Shelley Mannion from the British Museum on the role of devices in museums

Shelley Mannion from the British Museum discussed the role of devices for museums. She asked to the students “What is the British Museum ?” and explained that the British Museum thinks of itself as an history museum. How we perceive an institution dictates our experience in this institution.

The British Museum receives millions of visitors every year. 60% of these visitors only come once. How can we create a successful experience for someone who makes a once-in-a-lifetime visit?

One of the difficulties with “augmented encounters” in museum is the challenge of having a “virtual object” mediating the “real” experience with the “real” object.


In the 1970s, Abigail Housen’s explained that visitors understand works of art in various stages.

1. Accountive : “Accountive viewers are storytellers. Using their senses, memories, and personal associations, they make concrete observations about a work of art that are woven into a narrative. Here, judgments are based on what is known and what is liked. Emotions color viewers’ comments, as they seem to enter the work of art and become part of its unfolding narrative.”

2. Constructive : “Constructive viewers set about building a framework for looking at works of art, using the most logical and accessible tools: their own perceptions, their knowledge of the natural world, and the values of their social, moral and conventional world. If the work does not look the way it is supposed to, if craft, skill, technique, hard work, utility, and function are not evident, or if the subject seems inappropriate, then these viewers judge the work as weird, lacking some or of no value. Their sense of what is realistic is the standard often applied to determine value. As emotions begin to go underground, these viewers begin to distance themselves from the work of art.”

3. Classifying: “Classifying viewers adopt the analytical and critical stance of the art historian. They want to identify the work as to place, school, style, time and provenance. They decode the work using their library of facts and figures which they are ready and eager to expand. This viewer believes that properly categorized, the work of art’s meaning and message can be explained and rationalized.”

4. Interpretive: “Interpretive viewers seek a personal encounter with a work of art. Exploring the work, letting its meaning slowly unfold, they appreciate subtleties of line and shape and color. Now critical skills are put in the service of feelings and intuitions as these viewers let underlying meanings of the work what it symbolizes emerge. Each new encounter with a work of art presents a chance for new comparisons, insights, and experiences. Knowing that the work of art’s identity and value are subject to reinterpretation, these viewers see their own processes subject to chance and change.”

5. Re-creative : “Re-creative viewers, having a long history of viewing and reflecting about works of art, now willingly suspend disbelief. A familiar painting is like an old friend who is known intimately, yet full of surprise, deserving attention on a daily level but also existing on an elevated plane. As in all important friendships, time is a key ingredient, allowing Stage 5 viewers to know the ecology of a work — its time, its history, its questions, its travels, its intricacies. Drawing on their own history with one work in particular, and with viewing in general, these viewers combine personal contemplation with views that broadly encompass universal concerns. Here, memory infuses the landscape of the painting, intricately combining the personal and the universal.”

Learners need to progress gradually from on stage to the next.

Mobile devices are simply addition to our existing set of interpretive tools. 85% of the people who visit the British Museum. have a smartphone. They are less and less special. Success is not linked with technology with with particular ways of presenting content, asking questions to the visitors. In some sense, curation is not so much about giving information but asking questions.

Cameras : “the underappreciated mobile device”.

Everybody has a camera. How do we design for this ?

Cameras are used in different ways :

– Posing with objects. Modelling movements. Acting things out (Very relevant for 12 y old).

– Use museum building as site for artistic photography. “Instagram-ish photo opportunity”.

– #MuseumSelfie : Very popular.

– Missed opportunity: Pointing out where to take photos

Photography is now like taking notes. How can we make this process explicit.


The key moment for design is when the visitor stops for reflecting about what he/she experiencing (e.g. interviews). Working in teams with smartphone allows for division of labor and role assignment. The more directed your are, the more focused, the more you learn.

Augmented reality

Augmented reality keeps coming back. Again, the social context / division of labour is one of the most interesting element to exploit in this area. One of the interesting opportunity of augmented reality and 3d model is to allow for 360 deg of objects. An old but still interesting example :

Testing AR at the British Museum

Testing AR Gallery Explorer from Samsung Digital Discovery Centre on Vimeo.

Diverse use of AR (typology of AR use)

Ex: Compare the past and present, etc.

Gift for Athena (3d recognition … works  – GAMAR app)

Gift for Athena – Challenge 1 from Samsung Digital Discovery Centre on Vimeo.

User experience can be tricky. This is actually interesting and can be the basis for “Flow experiences”. We can design for “Flow” and intrinsically motivating activities. It can interesting to start with challenging activities

More generally, recognising the variety of learning styles is key for designing successful museum experiences.

Shelley Mannion recommanded the books

– “Identity and Museum Visitor Experience”

“Destination culture”

– “Why we buy: The science of shopping” (Shops do not take into account the people have two arms)


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