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It's all Fun and Games Until Nothing Happens…

December 13, 2011

By Ngaire Blankenberg

There is nothing more frustrating or potentially insulting – than a faulty interactive…

Out of Order

A client and I recently visited a major ‘audio-visual monument’ that had been opened in 2008 amidst much public fanfare. This particular exhibit was touted as a ‘cutting edge’ example of an exhibition constructed from moving images, photos and magical interactives and we wanted to experience for ourselves this best practice example.  

Oh the perils of technology-based exhibitions! Not only was this a disappointing experience, it was a deeply frustrating one. The entire experience is controlled by sensors and an audio guide offered in multiple languages.  A good idea… in theory. The problem, we discovered, is that if one thing goes wrong- everything goes wrong.

When we arrived, the surly front-of-house staff – who later informed us that they were from a sub-contracted security company and had virtually nothing to do with the Museum – thrust the audio guides at us along with a complicated brochure and told us abruptly that some of the exhibits hadn’t yet been translated into English.

This didn’t seem to be much of a problem (we had a few languages between us) until we got to the exhibits themselves – and found that in fact – most of them hadn’t been translated into English and therefore, since there were no text panels in any language and we only had the English audio guides (we couldn’t change the language settings) – we couldn’t access them at all.  Not only that, but the sensors to activate the audio interpretation were not working smoothly. Sometimes an English narrator would come on, and then mid-sentence, abruptly shut off, or revert back to the beginning.  It felt as if we were being taunted by these exciting looking bits of film archive, and intriguing exhibit armatures but weren’t given the key to unlock any of it.

Being in the business, we were quite forgiving, and tried to engage the only people on the floor in a conversation about what was meant to happen. They were uninformed and rude – and one told us crossly that everything we needed was in the brochure – read it and don’t bother us!

It was a good lesson. Technology can really enhance the exhibition experience, but it can also shut it down completely. Technology serves as an exciting invitation to explore more and interactive technology in particular promises the visitor they have a voice. Extending the invitation and then not delivering on any level- whether because the technology is not working, or because the staff won’t engage- is worse, in my mind, than not making the invitation at all.  It’s like inviting someone to a delicious dinner, but not allowing them to eat.

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Ngaire Blankenberg

About The Author

Ngaire Blankenberg is internationally recognized for her work planning innovative cultural spaces. As European Director and Principal Consultant at Lord Cultural Resources, Ngaire advises the private sector, governments and museums throughout the world on ways to develop their cultural assets for public benefit.

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The views and opinions expressed by the contributing authors are their own and do not necessarily reflect those of Lord Cultural Resources and its affiliates or subsidiary companies. Any reviews or critiques offered on products or services have not been paid for and are the opinion only of their author.