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Museums and the Web

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Using QR codes, mobile apps and wifi tracking data to understand visitor behaviour in exhibitions


In the last twelve months QR codes have reached a new level of hype within the museum community - increasing as their proliferation in street advertising in the USA and Europe has increased. Even with more  deployments of QR codes into gallery spaces there has been little quantitative or qualitative research thus far on how visitors actually use these codes, whether they deliver real value, and, importantly, whether their presence changes the 'gallery experience' for users and non-users alike.


In early 2009 the Powerhouse Museum experimented unsuccessfully with QR codes but again tried implementing them in a new temporary exhibition in 2011. Coming from the failures of 2009 and the need to understand more about how visitors used the codes, a three tiered approach was designed to understand the behaviour of smartphone carrying visitors in an exhibition. The approach used a combination of technology implementations - free public wifi, QR codes on every object label, a free Android and iOS mobile app containing rich exhibition catalogue content and, crucially, a built-in QR scanner, as well as wifi user tracking, and automated threshold counting.


This paper discussed the technical implementation of the project and how the design of the project evolved as the exhibition launched and then attracted visitors. The paper reveals the results of the different tracking technologies - what proportion of exhibition visitors scanned the QR codes; which objects were scanned; which objects were most viewed on the App;  dwell times by wifi enabled smartphone; and, what proportion of visitors carried wifi enabled smartphones into the exhibition during the sampling period.


By collecting this data together and visualising it, the paper makes recommendations for new ways of (re)designing exhibitions with a better understanding of how smartphone users navigate them - as well as how to more successfully implement QR codes and other visitor-driven technologies in galleries.


Paper - in formal session


sebchan's picture
Seb Chan is currently the Director of Digital & Emerging Media, Smithsonian, Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum. Until November 2011, he led the Digital, Social and Emerging Technologies department at the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney, where he oversaw the implemen- tation of Open Access and...
luke.dearnley's picture
I began at the museum as a developer working under Sebastian Chan in 2006. While I adopted the position as Web Manager at the start of 2010 I still manage to spend a fair bit of time doing actual coding which I prefer to sitting in meetings any day...