All posts by Darren Roberts

How to get rid of VGA after 30 years!

Here at the M Shed in Bristol, we have amazing views of the harbor from our lovely events suit. Here we hold all sorts of events from large annual AGMs for corporations’, to weddings and some really great community events.

 

We have a fully automated integrated audio visual system. With AMX and Creston control systems, you can walk around the function rooms holding a smart, touch screen control panel and control just about everything! You can power up the projectors, lower the screens, open and shut the blinds, control volumes, select what to display from Sky TV, Blu-ray players and laptops, you can even change the lighting to any colour scheme you want.

 

It’s all pretty smart. Pretty smart apart from the dreaded Video Graphics Array as the main interface, more commonly referred to as the VGA connector! For all this advanced technology, presenters still have to connect their devices with a cable.
The VGA standard was invented in 1987 by IBM, and its dreaded 15 pin D Sub connector still to this day refuses to go away.
Until now…

 
There’s something amiss when a presenter asks to use their nice, brand new iPad to run their presentation and you then have to use a lighting port to VGA adapter connected to 10 meter VGA cable. These VGA connectors were designed for permanent installation and so when they are swapped between laptop and other devices several times a day, the 15 tiny pins take a battering and it only takes one bent pin for the screen to go pink, blue or stop all together.

Here comes the ingenious solution to take advantage of the wireless / Wi-Fi capabilities that are now standard for all devices.

The idea and solution comes in the form of finding a combination of ready available, off the shelf technology combined in such a way it allows the transmission of a device’s screen to appear on our projection system, without any wires. We needed this to be augmented into our current system without affecting its current capabilities. It is already a great intergraded AV system, it’s just needs to be brought into the future without losing its ability to use the old VGA system. It may be old but it works so well as a last resort and backup.

Apple products long ago ditched the VGA system in favour of min-display ports or “lighting ports”. A quick trip to any Apple store and an assistant will enthusiastically show how with a flick of the devices, a display can be “thrown” to another screen. It’s called Air Play and is Apple’s secure version of Wi-Fi streaming.

Google, with their ever innovative developments, have developed a technology called Chrome Cast to the same effect, which is also based on Wi-Fi streaming.

With delegates at our events bringing Apple products, PCs and android devices, we needed an all in one system; so purchased these products to enable this streaming. I ordered an Apple TV and a Chrome Cast device which both work by connecting to a Wi-Fi network and looking for compatible devices. Both of these provide a solution for all devices. Chrome Cast is much cheaper than Apple TV and can support Apple products too, but the ease of use and reliability of Apple on Apple products seemed worth the extra investment. I calculated the cost of replacement VGA cables and at the current rate we replace them, these new items would pay for themselves in just three years!

The main issue I faced in integrating these was how to patch them into a fully automated, closed AV system without affecting its capabilities. In essence, how to “retrofit” an Apple TV and Chrome Cast and get the systems to talk over M Shed’s Wi-Fi – a public network, effectively part of the councils IT network and heavily locked down.
To solve the first issue, I had to literally climb into the AV racking system to find a suitable part that interfaced with an HDMI connector (both Chrome Cast and Apple TV use HDMI). I chose our SKY TV box and unplugged its HDMI cable. Onto this cable I place a HDMI switcher, which allows 4 inputs to connect as one. The switcher is the sort of device you would buy if your TV at home only has one HDMI port and you had multiple devices you wanted to connect: a DVD player, games console and a Freeview box. I then connected the Sky box to the switcher along with the Apple TV and Chrome Cast unit. Then after finding power outlets, whilst still inside the AV systems rack, I carefully slid the switcher unit so its control switch faced out the front of the rack. A few cables ties and some Velcro later and the hardware was installed, all that was left to do was to climb out and check it all worked.

Going back to the Creston AV touch panel, I selected Sky TV and sure enough it appeared on the projections screen as it should. Then by using the controls on the switcher unit I was able to toggle between Sky, Apple TV and Chrome Cast.
It then occurred to me that both the Apple and Chrome devices use the HDMI to output their audio too. However the HDMI feeds to the projector which only projects the image, so audio would be lost. Climbing back into the AV rack, I noticed that the Sky box was using analog RCA connectors to output its audio to integrated ceiling speaker system. Fortunately the switcher also had 3.5mm TRS output (headphone socket), so by setting the Sky box to output audio through its HMDI it meant that all three devices were now feeding the audio and visual signal to the switcher. Then by using the RCA connector from the Sky box with the TRS adapter, all three devices were now feeding to the ceiling speaker system. I climbed back out of the rack and started to create a new, independent Wi-Fi network for devices to communicate.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The new Wi-Fi network was actually the simpler part.
I purchased an ASUS RT-AC3200 Tri-Band Giga-Bit Wi-Fi router. This router is enormous with six aerials and looks like the Batmobile. I figured that it would have to be reliable and be able to cope with large amount of data traffic, so I got the most powerful but cost effective router I could find.

