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Today more than ever, we tend to use our eyes more than our ears. Be it through television, digital or picture messages, the majority of the stories we’re told are done visually. But to tell the story of a site or an exhibition, audio is king.

From a practical point of view, audio encourages the visitor to look out into the space rather than down into a handheld device. It can talk directly to the visitor and accurately guide their sight to specific details in an artefact or a painting hanging on a wall.

And from a storytelling point of view, audio can transport the visitor to anywhere at any point in time. Imagine the cost involved in trying to recreate the Battle of Culloden in film. content and translation, storytellingNow, unless you have a BBC-like budget, it’s going to be almost impossible to capture the battle accurately – and most importantly, realistically. However with audio, it can be done. Thanks to the theatre of the mind, sound effects, music and character voices can paint a picture so vivid, the visitor feels as if they’ve been transported back in time. As you stand on the moor, listening to the anguish in the voices of the men sent out to fight, the unmistakable clash of swords, the whine of horses, it’s as if you’re right there in the middle of the battle.

Talking of Culloden, it’s a great example of audio being supported by visual content to deliver a fantastic visitor experience. On a couple of occasions during the audio tour, the visitor is instructed to take a brief look at the device. On one occasion a roman coin is shown on the screen, a coin that was discovered where the visitor is currently standing. Here it makes complete sense to show the coin on the screen, rather than try to describe it in words, and deliver a more satisfactory experience for the visitor.

Nowadays anyone can create audio. Free recording and audio editing programmes exist for PCs and Macs, and you don’t even need a sound proof studio; to muffle background noise hold a duvet over your head while recording – an effective hack I learnt from working in radio!

There are plenty of sound effect libraries on the web and music can also be found from sites such as audiojungle.net – quality pieces of work that don’t cost the earth to license. And if you’d like to use character voices, why not approach a local theatre company or amateur dramatic society?

Clearly the quality isn’t going to be up to the standard of a recording studio in Dublin, with professional voiceovers and extensive libraries of music and sound effects, but scripted well and executed cleanly, you can create audio that will help you to deliver an amazing visitor experience.

The essential ingredient in any audio guide solution is the content, putting storytelling firmly at the heart of the visitor experience. In this post we’ll take a closer look at storytelling and how it can enhance your audio guide solution.

A story has a beginning, a middle an end.

This is the beginning.

We’re all storytellers. We can all spin a yarn about our day at work; share memories from when we were growing up; and describe in detail our hopes for the future. Our stories can be engaging, emotive and they allow us to create connections with those listening.

When it comes to the art of storytelling, sometimes we need to filter through some of the details. Unless the specifics of what you had for lunch are intrinsically linked to the point of your day-at-work tale, it’s probably safe to leave it out. Put everything into your story and it becomes cluttered, loses focus and those listening will let their mind wander while absent-mindedly nodding along to at least appear as though they’re listening.

This is the middle.

It’s the filtering of detail we encourage sites to consider when planning the story they’d like to tell. It’s hard, because a lot of the time the teams are so passionate about their story they want everyone to know everything. But what they need to consider is that it’s not about what YOU want to say, it’s about what a VISITOR wants to hear. Different visitors are going to be interested in different things, sure, and a great way to cater for different groups is to create different tour types (an archaeological tour, a ghost tour, a people and society tour), or possibly provide more detailed and specific information in a ‘find out more’ option after the primary tour content has concluded. But to begin take a step back and think, ‘Why do our visitors come here? What is it that they want to know?’. From here you can begin to work through the themes and strands that run throughout the site and that will help you to deliver the compelling story your visitor has come to hear.

This is the end.

Finally, it’s important to remember that it’s not just the storytelling, it’s how you tell it.

Last year my son was learning to read. A recent note from a teaching assistant asked us to encourage him to read with more inflection in his voice and to bring the stories he was reading to life (if you’ve ever read the Biff and Chipper series of ‘easy readers’ you’ll know that this isn’t easy). He now reads out loud with incredible amounts of inflection, character voices and even sound effects. It’s great fun – and interesting – to listen to because of his playing with sound, something we’ll look at in more detail in our next post.

 

The audio guide has been at the heart of a visitor experience for over 50 years. Its purpose is to help the visitor make the most of their visit to a museum, exhibition or visitor centre.

It’s become an integral part of a visitor experience and one that many people now almost take for granted; ‘Do you guys have an audio guide?”.

