Hi Webby Awards judges, this is the case for Mauritshuis
A museum since 1822, filled with works of art from the eras of Rembrandt and Vermeer, located at the majestic Binnenhof in The Hague. The Mauritshuis attracts an audience of ‘real’ art lovers. But with world famous paintings hanging in such a monumental building, everyone should visit. It was time to make this happen, together with DEPT®, through a multimedia tour (in the form of a new website and app) in which personalisation and perspective are paramount. In other words, a tour for everyone.
The Mauritshuis knocked on our door with the question of how to attract a broader audience within the Netherlands and beyond; diversifying the audience in terms of education, age, nationality, social-economic background and more. The underlying ambition? Making the museum digitally accessible for everyone. That’s why we had to find a way to introduce people from all over the world with different interests to the themes and paintings of the Mauritshuis. How did we do this? Through personalisation of course.
Personalisation is easier said than done. Automated personalisation, such as in the form of a website engine that serves different pages to different visitors, is put together on a technically complex level and asks for the use of data. This involves privacy sensitive issues and legislation, which goes against the digital accessibility that the Mauritshuis strives for. That should be done smarter. Let’s give the visitor the option to personalise themselves, on the condition that the result is directly and perfectly tailored to the preferences of the visitor in question. It’s an ingenious solution. But one that requires a lot of content, preferably in the form of snippets that can be combined endlessly.
A content pyramid with differentiation through perspective
The Mauritshuis has at least 850 paintings and other works of art. In order to be able to do something with this in the field of personalisation and to add structure, we have created a content pyramid. The pyramid looks like this:
The collection of the Mauritshuis creates the base of the pyramid and is always available. This content layer contains the technical description of work; from title to artist, data, literature and extra images.
On top of the base is the layer with context. This layer provides the framework and thus the story on the basis of which paintings are viewed and understood. For example, if the collection focuses on the theme ‘animals’, the context could be ‘animals in Rembrandt’s time’, offering differentiation.
Finally, the deepening takes place at the top of the pyramid. This offers space to view and understand paintings and their stories from different angles. Here, for example, a historian explains — by means of an audio fragment — the symbolic meaning of animals in paintings, or Freek Vonk tells the younger audience fun facts about the depicted animal.
In this way, the Mauritshuis can play with the amount of content offered, whereby the museum always makes use of the collection and provides context and differentiation through perspective.
Copy and content: website versus app
We have poured all the content the Mauritshuis has into a website and app. Stories are presented on the website in which the context is the same for every visitor, and a number of audio options have been added to the paintings that highlight different perspectives. The app works in a similar way, but mainly serves to support a physical tour of the museum itself.
The big advantage of the content pyramid is that the same content can easily be sent to multiple platforms in order to create a rich experience. However, we have chosen not to make the website and the app identical. Content that is relevant during a website visit is not necessarily what’s relevant when a visitor stands in front of a painting in the Mauritshuis. The museum likes to let its physical visitors immerse themselves in a painting instead of their phone, that’s why the app only shows content that takes the user even more into the story of the painting in question.
The CMS system Umbraco was chosen to make it possible to adjust the content. This gives the Mauritshuis complete freedom in managing and designing the content for both the website and the multimedia tour app. The link with the Adlib collection management system makes it possible to display the current Mauritshuis collection on the website.
Online & offline merge seamlessly
When someone visits the website and then follows the multimedia tour in the museum, it is important that the experience flows smoothly from online to offline. That is why the website and the app have a lot of visual overlapping and can be controlled with the same interface. For example, the touch and feel of the multimedia tour forms a point of recognition for the visitor in all areas. Conversely, the experience of being physically present in the Mauritshuis has also been included in the design of the platforms. This is reflected, for example, in how the content is displayed, where there is room for exploration via horizontal scrolling. The content ‘hangs’ on the website from left to right, just like the paintings on the wall in the museum. By clicking on a certain piece of content, the visitor is given the space to literally and figuratively dive into the depths via vertical scrolling. Small details like this make a big difference.
Thanks to the new website and multimedia tour, we can tell all the stories behind our collection even better.
Test, test, test
The entire concept of the multimedia tour was initially based on the idea the Mauritshuis has sketched for us. This meant that assumptions were made that do not translate well in reality, or turn out slightly differently. To overcome these, we carried out thorough tests during the project.
One of the main challenges lay in the complexity of the historic building. In addition to the part visible from the outside, the museum also houses a large underground complex. The main premise here was that visitors should be able to move through the museum as freely as a child without feeling lost. In the app, they can therefore choose between ‘free walking’ or a tour. If a visitor walks around freely, in the first concept they had the option of scanning a QR code next to a random painting. During testing, however, it turned out that visitors did not always keep enough distance from the precious paintings when scanning, much to the annoyance of the security guards. As an alternative, we therefore opted for the choice to scan the entire room, so that visitors can immediately see an overview of all paintings hanging in the room on their phone.
In order to unburden the visitor even further, it was necessary to think about playing the audio fragments. Of course, on an average busy day, it can be a nuisance when everyone is playing sound clips from their phones. Forcing visitors to use headphones can raise hygiene questions and means that they must fit every phone port. The solution? Have the audio fragment played through the ear speaker instead of the loudspeaker, so that the visitor has to hold the phone to the ear and the volume remains limited.
A digitally accessible museum for everybody
A strong digital programming has now been created. Sandra Verdel, project manager Digital Engagement at Mauritshuis said: “With the new website and multimedia tour, we want to position the Mauritshuis as a low-threshold, accessible museum, where you are personally touched by a collection that you must have seen once in your life. We want to do this by telling more stories ourselves, but also by letting others have their say about our collection. In addition, the new website forms the operating base for our new digital programming. We are very pleased that DEPT® is assisting us in all facets, from creativity to data and technology.” After the website and app went live in September 2021, the Mauritshuis can proudly call itself a digitally accessible museum for everyone.
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