The idea behind the router was to have all the devices (Apple TV, Chrome Cast and whichever device is streaming) all on the same network, a network I could manage. Once on the same network, it was a matter of connecting. The Apple system was really straight forward- you join the same Wi-Fi network as the Apple TV (I named the network “presentations”) then chose the Airplay option on the device and as easy as that the screen is mirrored on the projector. The Chrome set up was a little more involved. With an android device, you have to install an app called Chrome Cast. Once installed it’s quite straight forward to pair with the Chrome Cast receiver and then the screen can be mirrored on the projector. With a Windows PC laptop, I had to install the latest version of Chrome. This then comes with the option to cast either just the browser tab you’re using or the whole desktop -this works well but compared to the Apple TV there is a slight lag. In some instances you would have to install the Chrome Cast extension for Chrome.

I also connected the Wi-Fi router to our open Wi-Fi system with a RJ45 cable. This then allowed people on the Presentation Wi-Fi to still be able to access the net.
We are still trialing the system before we start to officially offer it as part of a package, but so far so good. It has been received very positively from users. We’ve had people walking around with iPads – controlling their presentation and not being tied to the lectern with an old pc. We’ve even had the best man at a wedding wirelessly control the music playlist from his iPhone at the top table! PCs are still being used at the lectern as normal but without the need to trail VGA cable everywhere. The only thing left to work out is wireless power… I suppose batteries will have to do for now.

How to make two 120FT cranes talk to each other

Here at M Shed Bristol, we have some great working exhibits from the bygone era of Bristol Harbour’s industrial past: steam engines, steam boats, steam cranes and more. But the most recognisable and iconic are the four great towering electric cranes standing over 120 feet above the old docks.

As the Industrial Museum was being transformed into the present day M Shed Museum two of the cranes would strike up conversations with each other, entertaining and informing passers-by of what they could look forward to seeing inside the new museum. However due to renovations and movement of the
cranes they fell silent again…

A few years later, due to popular demand I was tasked with bringing the cranes back to life!

To get these cranes talking was going to require rebuilding the whole audio and lighting system and recording new scripts. We were fortunate enough to have Alex Rankin, from our M Shed team, lend his penning abilities for the new scripts and Jacqui and Heather to voice the new crane characters.

To record the dialogue, we arranged to meet in a nice quite corner of the L Shed store room. It’s a vast store, full of so many objects that there isn’t enough space to have them on permanent display. With both Jacqui and Heather sat at opposite ends of a table, I set up a pair of good quality condenser microphones. Each plugged into their own separate channel on my external sound card, an Akai EIE 4 channel usb sound card with great preamps and phantom powered for the mics. This in turn was hooked up to my MacBook and copy of Logic Pro. I recorded through each script a few times and was able to compile a seamless recording from the various takes. Once finished, I hard panned each channel left and right so that when each voice played back each would have its own speaker, left or right – crane 1 or crane 2.

To start building the new AV system, I searched around the vast L-Shed stores and work rooms to find what was left of the old system. I then decided what could be re used and what new equipment would be needed. I had been informed, by our volunteer team for the working exhibits, that everything had been removed from the cranes themselves; this meant starting from scratch.

The cranes themselves would need a loud speaker system for the voices and the crane cabs would need different coloured lights to flash in time with the talking as this helps to animate the cranes. That part was relatively easy. It meant scaling the cranes and bolting speakers to their underside and mounting lamps inside the cabs. I’ll be honest, I was helped by the Volunteer team and a huge mobile diesel powered cherry picker!

 

The hard part was how to feed the power and audio cables to the cranes. After some investigation it turned out that below the surface of the dockside was a network of underground pipes which lead to the base of each crane to feed their power. The great volunteer team once again worked miracles and fed over 600 combined meters of audio and lighting cables for me. This all led back to the clean room in their ground floor workshop. With all the cabling done I just needed to build a lighting control and audio playback system.

 

 

My design solution, using what kit I could find and a few new bits, was to use a solid state compact flash media player, graphic equaliser, audio mixing desk and power amplifier for the audio.  To have the light flash in time with the dialogue, I used a two light controller with a light to sound module, similar to what a DJ might use to have their disco lights flash to the music!

By having the audio go through the mixing desk, I was able to take an audio feed for each channel and direct them to lighting controllers. By recording the two voices in stereo, with each voice on its own left or right channel, it meant i only needed one media player and could easily control each channel on the sound desk. The graphic equaliser allowed me to tweak the speakers to acoustically fit their environment.

I looked at randomising the audio or having it triggered by people walking past, but with the amount of people who pass outside M Shed the cranes would be chatting away, non-stop all day! I decided to create a long audio file of about 3 hours with the different recorded scripts and random intervals of silence. These ranged from 5 minutes to 20 minutes, so it always comes as a surprise when they start talking to each other.

The results are really effective. It is always fun to see people being caught by surprise as the cranes light up and start a conversation and to see them stop and listen in on what they have to say.

