4 questions online museum exhibitions should ask themselves for a start

Research project of MA students in the Museums in Context course at the Erasmus University Rotterdam, MA Cultural Economics led by professor Trilce Navarrete.

Images: Pixabay
Images: Pixabay

Would you still go to a museum if you had already visited it “virtually”? Students from Rotterdam investigated what visitors felt about the digital tours of two Dutch museums. Their work suggests that people wandering around digital galleries aren’t put off visiting the real thing. Instead, they might think of it as a preview of the physical museum, according to the researchers.

The masters students studied visitor responses to virtual museums at both Mauritshuis (The Hague) and the Rijksmuseum (Amsterdam). In these virtual museums, visitors can walk around the galleries at their own pace and zoom in on the exhibits and the information panels. They asked visitors about their experiences and what they thought of the digital space.

Overall, the response was positive. On average, people enjoyed their time and journey through the digital museums, but there was clear room for improvement. Through a variety of questions, participants were asked to rate their enjoyment between 0-10. Both museums received an average score of just under 7, which is optimistic but far from perfect.

The study raises a few questions for museums. Physical space and the difficulty of making changes and moving things on the exhibition floor has been a headache for curators for centuries. Digital museums are a whole new experience.  

Four questions to start with

  1. Where will the tour start? This will immediately change the impression the visitors get
  2. How do you give the visitor information?
  3. Do you show the whole museum, or just a few galleries?
  4. Will there be entertainment, like games or challenges for kids?

These are just a few of the things that digital museum designers can be aware of. At both the Mauritshuis and the Rijksmuseum, the digital exhibition is a direct copy of the physical space. Other museums are being a little more adventurous, however – the Museo Archeologico Virtuale in Ercolano is offering tickets to a virtual tour of the Vesuvius Eruption via Zoom, complete with a tour guide to answer questions.

This youtube tour of an exhibit at The Met (New York) is just one of many museum tours available online. Many museums offer interactive tours and experiences online too, now.