Expanding the vision: A replicable approach to in-museum digital experiences

In 2018, the Hirshhorn Museum unveiled the Hirshhorn Eye, an in-museum mobile site that uses image recognition to let Hirshhorn visitors hear directly from artists. It won three first place awards and was described by the media as “a museum mobile guide that’s actually cool.” However, this marked the first step in an iterative and collaborative vision for furthering accessibility and increasing visitor engagement across the near-museum network. In 2019, with help from the Hirshhorn, the United States Diplomacy Center is adopting the technology for their exclusive primary source material. The technology, soon to be open source for all museums, is also expanding to the wider Smithsonian museum network. Panelists from Hirshhorn, the Diplomacy Center, and National Air and Space Museum, share three perspectives on the strategy, data insights and implementation of this technology.


Unknown Speaker 00:00
All right, I guess we'll just get started. Thanks, everyone for coming. Thanks for making it to the last session of the day. My name is Jacob Kim on the webmaster at the Hirshhorn Museum. And today we're going to talk to you a little bit about how we've the work that we've been doing with the Hirshhorn eye for the past year, as well as how we've shared it out to other institutions at the Smithsonian as well as outside the Smithsonian as well. I'm Jacob Kim and the webmaster at the Hirshhorn Museum and I work on web and digital projects for the museum.

Unknown Speaker 00:36
Hi, I'm Kelsey Slovak with the National Museum of American diplomacy. I'm their digital content producer been there for about three years. Hi, I'm

Unknown Speaker 00:44
Samia Khan. I'm a Project Specialist at the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum. And I do two different things I work on specifically media elements in our new exhibits and then museum wide programming.

Unknown Speaker 01:01
So I'm going to start by giving a little overview about what the Hirshhorn eye is for those of you that are not familiar with it, and introduce you to kind of what we've been doing at the Smithsonian over the past year in terms of taking what we've built at the Hirshhorn and expanding it out across our calling museums. And then I'll introduce kind of the two initial pilot projects that we're working on currently. And I'll pass it over to my colleagues on the panel to discuss their projects with the Hirshhorn i. So, for those of you that are not familiar with the Hirshhorn either her Shona is a museum guide that uses image recognition technology to help visitors connect with artworks and artists that have created them. Visitors are able to go to a URL, point their phone at an artwork and listen directly from the artists talking about their artworks and their process. It is a website. So it's a web based application. It's not a native app that you have to download to your phone. We really wanted to create something that reduced the barrier to entry for our visitors. And so we ended up making a mobile website. So anybody that visits our galleries can go to H either sr.edu and start to experience that way. As I mentioned, it uses image recognition technology in our galleries for artworks that we've activated, you can point your phone, once you've gone out onto each other, let's say that edu and listen and put your phone and the phone will recognize the artworks that we've activated and deliver content that way. It's primarily used as a visitor experience engagement tool at our museum. And we try to provide kind of a deeper dive into the artworks helping them helping our visitors demystify contemporary art in modern art, as well as introducing them to the artists that have created them. So for the past year, actually stepping back a little bit. Since launching the Hirshhorn I, we've received a lot of interest from our colleagues in terms of how they can adopt it at their museums and deployed there. For so for the past year, we've really been working on kind of the distribution strategy and how we can help facilitate that process. One of the main kind of projects that we're currently working on is transforming the Hirshhorn AI into a Smithsonian wide product that can be picked up by any of our Smithsonian museums to be deployed at their museums. So the goal of the Smithsonian high project is to as I mentioned, create one platform where visitors can go to one URL, select the museum that they're at, and start scanning artworks in that museum. This the way we've kind of envisioned this new platform allows the visitors to number one, just be able to go through one URL. And number two, allow the museum kind of technologists and experts to create under to create the content and deliver these experiences under one. One platform, sharing kind of the lessons learned and helping each other out in terms of doing activations and content strategy and so on. Some of the initial projects that we're working on, we're working with the African National Museum of African Art National Museum of African American History and Culture, the National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian American Art Museum, and the American Women's History initiative, and these are all Smithsonian museums and initiatives. I wanted to kind of introduce you to some of the I wanted to give you a teaser of some of the projects that we're working on. The first one is with the National Museum of effort In art, it is with their exhibition called Heroes principles of African greatness. And in this exhibition that will be opening shortly, the team at African art has created a link between historic African figures and objects that are representing them inside exhibition. So visitors that are visiting the museum can use the Smithsonian higher experience to create to get an understanding of kind of the nuances between the African figure that the artwork is representing and listen from, directly from the actually the museum director himself kind of experience explaining the ties between the importance between the African figure and African art.