 

 

Text to Pay for Museum Exhibitions: A Step-by-step guide

Paying for Pay What You Think

In 2013 Bristol Museum & Art Gallery (BMAG) ran its first Pay What You Think pricing model at the temporary exhibition; Taylor Wessing: Photographic Portrait Prize. The principle is very simple – visitors enter the exhibition for free and pay the amount they feel the exhibition was worth by putting money in a box at the end of their visit. It was a success and visitors responded well to it. But, there was one sticking point; because we were only accepting cash payments our visitors were telling us that they were either not paying or paying less because they didn’t have cash on them.

A quality experience, thank you M Shed for providing it! Ps. I only have a little cash with me, but would like to have paid £5…

Some of the portraits were very moving… P.s. I gave less than £5 – all the cash I had.

This got us thinking about alternative ways of collecting payments from visitors for our next Pay What You Think temporary exhibition – death: the human experience (24 October 2015—13 March 2016). Card payments were deemed unfeasible as the Pay What You Think system is not staffed in the same way as standard ticketing – so card payments cannot be taken securely. The next thing that came to mind was payment by text message. Taking payment by text is relatively common nowadays – it can often bepudsey text to pay seen in things like charity appeals and car parks. Anyone who has used a text to pay system before will know that it is a very simple way of making a payment as it generally doesn’t require sign-up or registration. Instead, the user simply sends a text message containing a specific word to a specific number and a set amount of money is paid (I’ll explain in more detail below).

With a month to go before the opening of death: the human experience at BMAG I set about to organise a text to pay system for the exhibition. Here I run through a step-by-step guide to text to pay. Nb. there’s a bit of a catch at the end with collecting payments – the phone companies (3, EE, Vodafone etc.) will probably want to take a slice of your earnings…

Text to pay: a step-by-step guide

Searching for a Premium SMS service provider

The very first steps in setting up the text to pay were trickier than I expected. This is because I didn’t know the proper name for ‘text to pay’. Naturally, I went to google and searched for ‘text to pay provider’ (+ various versions of those words). I found a few websites, but it wasn’t immediately obvious which service I was looking for and who could provide it. I called a couple of companies who offered similar texting services but not exactly what I was looking for. Eventually, I learnt that what I wanted was called a ‘Premium SMS’ service provider. You will have much more luck searching for Premium SMS than ‘text to pay’.

So, once I had found this out I found a couple of companies that provided the s
ervice and requested quotes from them both. I got quotes from the companies Oxygen8 and txtNation (I’m sure there are oxygen8 logomany more options out there). The better quote was given by Oxygen8 – so I went with them.

Compliance and regulation

One of the things that struck me was the amount of regulation and compliance there is involved in Premium SMS. This is actually quite unsurprising as Premiuim SMS is used when you pay for app downloads and in things like TV competitions and voting on programmes like the X Factor. Premium SMS services are regulated by an independent regulatory body called PhonepayPlus – their Code of Practice is regulated by Ofcom.

gif PPP Logo

Before you can setup and run a Premium SMS service you have to register with PhonepayPlus and ensure compliance with their code of practice. All the information you will need on how to do this can be found here on their website. It is pretty straightforward; it requires some form-filling and a payment of an annual registration fee of £155 +VAT. Once you have done this you will be assigned a PhonePayPlus registration number. Ours is ORG837-51289-03976.

Setting up ‘keywords’ and ‘shortcodes’

There are two key elements of a Premium SMS system – the Keyword and the Shortcode.

It’s very simple, to make a payment the user sends a prescribed keyword (e.g. PAY5) to a shortcode (a five digit number; e.g. 63333).

Pay by text close up

The keyword is a word that the user can send in order to make a payment. In the case of our exhibition we have five different keyword options – death1, death2, death3, death5, and death10 – each of which allows for a different level of payment. When a user sends an SMS containing one of these keywords to the shortcode 63333 a payment will be made to the value of the number included in the text; e.g. text death5 and the user will be charged £5. (The payment is either taken from the remaining credit of users with pay as you go phones or it will be added to the bill of users on phone contracts).

The keywords and shortcodes are also the bit that you have to pay your provider (in our case Oxygen8) to setup. There is a charge to setup the shortcode and then a monthly fee for that shortcode – the provider is effectively renting it on your behalf. Then there is a charge to setup each keyword. In total, to setup and run the Premium SMS for the five month duration of the exhibition it cost us approx. £320.

Displaying and advertising your Premium SMS service

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As you might expect there is a bit of compliance to get through when advertising a Premium SMS service. Basically, you have to make it as clear to the user as possible that if they text one of the keywords to the number then they will be charged, and what they are being charged for. Sounds simple, but it took a few emails back and forth with our provider to get this right. The accompanying text also needs to include contact details and your PhonepayPlus registration number. (Your provider should help you with this).

Collecting Payments (here’s the catch)

I’m sorry to leave this till last but there is a catch to all of this. If, as we are, you are collecting payments using a Premium SMS service for anything other than a registered charity then the payments you receive from your visitors/customers will be subject to a levy from the phone companies (see here if you’re a charity). In other words, if one of our visitors texts to pay £5 then we will not see the whole £5, the phone company (3, EE, Vodafone etc.) will take a slice of the payment. How much they take depends on the initial value and on the phone company – but typically they take around 25%.