An audio or multimedia guide can point the visitor towards must-see exhibits, or details within those exhibits that they may have previously missed; through the art of storytelling it can transport the listener back (or forwards!) through time to provide them with a better understanding; it can guide visitors around a location; and fundamentally it allows foreign visitors to enjoy an almost identical experience to that of the domestic visitor.

Our experience tells us that the drive for many sites to implement audio guides or audio guide apps is a desire to cater for foreign visitors and thus make themselves as a more attractive destination.

Our multimedia audio guide and traditional audio guide handsets are both capable of delivering tours in an almost unlimited number of languages.

Our multimedia guide at Culloden Visitor Centre has over 8 languages available, as well as a ‘family tour’ option, and all deliver the exact same tour experience. Being able to cater for visitors overseas is one of the major reasons why the visitor centre consistently sees visitor numbers increasing year on year, and the visitors appear to love the multimedia guide experience:

“The PDA was a fabulous use of modern technology to bring the history to life”, Dick Kranz, Denver.

“The audio tour was brilliant! I loved it, my children loved it, my husband loved it!” Angela Carlson, Colorado Springs.

Since reopening it’s doors in 2013 following a complete overhaul of the visitor experience King John’s Castle in Limerick has seen visitor numbers soar. Here, as part of an all new interpretive approach, technology plays a key role in bringing the history of the castle to life. Interactive displays, A/V installations and our handheld multimedia guide deliver an incredible visitor experience that caters for everyone. To maximise visitor numbers the multimedia elements are delivered in English through the exhibition’s speakers, while the audio guide allows foreign visitors to listen to each of these presentations in their own language through our proprietary syncing software – ensuring that everyone enjoys the same experience at exactly the same time.

If you’re interested in finding out more on the ways that technology could help to deliver an incredible visitor experience, get in touch! Our creative and development teams can work alongside you to explore the ways in which the power of technology could enhance your current visitor experience.

Unless you’ve been away from planet Earth this summer, you won’t have missed the augmented reality game, Pokémon GO.

The free-to-play, location-based mobile game has been downloaded by more than 100 million people worldwide and is a global phenomenon. But just in case you have been sunning yourself on Mars here’s a brief synopsis.

Pokémon GO is a free download on iOS and Android. It uses the mobile device’s GPS capability to enable the player to track down Pokémon (virtual creatures) who, through augmented reality, are shown on the player’s device as if they were in the real world.

It’s probably the first location-based augmented reality game to break through into the mainstream. It’s been credited with encouraging physical activity and even with boosting those businesses who suddenly found themselves a key location within the Pokémon world.

Reading through the hundreds of articles published since the launch of Pokémon GO this July, it’s clear that players have enjoyed exploring areas of their neighbourhood (and further afield!) that they may have previously ignored or taken for granted. The placement of virtual creatures has encouraged them to explore more, open their eyes and has heightened their experience of a physical location.

It was the desire to heighten a visitor’s experience that inspired us to create the Digital Ranger series of apps alongside the National Trust for Scotland.

Digital Ranger App: Crathes Castle

Digital Ranger App: Crathes Castle

They’re a series of location-based augmented reality apps on iOS and Android that were developed to add an extra layer to a family’s walk around the grounds of some of the Trust’s ever popular properties – Crathes Castle, Castle Fraser, Inverewe, Glencoe & the Hermitage.

As a family explores the grounds their device alerts them when they arrive at a point of interest before explaining to them more about their surroundings and the wildlife that can be frequently seen there. The app then encourages the user to track down a digital image of that species, using augmented reality. Once found, the player answers a multiple choice question to win a spotter’s badge (there are 10 to collect at each site).

pokemon go

Enhancing the walking trail of Crathes Castle

Just like Pokémon GO, our Digital Ranger apps encourage players to explore their surroundings and take a closer look at places they may have previously walked past without giving them a second glance.

We’ve also harnessed the power of augmented reality in our audio guide app for Ben Lomond (iOS & Android). Developed on behalf of the National Trust for Scotland, augmented reality allows us to draw the walker’s attention to some key spots on the vista as they follow the trail to the top of the mountain. The highlight of the trail, unsurprisingly, is looking out from the top of Ben Lomond and taking in the view, which on a clear day includes over 30 peaks of surrounding mountains. It’s here that the augmented reality functionality of the audio guide app comes into it’s own, allowing users to pin-point which peak is which through the digital tags shown on their device’s screen.