Unknown Speaker 05:48
The other activation that we're working on with the Natural History Museum is inside their fossil Hall. We're using the Hirshhorn I Smithsonian high technology to create a new experience where visitors can scan and fossils in the gallery spaces and hear directly from the museum experts and the scientists that work on the work with the museum and subject matter every every day. And I'm now I'm going to pass it off to Kelsey.

Unknown Speaker 06:20
Yeah, so our museum is actually not Smithsonian affiliated, we're another institution. But we collaborated with Jacob and linked by air, which is the company that developed the product, to fork it into our own project. So we actually launched earlier this week with Museum of American diplomacy i or Maddie, for the Berlin Wall exhibit that just opened up for the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. We also had an exhibit that opened up with it that had image panels that would play historical footage from East Berlin, to put you in the feet of those people who were there at the time. It also works with the object that you see there, triggered and which has the signatures of people who contributed to the file, such as the president of the time, George HW Bush, and Durbin activists, as well as the artist who painted the wall, who was a protester at the time. Our target audience is unique to other museums, in that we have a lot of aficionados, we have a lot of International Affairs nerds, were going to the museum and would want deeper information about what they're looking at. And so in that way, we're lucky and it's also ages 18 Plus, which according to Jacobs experience, and to me as is the people who tend to use it more so than kids who might be on their phone for other reasons.

Unknown Speaker 08:01
So we are currently using it for the Berlin Wall exhibit, what we plan to expand it for our exhibit, and our other Hall, which will be using diplomat stories, interviews with diplomats of the stories that we're telling, which is also some of the material that we test that works out the best. But we're also in this really unique stage in the museum development, in that we're still designing three other halls that will be open in 2022. And so as we're having the conversations about what those halls are, are going to look like we have the eye as an asset to help expand on the material aside. So some of the more experimental uses. Right now we're going to be using it for visitor testing. So that when you use the eye, you can have a multiple choice question or an open ended question. So that people who are visiting the first Hall can provide feedback that we can incorporate to the permanent museum. And then we'll just use Google Analytics to gain demographic information that'll be also informative without adding additional questions to the visitor. We're also exploring use of it as our audio guide solution. So rather than having it having visitors need to download a SoundCloud or use a wand with them, they can use the eye just a different toggle for the eye. And this can be built in to the museum as we're developing it. Similarly, we think that it might be a better solution for videos within exhibit exhibits when there's a lot of competing noise, and it might just be a cleaner, more a better solution than then having additional material out there. So, so we've benefited a lot from the other exhibits that are museums that used it. So the content planning, we learned that the content, rather than the technology is actually the heavier lift. So in the beginning, when in our planning stages, we were able to plan for that, as far as staff time. We also, were concerned about having too much text information. But we learned that you could have as many text cards, that that's not that people didn't mind swiping through more text cards. And that was a positive solution experience for the visitor. But that there's a hard stop for the video time, similar to YouTube, it's about 90 seconds. So that saved us a lot of a lot of time in the content development. We also learned that it was a good way to get emails from people who are using the app, and then they can opt into adding their email, which is critically important to us, since we're still in a fundraising stage for the rest of the museum. And then we're also able to prior to launch test which images would work best, and kind of reconfigured some of our content strategy. After testing it using the AI technology that was already there, pre launch. So since we benefited from all of these things that other museums are here's Hirshhorn, specifically before, did we I look forward to publishing our iterations in publishing it as our code that other museums could possibly use and apply to their, their exhibits as well. And I'll hand it to Samia, okay, let