Our visitors to death: the human experience are responding to the text to pay service we’re offering. We know this because we can follow payments on Oxygen’s very handy online dashboard. The individual payments reach us as a single payment from our provider at the end of the exhibition (we had the option of monthly payments).

Next steps

The Premium SMS service has one final advantage – you gain access to the mobile phone contact details of your visitors. Bristol museum will not be doing any kind of follow-up messaging using our text to pay user details – this is explained to visitors in the advertising material. Other organisations may choose to use mobile phone contact details as part of their marketing.

To some extent, the Premium SMS service we’re running for death is a bit of an experiment both to make our exhibitions as user-friendly as possible and to explore different options for income generation. It’s difficult to judge the success until the exhibition has finished – but we already thinking about using Premium SMS for our one-off events and talks.

If you have any questions or comments and would like to get in touch with me directly, my email is – darren.roberts@bristol.gov.uk

Museum Retail: Small display – Big impact

Banksy book display

One of the focus areas for improvement at Bristol Museum & Art Gallery (BMAG) and M Shed is our retail offer. Over the past year Zak Mensah (Head of Transformation) and Helen Lewis (Retail Manager), with input from Peter Holloway (retail consultant)  and myself (User Researcher), have implemented a  number of big and small changes in order increase income generation in our shops but to also make them more appealing, relevant, and exciting parts of the museums.

This post is about a small but seemingly effective change we have recently made within the shop at BMAG. It follows the Phase One refurbishment of the shop in October 2015. The shop refurb included the purchase of seven new nesting tables; one of which we have designated to display products outside the entrance of the shop. Here I look at what impact this small change has had.

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We began using the shop-front display table on the 11th December 2015, and we have been surprised with the positive impact it has had on sales. The display is dedicated entirely to a range of books about Banksy – the world renowned Bristol-born graffiti artist. We know from sales data that the Banksy books are an important product within the BMAG shop. To date in 2015-16 the book Banksy’s Bristol: Home Sweet Home by Steve Wright is our fourth most popular product, and overall it is the most popular book that we sell. If you’re interested, it is now also available through our online shop.

Following the general retail rule of putting the most popular items forefront and centre of the shop, Helen displayed the Banksy books on the shop-front display table.  In total we stock four books dedicated to the work of Banksy:

  • Banksy’s Bristol: Home Sweet Home – £14.00
  • Banksy: Myths and Legends – £5.95
  • Banksy: Wall and Piece – £14.99
  • Planet Banksy – 12.49

It wasn’t until the table was in place that we realised how much of a natural fit the Banksy book display was. Directly outside the shop is BMAG’s very own piece of original artwork by Banksy – Paint Pot Angel. The iconic piece was given to the museum by Banksy following the hugely successful exhibition/takeover of Banksy’s artwork in the museum in 2009 – Banksy versus Bristol Museum. The display table is in the eye-line of the Paint Pot Angel and it’s the perfect moment to capture visitor’s interest in Banksy, and ultimately to generate sales of Banksy related products.

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What’s been the impact on sales?

Between 2nd May 2015 and the 30th December 2015 we have sold  a total of 205 Banksy books at BMAG. (Our retail sales records for this year  excludes April, it begins in May 2015 as this is when we moved to Shopify).

Period One – without shop-front display table

  • Prior to the 11th December (223 days) 163 books were sold
  • Average of 0.73 books sold per day

Period Two– with shop-front display table

  • From 11-30th December (excluding 25/26th Dec) (18 days) 42 books were sold
  • Average of 2.3 books sold per day
In tBanksy book charthe period we have displayed the Banksy books on the shop-front table, there has been an increase in sales of 219.8%

To some extent these figures may be inflated by the Christmas sales, but there are other notably busy periods within the period between May and December so it is likely that this increase in sales cannot be attributed to Christmas alone.

The lessons of this small change it seems is that it can be good to experiment with change in museum retail, especially if you use the  available evidence you have to inform those changes. The Banksy books are  also a great example of the need to provide visitors with products that are relevant to their experience of the museum – they respond well to them.

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On a regular basis I will see visitors come into the museum, go straight to Banksy’s Paint Pot Angel, take a photo of it and leave. There are only nine pieces of Banksy’s artwork remaining in Bristol, two of which are displayed in our collections – the Paint Pot Angel at BMAG and the Grim Reaper at M Shed. The two that we display are the only ones displayed in-doors and so we have a great opportunity to provide the Banksy books and other merchandise that fans of Banksy want. As I noted above, we already knew that our Banksy products were popular; even before the shop-front display of the books, the Banksy products were already in our top-ten most popular products. So the big lesson is that when looking to increase income generation it is a good to start with popular items and ask whether they could do better still.

Museums & Temporary Exhibitions: Getting the price right

It is only in the recent history of Bristol Museums, Galleries & Archives that we have been charging an entry fee for some of the temporary exhibitions – the first paid exhibition ‘Eye for Fashion’ took place in early 2012.

