Monthly Archives: September 2017

Rowan Whitehouse joins the Digital Team

Hello! My name is Rowan Whitehouse and I am currently working as a cultural support apprentice for Bristol Museums.

I have been doing six week rotations around various departments, and as part of my third, with the digital team, I’ve been asked to review some of the technology around the museum.

So, to find some!

I noticed that the distribution of technology around the museum is heavier in areas with a higher number of children. Whilst there is a lot around the ground floor, particularly the Egypt and Natural History galleries, levels definitely drop off the more steps you climb, towards the Fine and Applied Arts galleries. I think this is due, in part, to many children’s interests leaning on the dinosaur/mummy side, rather than Bristol’s history of stone pub ware. Perhaps there are also certain established ideas about what an art gallery should  be, whereas many of the historic collections lend themselves well to interactive displays.

Upstairs, the technology has a distinctly more mature focus.
I chose to look at a tablet/kiosk in the European Old Masters gallery for an example. The kiosk itself fits well into its surroundings, the slim, white design is unobtrusive – something desirable in such a traditional gallery space. The kiosk serves as an extension of the wall plaques, it has an index of the paintings in the room with information on them. I think this is a great idea as the size of wall plaques often constrain the amount of information available.

A big drawback I felt however, was that the kiosk was static and fixed in one place. I observed that as people moved around the gallery they would continually look from the painting to it’s accompanying plaque, taking in both at the same time. Though the kiosk has more information, it would need to be able to move with the user to have the advantage over the plaques. On the position of the kiosk itself, I think it would receive more use if it was positioned in the middle of the room, rather than in the corner, where it is overlooked. Signage on the wall advertised a webpage, which could be accessed on a handheld device and provided the same information as the kiosk. I felt this was a better use of the index, and could be made even easier to access via a QR code. I wonder though, if people would want to use their phones like this in a gallery, and whether ideas about the way we experience art are the ultimate obstacle. I’ll be researching how other institutions use (or don’t use) technology in their galleries.

I wanted to see how technology is being used differently with the historic collections, so I headed back downstairs to the Egypt gallery. I observed a school group using the computers at the back of the gallery, both the children and their teacher struggled with the unusual keyboard layout and rollerball mouse, unable to figure out how to search. Eventually, they came upon it by chance, and enjoyed navigating the images and learning more about the objects in the gallery. The computers also have a timeline view, showing the history of the Egyptians, and an “Explore” function, where specific subjects could be looked at.

I think the location of the units massively benefit interaction, the dedicated space with chairs really invite and encourage visitors to engage. On using the technology, I felt that the access problems could be easily fixed by some stickers highlighting the left mouse button function, and something to resolve the stiffness of the rollerball.

My favourite interactive pieces in the museum were in the Egypt gallery. I loved the screens that featured the discovery of  a body, and asked the user what they thought about the body being in a museum, and gave the user the option of viewing the body at the end of the text. I felt like this type of interaction was fantastic, and rather than just providing information, engaged the visitor directly and was a great way of broaching questions that may not usually occur to visitors.

I’m looking forward to the next six weeks, and learning more about digital engagement in museums.

With such a fantastic collection, it’s exciting finding new ways of presenting it and helping visitors interact with objects

New locker alert

Photo showing grey lockers

Adding additional lockers to our museums is a top 5 request from the public and staff alike. On Wednesday the 20th September we installed new lockers at Bristol Museum & Art Gallery and M Shed.

Until this week we only had 8 lockers at Bristol Museum & Art Gallery which is not exactly lots when you have 400,000 plus visits. At both museums the lockers have been finished in a suitable RAL colour way. We’ve introduced a £1 non-refundable fee which will initially re-pay the cost of lockers then be used to support our work. Slow money but sure money.

The main considerations for lockers are:

  • Custom brand colours
  • Coin retention lockers
  • The number of doors per locker – 2, 3 or 4 (more lockers more money but less useful if size is important)
  • installation
  • Location in the building
  • Disclaimers and cost messaging

The install didn’t quite go to plan. I asked for lockers. I got lockers. However I also needed the following which I hadn’t specified:

  • Numbered lockers – inserts so that the public can remember which locker they used
  • Numbered key fobs – the public need to know which key they have
  • Nuts and bolts – to connect each locker together and to the wall to eliminate the chance for the locker to tip over

I purposely located a bank of lockers in the corridor so that they’ll be in the sightline of visitors to the front hall. Previously the lockers were tucked away and a constant frustration for visitors. Regular readers will know one of my favourite quotes “Address the user need and the business need will be clear”.

Retail will be responsible for collecting the income with this new welcome income stream.

I was chuffed when one of our Visitor Assistants said “I’ve been here over 10 years and never thought I’d see the day we added extra lockers”.

If you remember to address the bullet points above you’ll have a smooth installation. Good luck.

Results of running a shop in the front hall

Photo of our front hall shop

Just before summer started I wrote about taking the plunge having an additional small shop in the front hall at Bristol Museum and Art Gallery throughout the summer. Summer is over and so is our shop, for now. This post is a summary of performance. In short, the shop was worth doing with the following results:

  • 10% of total sales for the month or £5,300 net sales
  • 939 orders
  • 2% conversion (confirmed it was additional sales not just taking sales from main shop)
  • Same ATV as main shop despite selling far fewer products
  • Staffing costs were covered by moving the second retail assistant from the main shop
  • £400 on a whacking huge shop sign (pictured) and a few units to supplement existing available units
  • Answered countless public enquiries

I would have been kicking myself if we hadn’t tried to push the retail needle and i’m glad we did. We had our most successful month on record and met our income target. The front hall shop helped us over the line in this respect. We started on day 1 of the school summer holiday without much of a plan other than a hunch the products should be suitable for kids and tourists. Over the course of the project we chopped and changed the products as the teams powers of observation dictated.

Staffing

Finding staff at short notice proved to be a challenge with a few moments but fortunately the team including our brilliant casual pool came to the rescue. I asked the team for feedback throughout the project. Everyone on the front hall shop said they enjoyed the shifts and kept busy in the quiet periods by pricing and preparing products. As expected they also answered lots of public enquiries and raised awareness of our retail offer. The main shop coped with having one person instead of two but this made their work full-on and its much appreciated. We will use the feedback to see how we can better ease the load in the coming year, especially dealing with deliveries.

Product selection

We used the existing products from our range and started with best sellers with a Bristol theme. We thought this would appeal to the tourists. However the Bristol theme didn’t really push the needle so we switched to more ‘kids’ and ‘home’ which proved successful.  I really wanted to try a selection of jewellery but the hall is used frequently for evening events so we decided this could wait until a future project.

Positive fringe benefits

We don’t have staff permanently in our front hall anymore so having staff here was good for the public enquiries. The hall is large and having visitors milling around the shop gave a nice vibe to the space. Staff received lots of positive comments about the offer and many said they’d be back for Christmas shopping. Some visitors completely miss the fact we have a shop so this made sure 100% knew we had an offer.

Next time

I have decided that the front hall shop should come back at high visitor times so October half-term and then from late November until the end of the school holidays. We need to plan the range further in advance and be very mindful that December is peak evening event season so everything must be easily movable. We did indeed push the needle.

Onwards!