Unknown Speaker 11:56
me I don't Is this it's working out to be really close. Okay, so I might just speak loudly, so I'm not bending over the whole time. Okay. Hi, I'm Samia Khan and I work at the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum. So I also used the high platform technology and one of my projects but unlike the Hirshhorn and Museum of American diplomacy, I took it completely outside of the museum. So a little bit of background on my project called Apollo at the park. July was a big Well, this summer was a really big summer for the Air and Space Museum because guess what, it was the 50th anniversary of when we first landed on the moon. How many of y'all knew that? Hopefully some people Okay, great. Okay, so big year for us. 50 years since the first moon landing, we of course, we're going to be activating that we activated the whole National Mall, we actually even put the Saturn five rocket on the Washington Monument. Hopefully some of you saw that. But for we specifically because Apollo 11 was an it was the achievement of like 400,000 people across the country working together. For one common goal. We wanted to do something that engaged people across the country. We wanted this to we wanted to build national awareness around this anniversary. So we kind of had this idea right in July, right as the anniversary was about to hit. We were also going to put the Armstrong spacesuit back on display for the first time in 13 years. So it was being conserved and while it was being conserved our amazing team at the digitization Programs Office, 3d Scan did the entire spacesuit. So we wanted to use that data. So we came up with this crazy idea to create 15 identical replica statues, so like identical life sized spacesuits, and put them in locations all over the country. So when we were trying to decide where are these statues going to get the most eyeballs on them throughout the summer, we decided MLB ballparks perfect place to put a spacesuit statue. And you might ask why MLB ballparks so apart from the fact that a million people go see, you know go to baseball games during the summer. There's also a lot of synergy and overlapping audiences when you think about kind of that. Summertime space programs summertime baseball, they both kind of evoke that Americana and nostalgia, America's pastime. So this was our crazy idea. So in as I was kind of working to nail down all of the ballparks across the country. They were so excited to work with us and have have a you know, Neil Armstrong spacesuit statue there, but all of them were kind of like, well, great. We're so happy to have the statue but what else? What else are you going to do to help our fans understand why there is a spacesuit at Yankee Stadium like what what else you bring it us? So I needed a way to tell a story and tell a narrative without taking up a lot of physical space because, as you can imagine, ajan the ballparks were I was not I didn't have to finagle them too much. But even getting the footprint for the statue there is, is a lot, everything at the ballpark has a sponsorship, they're always trying to make money. So I could not take a lot of space. And so that's where the high platform comes in. I used basically, this is literally me just approaching Jacob to be like, Hey, can I use this for my project. And we decided to use the high platform to activate the spacesuit so that folks at ballparks could actually understand and like, get the big picture of what Apollo 11 was without a lot of signage without a lot of giant physical space being taken up. So you can go to the next slide. And so here are some highlights from the project, you can see kind of a map of where the 15 teams were across the across the US. One thing I want to highlight. So I was I use the high platform to basically activate certain areas of the spacesuit so that a fan at the ballpark could basically come go to that web address to it would activate their phone camera, and they could scan over certain parts and they're fed content. And I'll show you what it looks like in a minute. But the way so basically, in conversing with all of the ballparks again, they didn't want me to take a bunch of physical space. So we created these Moon signs. And there's kind of some nice synergy here. It looks like the statue is standing on a moon. But also the moon had the instructions for how to use the the snap the suit application.

Unknown Speaker 16:39
So that's kind of like what the different spacesuits look like. And then kind of going back to because each of these statues each of these spacesuits was going to they were all going to be installed in different locations in each ballpark. So I couldn't just have someone point their phone at the entire statue because the background was going to be different. It had to be zoomed in close enough so that it would be identical. This, the areas activated for the app would be identical for each statue. And then the last picture over here, not only did we want all of the ballparks to host one of our statues. I also wanted them to do something to highlight and celebrate the anniversary. So kind of the second part of this project. First was pleased host one of our statues. Second part of the project was please have a game night in the summer devoted to Apollo, like we created a whole package of digital assets that were handed off to the 15 teams and encourage them to have a celebration on July 20 to do something to honor this anniversary. And I shockingly many of them did. And we're super excited. And that is the Apollo theme night this past July from Nationals Park, and a quick recap, the statues were only up at these ballparks June through September. So the plan was to take them down at the end of the season. So that it really was just a summertime program. Little did I know that DC would be hosting the World Series and could have gotten a ton more play. But hindsight. Next slide. Okay, so this is kind of what the experience is. Fans at ballparks are taking their phone and they're zooming in to things like the flag. And then they're immediately fed little snippets of content. So so this is like little fun facts. And then I also had little images integrated as well. So one personal pain point I have about the platform is that you can't merge text and images, Allah Instagram Stories, which I think would have made it a little bit more seamless. So you either have to have the caption before the image or the caption after the image. So you know, that's, I think one drawback the other things. So the other kind of difficult thing is we were working with 15 ballparks so the image over here is like from the Washington Post is the one at nats park but they didn't put the moon sign down for like the first three weeks it was there. And that's just like reality of like, it's, you know, like, how much can you promote this without like, you have to have something there. And I also don't think having instructions on the ground was ideal, I would have actually liked to have it in people's faces. As soon as they they walk up to the statues, so they know to do more than just take a selfie with it. And we can let me just make sure Okay, so we can go to the next slide. Okay, so the fun part about this little project of mine is that because it wrapped up at the end of September, I also have a lot of data and statistics about how well this performed. So you might look at this and think 5000 users throughout the summer that's nothing you No, like that's so small. However, like think about it ballparks in the summer, like getting people's attention is absolutely impossible. So I actually think the fact that 5000 People read my sign and whipped out their phones and actually use this is phenomenal. Not just that, but like a two minute average session is super, super long for people at a ballpark that are getting food and watching the game and doing a million other things. So a couple takeaways. The funny funny thing is Smithsonian always tries to do things like this, because we think it's going to engage kids. The the age groups tell us that it's it's, you're basically it's still like adults, essentially, it's still kind of the the parents and the young professionals that are coming and maybe already interested in space and interested in this content that are going to engage with it. Another fun fact. While a lot of the teams decided to do an Apollo game night, and like literally had former astronauts come out to throw the first pitch and did all this stuff. Not all of those cities have the highest engagement on the app. So for example, Atlanta, literally didn't do much of anything except have the statue there. However, they had the highest number of people engaged with the app. So why do you think that is, anyone have a have an inkling?