In the intervening time a number of approaches to pricing have been tried and tested including, for example, a ‘pay what you think’ model for the Photographic Portrait Prize in 2013. We are currently planning a similar model – ‘Pay what you can’ – for the Death exhibition (24 October 2015—13 March 2016). Over the past few years we have also been collecting data on pricing in the exhibition surveys via questions about ‘value for money’ – responses to which vary according to the exhibition in question. Despite having some data related to pricing, further research on pricing is needed. As such I undertook a short two week exploratory research project looking into temporary exhibition pricing and I discuss some of the findings here.

The research involved four days of survey collection whilst the Hogarth exhibition was on in Bristol Museum & Art Gallery (early July 2015). Hogarth Exhibitions CartoonThe survey consisted of nine questions focused on the pricing of temporary exhibitions (see below). A total of 39 surveys were completed by a random sample of museum visitors. The key questions to highlight are three and four. These questions ask about firstly the price point of an exhibition that directly appeals to the visitor, and secondly about promotions that would help to incentivise exhibitions which have less direct appeal. The aim is to understand how pricing and promotion relate to different kinds of exhibitions.


  1. Have you been to or intend to go to the Hogarth exhibit? Y/N
  2. Did you come to the museum specifically to see the Hogarth exhibit? Y/N
  3. Thinking about an exhibition that appeals to you, which statement do you most agree with?
  • I am unlikely to pay for a temporary exhibition
  • £5 is too high, but would pay a lower entrance fee
  • £5 is reasonable and would be prepared to pay it
  • I would not be put off if the price was higher
  1. If you were unsure about paying to enter an exhibition, would any of the following promotions make you more likely to buy a ticket?
  • Pay once and return as many times as you wish
  • A discounted annual pass for temporary exhibits
  • Discount in the Museum Cafe and Shop
  • Discount for visits during quiet periods e.g. weekday mornings
  • Free tea or coffee with adult ticket
  • 2 for 1
  • Family tickets
  • 50% off promotion
  • None
  • Other (please specify)
  1. If we had a ticketing promotion how would you like to hear about it?
  2. Have you previously paid to visit a temporary exhibit in this museum or M-Shed? Y/N
  3. Have you previously paid to visit a temporary exhibit in other museums and art galleries? Y/N
  4. Have you bought anything in the shop or cafe on your visit? Y/N
  5. Do you understand why there is a charge for this exhibition and where the money raised from ticket fees goes? Y/N

In line with the previous visitor feedback on ‘value for money’, the results from the survey suggest that paid entry  is not necessarily a barrier to visitors, nor is the current price point of £5. Moreover, the results potentially suggest that a higher price point would not always negatively affect the decision to pay for a temporary exhibition. Below I highlight two key findings and then suggest some further questions that may need addressing with further research.

Finding One

The graph below shows combined data from the Q.1 Have you been to or intend to go to the Hogarth exhibit? and Q.3. ‘Thinking about an exhibition that appeals to you, which statement do you most agree with?’. It shows the following:

  • The majority (69%) of all respondents who had and had not been into Hogarth agree with the statement ‘£5 is reasonable and would be prepared to pay it’.
  • Of the 22 users who had been to Hogarth, 41% agreed with the statement ‘I would not be put off if the price was higher’. A potential insight that the audience who are visiting Hogarth (60% over 55) would not be put off by higher ticket prices.
  • Only a small minority (2.5%) of all respondents agreed with the statements ‘I am unlikely to pay for a temporary exhibition’ or ‘£5 is too high, but would pay a lower entrance fee’.

q1 v q4

Wider Insight: There may be a need to re-assess the fixed price structure of £5/£4 con/Free U16s across all paid temporary exhibitions in order to maximise the different offers of each one. We know that different exhibitions appeal to different audiences and therefore further research may be needed on how prices points are perceived by key target audiences for each exhibition.

Finding Two

The graph below shows data for Q.4 – ‘If you were unsure about paying to enter an exhibition, would any of the following promotions make you more likely to buy a ticket?’ It shows the following:

  • 85% of users selected at least one pricing incentive option which would make them more likely to buy a ticket for an exhibit they were unsure about. 15% selected the ‘none’ option, meaning they would not be convinced by a pricing incentive to buy a ticket for an exhibit they were unsure about.
  • The most popular discount pricing options were ‘2 for 1’ (41%) and ‘Free tea or coffee with an adult ticket’ (28%). This result is perhaps unsurprising, however, pricing discounts would need further research.
  • The ticketing schemes we presented were also popular. The option of ‘pay once and return as many times as you wish’ was selected by 31% of users and the Discounted Annual pass was selected by 15%.
  • Of those who said they had paid for exhibition in Bristol Museum and Art Gallery or M-Shed previously (Q.6), 28% selected an annual pass. This may indicate a stronger desire for an annual pass from already returning visitors.

q4

Wider Insight: The data in this graph is indicative of openness among users to re-consider exhibits that they are unsure about given the right pricing incentive or promotion. This needs further investigation, including experimenting with pricing incentives.

