National Air and Space Museum, National Museum of the American Indian

DC Day 3

Digital interactives on-site and the digital world off-site are still a new world for museums. Museums want to incorporate interactives and digital tools into the visitor experience, but it must be included thoughtfully and intentionally. Technology cannot be added for the sake of incorporating technology. Digital tools added to exhibits or the museum’s website still must be evaluated just as traditional interactives in exhibits, and the visitor’s opinions matter to the museum. The importance of visitor feedback was evident today during our discussions with staff from the National Air and Space Museum and the National Museum of the American Indian.

The National Air and Space Museum has a new philosophy of “Stories First,” which included a revamp of the museum’s website, the creation of a mobile application, and a new exhibition. The museum’s website was updated so that stories can be found more easily by the casual visitor. One of the tools used to accomplish this was creating a specific taxonomy using terms the general public will likely use to search for stories. The new app, Go Flight, has its own taxonomy, and it connects with the digital tools in the new exhibition at the museum. Visitors can use the app both in and out of the museum, so the stories can be accessed from anywhere, and their on-site visit can be enhanced by using the tools in the app.

Detail of interactive board at the National Air and Space Museum in the exhibit, “Milestones of Flight”

The National Museum of the American Indian incorporates a touchscreen interactive in the exhibit Nation to Nation: Treaties Between the United States and American Indian Nations that offers a “what would you do?” scenario. It is similar to the lunch counter interactive at the National Museum of African American History and Culture that I discussed in one of my previous posts. Both are based on actual events that Native Americans and African Americans had to face. The design of the interactives is completely different at each museum, but the concept is the same, what decision would you make if you were in that person’s shoes. This type of interactive is very powerful for the visitor because it connects the visitor to the story and personalizes the story in a way that a traditional text label cannot accomplish.