  • Digital Twin: A digital replica of a physical entity or system. Application: Simulating physical museum spaces and exhibits to test designs or offer virtual tours.
  • Gamification: Applying game design elements in non-game contexts to engage users. Application: Encouraging exploration and learning in digital museums through challenges, rewards, and interactive activities.
  • Haptic Technology: Technology that recreates the sense of touch by applying forces, vibrations, or motions to the user. Application: Providing tactile feedback in virtual exhibits, enhancing immersion and understanding.
  • Material Culture: This encompasses the physical components of a culture or society, such as objects, materials, and spaces, which are created by people to bring life and enjoyment to their environment.
  • Multilingualism: Offering content in multiple languages to cater to a diverse global audience.
  • Omnichannel Engagement: Providing a seamless customer experience across multiple channels and devices. Application: Ensuring that digital museum content is consistent and engaging, whether accessed via web, mobile, VR, or other platforms.
  • Universal Design: A design technique that strives to make products and environments that are open to use by all individuals without need for any exceptional modifications or particular design.
  • User Experience (UX) Design: Designing products to provide meaningful and relevant experiences to users. Application: Crafting digital museum interfaces that are intuitive, engaging, and satisfying for visitors.
  • Virtual Reality (VR): A simulated experience that can be similar to or completely different from the real world. Application: Used in digital museums to provide immersive experiences, allowing visitors to explore exhibits in 3D.
  • Visitor Motivation: What motivates an individual to visit a museum, exhibition, or participate in a program? This concept takes into account what the visitor hopes to get out of the experience. It addresses their wants and needs and affects their choice to attend or not. What motivates them to ‘get off the couch’, purchase a ticket, and engage.
  • Wayfinding: Wayfinding is the method that helps visitors locate their position and then determine the best route to reach their intended goal within the museum. Maps, signs, and other aids are often employed by museums to aid in giving directions and making navigation easier.
  • 3D Scanning and Modeling: Creating three-dimensional digital models of physical objects through scanning technology. Application: Reproducing physical artifacts in a digital museum for detailed examination and interaction.

These terms represent a blend of technological, educational, and design concepts vital to creating and operating a successful digital museum. Understanding these terms can greatly assist newcomers in navigating this interdisciplinary field.

Examples of Successful Digital Museums

These examples showcase the potential of digital museums to transcend geographical boundaries and offer enriching experiences to a global audience. They demonstrate how technology, creativity, and collaboration can come together to redefine how we engage with art, history, and culture.

Thanks to Kate Aitchison, Jennifer Chadwick for their input on this article.

Keram is the director of web technologies for the Canadian Hispanic Latin American Virtual Museum launching in March 2024.

Originally published at https://constantchangemedia.com on August 14, 2023.

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Keram M-S

Keram Malicki-Sanchez is the executive director of the VRTO World Conference and also the FIVARS Festival of Immersive Stories.