Emerging questions and issues

As hoped at the outset of this short piece of research, a number of questions and issues emerged which need further investigation. The first one concerns what place temporary exhibitions have in the overall experience of a museum visit, for example, ‘are visitors using multiple offers in the museum: the permanent exhibitions, the temporary exhibitions (paid and free), the shop, and the café?’ Related to this, there is a need to better understand how temporary exhibitions relate to other paid-for elements in the museum. For example, ‘if the café is currently doing well, should we use its success as a means to increase visitor spend in the shop and in temporary exhibits (i.e. use the café as a direct marketing opportunity)?’

Perhaps the widest reaching insight, which would require further research, is that arguably the primary barrier to entry to any given exhibition remains a perceived lack of interest in a given exhibition. Previous research from the Hidden Museum project, however, revealed that a perceived lack of interest among visitors is often founded on assumptions and bias, but that this can be resolved given the right tools and approach.

Finally, it is part of my task as the new user researcher (audience development) to design and facilitate research which can address these questions and feed the findings back into decisions about how we shape the temporary exhibition offers that we have across Bristol Museums, Galleries & Archives.

If you have any questions about the digital or audience development research we do at Bristol Museums, Galleries & Archives feel free to get in touch with me darren.roberts@bristol.gov.uk

Project Insight: Half Way Point in the User Testing

We have reached the half way point in the user testing phase of the research which began on the 11th April and will run till the 3rd May. I just thought I would provide a quick snapshot of how things are shaping up in the museum.  To begin, some numbers; so far we have been in the museum on seven individual days and during that time 39 groups have taken part (=5-6 per day). In total, 125 individuals have taken part in using the app. I have interviewed the majority of the groups.

Issues on the ground

We have had a few logistical and technical issues along the way, so I will highlight three of these before I summarise some of the key parts of the research so far. Bad news first…

Issue 1 — The first significant problem we have encountered was on Sunday 12th April. Frances and I had to close down testing because the top floor of the museum was closed. This was due to a staff absence. When we found out the museum was partly closed-off, we quickly realised that the app will not function as there is no option to ‘skip’ a room if the app sends you there. The upshot is simply that it is important to check with the museum staff that the museum is operating normally.

Issue 2 — On Sunday 18th, we came across our first significant technical problem. When I attempted to open the app, a notification popped up saying that the Beta testing period had expired. Fortunately, my quick thinking volunteer came up with a temporary solution (manually changing the date on the iPad). I contacted Laura and she put Mark on the case to fix this which he did. However, this issue remains in play; the app needs to be ‘reset’ each month – something to keep in mind if we do any further user testing after the 3rd May (e.g. on the 10th June for our festival of education session).

Issue 3 — The third problem is an ongoing one which seemed to peak on Sunday 18th – the app/ibeacons occasionally not locating effectively. On the vast majority of occasions, the app is locating the user and it finds them and they get the ‘ping’ when they enter them room that they have been directed to. However, on occasion this doesn’t happen. On Sunday 18th it just so happened that this problem was experienced by three groups who all then returned the iPad because they couldn’t continue with the app (despite multiple attempts by users to be located by walking around and waving the iPad etc.). This sparked us to have a troubleshooting session in the museum on Monday 20th April…

Troubleshooting session in the Museum – 20th April 2015

Aardman Team Troubleshooting in the Museum
Aardman Team Troubleshooting in the Museum

Initially the general thinking was that the depleting battery life of the iBeacons was causing the performance of the app to become unreliable. However, the troubleshooting session with the Aardman technical team (Mark, Nate, and another colleague), revealed that the batteries were minimally depleted with most showing around 90% power remaining. Good news! Most of the iBeacons were installed around October so they are faring well after around six months – this is a big positive in terms of reducing the level of resources required for ongoing maintenance (should they need it).

The sort of bad news, however, is that the troubleshooting session couldn’t specifically identify why the app is intermittently and seemingly randomly not locating users. We generally acknowledge that it can be temperamental at times, and in essence we have simply to work with it being that way. Nate reminded me that one solution for users is to click the ‘open map’ button if it is not locating them and this should give it a kick to find the user – I am now telling users this when I set them up on the app. I think the reality, for the time being at least, is that the app does require a degree of patience from users. Having said that, to reiterate, the app is working almost perfectly a lot more often than not and technical problems are rarely reported back to me in user feedback.

General news from the user testing

HM Desk Front Foyer
Hidden Museum Desk

One of the bigger changes we have made since the pilot research was to move the Hidden Museum desk to the main foyer – a good move.  You can also see from the photo that we also have our Hidden Museum banner in place. It is fair to say that this has very much improved our general look and visibility and has also increased interest. Relatedly, we have changed recruitment tactics to include on-the-day recruitment, which means we are now inviting visitors from within the museum on the take part. This decision was taken partly because people were asking to take part and we felt like it was defeating the point if we said no, and because it feels like there is only so much that can be done through twitter and online registration. I would say that the combination of the two recruitment methods (online and on-the-day) is favourable. To note, users that we do recruit on-the-day are still required to provide ID and to fill-out the consent form in order to take part.