Unknown Speaker 21:29
No one, it was location. They decided to put their spacesuit statue front and center, it was the first thing people saw when they walked into the ballpark, it was the last thing they saw when they left, it literally was in the background, when the news commentators were talking about the games, it was like so much visibility, a lot of the other ballparks unfortunately, put them like behind a really hidden section or behind a wall or in a certain area that was for kids, just like if they weren't visible, the engagement was really low. And so a couple takeaways. Location is key ballparks were uniquely difficult partners, because we did not have say over where the statutes were going. The instructions I, you know, again, the moon signs they had we attach them to the ground. So we didn't take up a lot of physical space. But in retrospect, in a perfect world, I would have wanted a giant panel with giant instructions that are clear and simple. And like 123, boom, boom, boom, the most engaged users don't change. So this shouldn't be a shock to us. But the people that probably engaged with our app are people that are already interested in space interested in astronauts were curious, and came up and wanted to learn more. And then, so again, this, this was all outside of our museum, but inside so the Air and Space Museum is going through a big five to seven year renovation, we're completely redoing the galleries. And we've been talking a lot about how we can use the high platform as kind of a you know, like Kelsey, and Jacob were saying as as like a guide, the problem is we don't have artworks, we have gigantic airplanes and rockets. And you have to think about if a user is pulling out their phone, What angle do they have to be looking at? What how do we have how are they all looking the same way when you're trying to photograph Amelia Earhart's airplane. So they're really difficult to scan. So I think the solution for us would probably be using one image that the user scans. And then crowding is a constant, we get so many people to our museum, it I literally don't even know how we would be able to do something like the high because it requires actually being able to hear that it requires some focus, and people are so distracted at our museum and, and it just would be would be quite difficult. So that is my project and a little fun, fun treat for everyone. I have postcards from our digital digitization Programs Office, and you can actually test out the app on here. And please take one. Also also also really fun. There's a little QR code if you want to access the 3d scan data yourself and do something really cool, like 3d printed spacesuit or something like that. So I have little postcards, please take them and that is my project.

Unknown Speaker 24:34
Yeah, and we wanted to open it up for questions we kept the presentation is short. It's the end of the day, but we're also hopeful that you guys would ask us some questions. Yes.

Unknown Speaker 24:48
Just about the technology behind them or training data.

Unknown Speaker 24:57
So the image recognition technology that we use is a third party company called Khartoum. And basically, when we're activating artworks, we go inside the galleries and take pictures from different angles of the artwork or object that we're trying to activate. And we upload that into their image recognition system. And we try that with our content management system at the Smithsonian and format it we use Drupal. So we put the content on the Drupal side and the image recognition side when we match it up with a record ID and that's how it's the experience is delivered to the visitor. Yes.

Unknown Speaker 25:39
So you've got interviews with artists, and then you've got other interviews. Can you see how long people are waiting for interviews and artists versus together?

Unknown Speaker 25:50
Yeah, so at the Hirshhorn, we primarily use interviews with artists. We don't differentiate as well as for some artworks, we have interviews with the curators or the director of the museum, but we don't really differentiate between the visitor between the videos for interviews with artists and interviews with the curators. We know overall that videos, people are watching them for about 15 to 20 seconds. Overall, most of our videos are about 30 to 60 seconds long, so they're getting through about a quarter of it before they decide to move on to something else.

Unknown Speaker 26:36
Alright, if no if no other questions, you know, feel free to come up and check out you know, some years. Please take a postcard. Thanks, everyone.