I get that digital is often last in line in exhibition planning. Not quite an afterthought but used to flying by the seat of its pants in terms of scheduling. There are good reasons for this. Content comes late, graphic look and feel comes late, budget for digital is sometimes a bit, well, squeezed. I’m thinking of online as well as gallery digital here.
But when you are looking to make friends of the exhibition visitor in terms of social interaction, it helps to integrate the experience. What got me thinking about this more than I usually do, was a (luckily silent) chunter I had last week when visiting the Grayson Perry exhibition at the British Museum. It’s a great exhibition. And the BM is doing some lovely digital stuff in their temporary exhibitions at the moment. Not so seamlessly integrated you miss it. But delivering content enhanced by technology, rather than consumed by it.
But the wall at the end of this exhibition, the one you see before you leave (and the one that. like the song on the PA at the end of a concert, sticks in your mind) slightly took the shine off the whole thing for me. 4 bits of hand cut paper (curling a bit) were stuck on said wall, representing social network logos and a QR code for scanning. I did a double take. Stuck on? In the BM? Really? Hence this post, and the photo fronting it in an accusatorial manner.
Part of me would like to think this DIY approach was a nod and a wink to Grayson Perry’s take on social media. But, sadly, I don’t think it is. Perry’s commentaries on social are integrated into his beautifully finished craft pieces; new media delivered on old media. And it is this juxtaposition that makes the (ironic) point. I’m happy with lo-fi if it is meant to be so. Pencils and postcards didn’t hamper interaction at the Turner Prize. But the design of the Perry exhibition is sleek and the graphics tidy and classic, everything well within the grid. So, although I know why someone might have stuck these bits of paper on the wall (the cost of printing colour, is my guess) I really don’t have to like it. It felt too much like a design typo. And a bit of a gesture to the hard work gone in to the design of the rest of the exhibition.
Of course the point of a QR code is that it is simply a means to an end. I was still able to scan this one on my iPhone and get to where it wanted me to go. But I want social to be presented seriously in museums. To be integrated, planned in, designed in. I think it is important to present new technologies with intent. To inspire potentially unsure participants with some surety. Design can help with that. If museums look nervous about their social ask, how can they expect visitors to trust to – and so engage with – it?
And whilst we continue to debate if we should, could or would do any of these socially things in museums, a bit of stuck on paper is better than nothing. But only just.