Feedback from users

User Testing HM App
User testers getting going in the museum foyer

Feedback from users has generally been very positive. It is difficult to summarise the feedback in this short space but I will note a couple of things. Where most users agree is on the question of ‘is there a place for the integration of digital technology like the app into the museum experience?’ – the answer has been a resounding ‘yes’, and users have been very clear that they think the concept of the app is great and should be given support.

Secondly, and this is good news, the app appears to be fulfilling its most basic objective – getting visitors to parts of the museum they don’t usually go to. The response on this has been virtually unanimous; the app is taking visitors to the less visited parts of the museum, and for the most part they are finding the experience of going to those parts of the museum interesting and valuable.

With regards to the more critical comments, they are certainly there but they are quite varied so they are difficult to capture at this stage. I will highlight one, and that is the issue of ‘pace’ – quite simply users are not so keen on how fast they end up going around the museum when using the app. When children are part of a group this issue is especially pronounced as they are often leading the group and responding primarily to the app and the instruction to move on. Initial ideas to overcome this include the option to ‘have another challenge’ in the room, or, perhaps an instruction to ‘explore the room before moving on’. Of course, these issues require fleshing out before they can be addressed.

That’s it for now.

Keep spreading the word for people to get involved in the user testing by signing up in advance or dropping in!  @hiddenmuseum

Darren Roberts

5.13 Project Insight – Joining Hidden Museum and Beginning the Research Phase

This blog is about my thoughts on joining the Hidden Museum project and the partnership with Aardman and Bristol Museum and Art Gallery. I use my experience of going to the museum and meeting some of the team for the first time (early April). I also use this as an opportunity to unpack a bit about the research we will be doing on the project during April and May (see also milestone 4.4 for further info about the research design).

To begin; some context … I have just begun a research assistant role on the Hidden Museum project. I will be based at the University of Bristol within the Graduate School of Education and will be working with Dr. Frances Giampapa. The second bit of context is that the research we are conducting is focused on questions about how the Hidden Museum game app affects the nature of interaction, learning, and engagement among museum users (I will unpack this below).

Before I go on to explore some of the research themes, the first thing to say (and I think it is worth saying) is that I am excited to know the museum it will be my research location for the next couple of months – it’s a fascinating place. Secondly, it was real a pleasure to meet some of the Hidden Museum team (Gail, Laura, Jake, Amy, and Al). When speaking with you, what quickly came to mind from a research perspective was the need to include and, to some extent, start with your ideas and understandings of the key research themes such as ‘digital technologies’, ‘museum cultures’, and ‘engagement’. (The following week I got the chance to interview Laura and Jake from Aardman and Gail from the Museum about this). Third, I thoroughly enjoyed my experience of using/testing the Hidden Museum app.

Testing the app and the research themes

Generally speaking, what social scientists like Frances and I do is use qualitative and/or quantitative data to build up a ‘narrative’ about a topic (e.g. a place, or community, or set of practices) which we then analyse within a particular framework. Here the aim will be to develop a narrative about the three intersecting themes of digital technologies, museums, and learning/engagement. We will collect qualitative data through observation and short interviews and analyse it using ideas from education studies literatures. It is on this platform that more ‘layers’ can be added. For example, in the team meeting, we began discussing the possibility of incorporating questions about socio-economic diversity. This prompted ideas about potentially inviting particular groups from more deprived areas of the city to use the Hidden Museum app. In turn, it was suggested that this could form the basis of a small case study within the research.

The observation part of my research began to take shape from my first visit to the museum both because I got the chance to go around the museum and get to know the space, but I also got a chance to use the Hidden Museum game app – Frances, Amy, and I (all first-time users) played the Hidden Museum game in a team of three. Despite some initial technical hitches, which were speedily and impressively resolved, the game successfully revealed a hidden museum as it directed and delivered us to different parts of the building. For me and Frances, the question we are interested is, in what ways did the Hidden Museum game app shape or change how we engaged as visitors to the museum? To me it seems that one of the keys to answering this question is unpacking what we mean by ‘engagement’ and by thinking about the multiple ways that we engage. That is, to think of engagement as a combination of different forms of engagement. So, for example, on one occasion the game asked a member of the group to find out a fact about the item and then to quiz the other group members on the item. In response to the app a form ‘social’ engagement occurred as our group interacted and collaborated in the quiz. A ‘creative’ engagement occurred as one member of the group had to construct a meaningful question on the spot about a museum object. And a new ‘emotional’ engagement occurred as one group member slightly panics to come up with a question and the other team members wait with a degree of anticipation and playfulness.

Additionally, it is not always about the increase of engagement, for example, engagement with digital technology, especially the iPad and the game itself, fluctuates. This is something the team were discussing at the meeting, especially the idea that the app is designed to discourage the users from over-engaging with the game or the iPad in order that they could engage more fully in other ways with the space of the museum, with their group, and with exhibitions and items in the museum.

I hope this ramble has gone a little way in providing an insight into some of my initial thoughts as a researcher on the project and how we develop our side of things. I look forward to learning about how people will use the Hidden Museum game app in Bristol Museum and Art Gallery.

