QR codes and triggered content in museum spaces – in 2018

Any other museum digital people getting an influx of requests for QR codes to put in galleries recently? No? IS IT JUST US?!

After thinking that QR codes had died a death a few years ago, over the last few months we’ve had people from lots of different teams ask for QR codes to trigger content in galleries, for a variety of uses such as:

  • Sending people to additional content to what’s in an exhibition, to be used while in the gallery e.g. an audio guide
  • Showing the same content that’s in the exhibition but ‘just in case’ people want to look at it on their phones
  • Sending people to content that is referenced in exhibitions/galleries that needs a screen but doesn’t have an interactive e.g. a map on Know Your Place

After an attempt to fend them off we realised that we didn’t really have any evidence that people don’t use them. At least nothing recent or since the introduction of automatic QR code scanning with iOS 11 last year (thanks for that, Apple). So, we thought we’d test it out, making sure we’re tracking everything and also always providing a short URL for people to type into browsers as an alternative.

In most cases, it’s as expected and people just aren’t using them. They’re also not using the URL alternatives either, though, which maybe suggests that people don’t really want to have to go on their phones to look at content and are happy with reading the interpretation in the gallery. Controversial, I know. (Or maybe we need to provide more appealing content.)

However, then we come to our recent Grayson Perry exhibition at Bristol Museum & Art Gallery, which had audio content which was ‘extra’ to what was in the exhibition. We provided headphones but visitors used their own devices. A key difference with this one though was that our front of house team facilitated use of the QR codes, encouraging visitors to use them and showing them what to do. As such, the six audio files (there was one with each tapestry on display) had 5,520 listens altogether over the course of the exhibition (March – June), over 900 each on average.

Whilst it’s great that they were used – it threw us a bit – the flip side of this is that it was only in an instance where it’s being facilitated. I’m not partuclarly keen on using something that we’re having to teach visitors how to use and where we’re trying to change users’ behaviours.

There’s also some more here around the crossover between online and gallery content (should we be using one thing for both, are they different user cases that need to be separate) which we’re talking about and testing more and more at the moment, but that’s one for another post.

We’d be really interested to hear your thoughts on triggered content. Do people even know what QR codes are? Are ‘just because we can and they’re no/low cost’ reasons enough to use them? How do you do triggered content? Is this unique to medium-sized museums or are the big and smaller guys grappling with this too? Or is it really just us?!

4 thoughts on “QR codes and triggered content in museum spaces – in 2018

  1. As someonewho experimented with QR codes in museum exhibitions almost a decade ago when phone cameras were 3MP resolution and the whole idea of mobile websites was a ‘new’ thing – see http://www.freshandnew.org/2009/03/qr-codes-in-the-museum-problems-and-opportunities-with-extended-object-labels/ – for example ….

    I , too, have been interested by the stubbornness of QR codes given that ‘no one actually scans them’ … The big change in the last few years has been the explosive growth of QR codes in China, their deep integration with WeChat/WePay and then also the enormous growth of middle class Chinese tourism. If your institution is getting growing numbers of Chinese tourists and you are able to translate content into Chinese and your point of sale systems can accept WePay & AliPay then you definitely should be doing more experimenting with QR codes …. which is something I never thought I’d say!

    1. Thanks Seb, that’s interesting. They really won’t go away!

      Re Chinese audiences, I remember chatting to Sej at Culture24 about QR codes a couple of years ago when they were doing their Fit for China research project about what you’ve said above. I’d really like to test this more – we have a lot of Chinese visitors especially at specific events we put on such as Chinese New Year (our busiest event of the year), and lots of Chinese tourists in Bristol. Maybe we’ll try to translate some content and get a little deeper with analytics to try and get a grip on who uses them as opposed to just how many times they’re scanned.

      I think unless it’s for that or for something that is facilitated with front of house, we’ll be pushing back a bit more on them (for now)!

  2. This might be a good use for QRpedia – a project I helped create.
    https://meta.m.wikimedia.org/wiki/QRpedia

    It’s a QR Code which links to a Wikipedia article about the piece on display. Crucially, it links to the article in the visitor’s language. If I scan it I get the English version, if a Chinese user scans it, they get the Chinese version – all from one code.

    We’ve found that it works particularly well on “famous” exhibits – but also very useful where there’s a strong article in any language.

    It is being used in galleries and museums around the world. Very handy if you don’t have time to curate your own online content.

  3. Interesting read! Small Swedish museum here: We use QR codes for the museum’s audio guide on boarding as well as in some exhibitions. If you hang on a query string to the URL it’s easy to tell how many visitors uses the QR codes. (About half of our audio guide users enter via QR codes).

    In Sweden we have a popular payment application (Swish) which also uses QR codes and increases the usability of the codes. So QR codes are coming back here as well.

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