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The Audio Guide
Does it enhance or hinder the visitor experience? And is that even the point?We undertake a great deal of market research to support the development of museums and visitor attractions. And one thing is very clear – the visitor either loves or hates the audio guide.
And the industry has mixed views too. Art curators and visual artists often argue for limiting the ‘noise’ between you and the art. Others see it as essential to help create genuine connections. Natural heritage leans more towards ‘it’s a no no’ because connecting with the natural environment involves using your senses to immerse yourself in the sounds, smells and visual richness that nature gives us. If there’s a need for a helping hand then they’d rather use live interpretation where possible.
The built heritage environment is another matter. Complex collections, and the need to create a visitor flow through the many stories that historic places hold, make audio guides and multimedia handhelds popular choices for these built environments. Live interpreters are also used to help make those connections but the audio guide has been a firm fixture for many years.
Having enjoyed a recent visit to the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, I would make these observations: a good audio guide helps make emotional connections as well as being an informative tool. It is another piece of the experience jigsaw puzzle that, in the case of the Van Gogh Museum, is particularly useful in giving an independent traveller an enriched experience. It’s also an ideal way to deepen your knowledge, a similar effect to the one achieved by other types of technology like apps, QR codes etc.
But my last point is simply to say that an audio guide should not be viewed as an ‘either or’ tool unless practically necessary. For all those visitors who hate them, there are as many who eagerly search them out because that is their personal preference. The more choice we give our visitors the more successful we will be as cultural attractions in an era where personalisation, customisation and self-curation are the norm.
So embrace experience choice and go from there – visitors will be forever grateful and that means they’ll keep coming back.
Rosalind Johnson, Director A Different View
Image source: Max Slevogt, Self-Portrait, courtesy of Photocapy Via Flickr Creative Commons
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