Darren Roberts

5.5.1 Reflections on Hidden Museum Pilot Days

On the 1st and 2nd of April the research team carried out a two day pilot for the Hidden Museum game app. The aim of the pilot was to test each aspect of the app and the user experience ahead of a more extended testing period. Overall, the pilot proved a success both in terms of the logistics and technical aspects of the app and in terms of a positive user experience. Here, I just want to discuss these two aspects in a bit more detail (including reflections on the interviews and observations).

Logistics and Technical Aspects

The research days were lead by Darren and Frances. Technical support was provided by Nate from Aardman. Research support was provided by our research volunteer, Amy. Laura and Jake from Aardman also provided help in getting us setup both days.

Over the course of the two days a total of 16 participant groups (1-6 participants per group) took part. This equated to 44 individuals taking part. Of the 16 groups that took part Darren conducted interviews with 14 groups. The length of interviews ranged between 7 and 20 minutes with an average of around 15 minutes. Alongside the interviews, both Darren and Frances conducted observations around the museum on both days. In addition to the research activities, Aardman employed a camera man to film the two pilot days; the footage will be used to produce a short promotional video for the Hidden Museum project.

From a technical perspective the pilot days went very well, the App and the iBeacon technology performed very well. There were no reports of any failures in the technology. A few of the groups commented on moments where the app did not recognise their location in the museum. When this did happen it was not noted to be a particular hindrance to the overall use and experience of the App. I believe that Nate from Aardman had noted down a couple of technical issues which he could report back to the developer.

The participant groups that took part in the pilot were recruited from friend and colleague networks from within the participating organisations. Those who wanted to take part were invited to register on an Eventbrite page – this worked well and will be used for the full research phase. On the first pilot day, we setup our Hidden Museum desk in a space on the ground floor in the Curiosity exhibition. This was chosen as it had a small area which is relatively secluded. Participants were given details of where we would be located on the Eventbrite page, otherwise they could ask the staff on the front desk. When Participants arrived they were asked to fill-in a consent form – this was very successful and will be used in the full research phase. After this, they were setup on the iPad and were given the opportunity to play the Hidden Museum game app. When they had completed the game, they returned to the Hidden Museum desk and were then invited to take part in a short interview (as noted, the majority did so).

Interviews

The interviews were conducted with 14 of the participant groups. The aim of the interview is to get an insight into how the use of Hidden Museum game app affects the visitor’s experience of the museum. The nature of the interviews varied depending on the group, for example, those with children had different questions to those without. The general theme of the questions was understanding how the app affected their ways of engaging in the museum, including: how they engaged with members of their group; with the exhibitions and items in the museum; with different emotions; with the digital technology of the iPad, and so on. As well as this, many of the participants gave specific feedback on the app itself, and many offered their thoughts on potential additions or improvements.

Generally, it has to be said that the feedback about the experience of using the app from participants was very positive. To put it simply, the app worked and it overall, in terms of the pilot days, it had its desired effect – the participants all but unanimously said they went to parts of the museum that either they had not been to before or that they rarely went to or that they thought they were not  interested in. In this sense, the app had a considerable affect on the ‘where’ the participants went in the museum. Again in most cases this change was very welcome and was viewed as something which enhanced their experience of the museum. Another interesting thing that came out of the interviews was the affect the app had on the ‘imagined identities’ of different individuals in the participant groups. For example, a number of the groups with children explained how the app allowed for a kind of role reversal whereby the children ended being ‘in charge’ of the museum experience rather than the parents/adults. On the flip side, a number of the adults explained how the app encouraged them to be more ‘playful’ than they would usually be in a museum setting. In other words, some of the expectations about how children, adults, parents, friends etc. should behave in a museum were challenged and new behaviours and ideas how to behave in a museum emerged. This is an area of the research that we will explore further. Finally, it is worth noting that in the small snapshot we obtained through the pilot, it appears that the coming together of digital technologies and museums is one that visitors both intuitively understand and find rewarding, but moreover, it is one that many perhaps are increasingly expecting.

Observations

The observations were conducted across the two days with X groups (FG observed 3 groups (1x two adults and 3 children; 1x 2 adults and two children; 1x 4 adults).  The average number of games played on the app were two.  In the mixed adult and children groups the children led on the app and there was a lot of talking, excitement and running around to search for objects.  For all of the observations conducted by FG, the groups were driven up to the areas such as the Bristol Artists, and Ceramics.  It was noted that these were areas that groups had not visited before despite seeing themselves as knowledgeable museum regulars.  At times groups would disperse to look for the hidden object and then come together with one group member reading out loud the information.  The flow and movement of groups was quick paced and there seemed to be pauses to read signs and work with the app’s compass to get to the next space.  Interestingly, it was the adult group that seemed to have difficulty finding their first two objects – mainly due to understanding and attention to what the app was describing.  Once they did find an object (on their third attempt) it became a motivator for continuing with the game and it drove their enthusiasm to explore further.  The ‘treasure hunt’ feel was noted by many of the players and this did work as a strong motivator.

Darren Roberts and Frances Giampapa