Technology: to be or not to be? Some ideas for profitable museum approach to digital tools.

A three day international congress took place this week in Venice. The subject? Digital Humanities, or in other words, digital and technological tools applied on art research and communication.

Content is king: the design of interactivity in museums”, made by Gillian Compton Smith (Iuav University), seemed to be among the best participations.

The researcher started talking about interactive designers, asking people to imagine:

– what technology could do for people;

– how to make it usable and useful;

– what kind of experience it should offer.


It’s not easy to find out the right answer. The speaker illustrated some examples to lead us towards some possible solutions, first talking about the Micro Gallery in the London National Gallery. The concept is to: provide the visitors of the museum an enjoyable digital information system, which they can use to find out more about the art works. The underlying motivation is the belief that people visiting a museum want to find out about the exhibits, the more they learn the more they will appreciate and value their experience. So, in a few words, this is the place where people start to love the paintings, but in their digital aspect. Is it a good way to approach art? If you have the painting, why you need the micro digital gallery?

The real problem about this system, as for all technology, is that it’s getting rapidly old. The same thing happens to another more common source of information: the museum audio guide. If you use it in the regular way, with a machine and headphones, or with the “new” mobile art guide, things don’t change. If we look just a bit deeper, we’ll see that the visitors seem to be captured in a bubble for the entire duration of the visit, completely surrounded by images, but avoiding people.

At the opposite side of this approach, we find the Jewish museum in Berlin, where visitors can have an active role in discovering the events, while touching some dates that appears on the display. Discovering, they are free and stimulated to talk to each other about what they have found.

Now, if we look again at the first three questions, maybe we can answer with just one statement: technology needs to be a tool, not the purpose, making it useful for museum research and visitors. In that way, digital can be a fresh support, capable to renovate the museum’s image, offering experiences that just not bound the visitor with the art objects, but creates relationships between people.


Francesco Zanibellato



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