Our earliest experience of using augmented reality was working alongside Haunted Planet Studios at Falkland Palace in 2010 to deliver an immersive ghost hunt experience in the grounds of the palace. It was enjoyed by visitors, young and old and delivered an incredible visitor experience, as families explored the grounds of the palace trying to track down the ghost of Queen Mary. Check out the video below!

As Pokémon GO has shown, and through our own experience in developing audio guide apps, augmented reality when implemented correctly delivers an incredible user experience. It encourages people to interact more with their surroundings and to take a look at places they may have previously missed, or simply ignored. Most importantly perhaps, It can also be a lot of fun and when you’re talking about creating compelling visitor experiences, more fun can only be a good thing.

Over the last few years visitor sites have often asked us whether we think a handheld audio guide or a downloadable audio guide app would be better for their site.

Audio Guide King John's CastleObviously it’s a case of horses for courses, with each solution beneficial in different was. A lot of the time the thinking behind the question arises from investment concerns. Traditionally handheld hardware costs have been quite high, it’s one of the reasons we prefer to use off-the-shelf devices. It means we’re not tied to any one supplier and if budget is a concern we can source an appropriate device depending on the project parameters. However app development isn’t necessarily the cheaper option; it can be, but it depends on the functionality of the app and the amount of work that’s needed to deliver it.

Which I guess brings us to the answer to the app versus handheld device question; what kind of visitor experience are you looking to create? tour guide phone appsAn app is a great way of connecting with visitors pre, during and post visit. It can allow you to reach them in a more personable way and enable the visitor to tailor their experience on their personal device. It does more than just enhance the visitor experience on the site itself, it enables visitors to plan their day in advance and shape the experience they want to create, before taking something away with them once they leave.

A handheld guide doesn’t necessarily do this. It’s something that’s picked up at the ticketing desk and dropped back on the way out. It doesn’t allow for pre-planning or the sharing of moments with friends on social networks, but what it does do is allay fears of battery life on personal devices; it takes away the annoyance of searching for the right app; and it allows a visitor to simply turn up on the day and connect with your site and its stories without giving it a second thought.

Both solutions can deliver an amazing visitor experience, the question is – what kind of experience are you looking to deliver?

Location based triggering of content via a handheld guide is one of those things we’ve begun to take for granted, so we thought it was time we took a closer look at it once again.

It’s functionality that can add so much to an audio tour when part of a considered approach to the visitor experience. It allows people to simply place a guide around their neck and then forget all about it. They’re free to explore exhibitions and exhibits as they see fit, keeping their eyes on the things that they’ve come to see and not on the handheld device hanging on a lanyard around their neck.

We believe that our location-based triggering – both indoors and out – is some of the most accurate triggering out there in the tourism and heritage world. Outdoors, like most people we obviously use GPS, but thanks to our very own proprietary software we’re able to trigger the same piece of content within the same square meter time and time again. This proves invaluable at a site such as Culloden Battlefield in Scotland, where the visitor has to stay on the narrow footpath at all times as they explore the historic site. Because of the accuracy and stability of our triggering we know each visitor will hear the same content at the same spot every time.

For triggering indoors, our preferred method is by WiFi. Again, our proprietary software allows us to accurately map WiFi signal strengths within a room and deliver the right content to each visitor related to their location. As at King John’s Castle in Limerick, that content might be in the form of audio; it could be a change to the onscreen menu as they enter a new part of the exhibition; or it could be a notification asking if they would like to listen in to the movie currently being shown on the screen in front of them (in their own language, of course!).

Obviously, we’re big fans of location-based triggering, but there is one thing you need to consider. Firstly, as mentioned at the beginning of this post, it needs to be part of a considered visitor experience. As a site YOU may want to automatically trigger the content to save on things like interpretive panels, but is that the best approach for the visitor? Rather than creating a seamless experience, used inappropriately location-based triggering can be intrusive, frustrating and disrupting. It obviously depends on a site, but one way forward might be to automatically trigger an introductory piece as a visitor enters an exhibition or gallery, before handing control back to them and allow them to manually select content of interest as they explore a space in more detail.

What are your experiences of automatic triggering of content? Did it enhance the visitor experience or was it disruptive? Thought through we believe it can enhance any visitor experience when used correctly, but interested to know your thoughts.

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