With increasing competition from other forms of entertainment and learning, museums are learning to change. They were once sacred spaces, refuges from the ever-changing blur of technology, but that’s not true anymore. These days, museums—like any organization or brand—have to figure out exciting and engaging ways to tell the stories they want to tell.
In October 2011 issue of Curator: The Museum Journal, four of us at Second Story—Michael Godfrey, Daniel Meyers, Scott Smith, and Bruce Wyman—addressed some of the implications of these changes in an article titled “Digital Storytelling in Museums: Observations and Best Practices.” The article is not readily available online, so we’ve summarized here some of our key points.
In the article, we survey just how much has changed. People are learning and consuming differently, finding context and content in new ways. Instead of seeking out traditional sources of knowledge, people look to authorities and peers on the Web and on Twitter, Facebook, and other platforms. But this kind of change is not necessarily a threat. Museums and other institutions are seen as authoritative, and have access to the same technologies as everyone else. Using the Web and existing social media networks, they can extend their identities and expertise beyond the walls of their physical spaces.
Of course, approaches to museums’ physical spaces have undergone great changes as well. Media is becoming tightly integrated into exhibits to create experiences that are fully considered and go way beyond the impact of the traditional kiosk. Emerging technologies such as depth cameras and other sensors and new displays, there’s no constant but change.
As storytellers, we continually are evolving our skills and approaches to keep pace with that change. The article offers suggestions based on our experiences. Some of our messages in the article are specific to the museum world, but below are two areas that are universal to anyone telling their story with interactive media.
First, have a storytelling vision early on and stick with it. This will help guide decision-making throughout your project, including decisions about technology. Remember to see technology as another another tool in telling stories—an incredibly powerful, indispensible tool—but just a tool. Make sure your technology is serving the story you’re trying to tell: “Identifying the technology before understanding the goals and content can quickly lead to a solution that doesn’t feel natural or appropriate.” The main thing is to connect with audiences. Craft your core concept and message at the start, and you’ll have a path.
Another crucial suggestion is to be bold. Take chances with design and visitor experience. Your project is an opportunity to look for inspiration everywhere, reaching to break out of traditional modes of thinking. As we write in the article, “Try new variations, or learn something new. When teams get used to being experimental, it’s easy to take leaps of faith and seize real opportunities when they present themselves.”
These two suggestions go hand in hand. If you develop a vision of what you’re trying to say, you can afford to be bold and experimental. Technological changes are only going to accelerate, so all of us storytellers have to both stay grounded and keep up with what’s new.