Who do you think you really are?

London’s Natural History Museum recently opened the interactive film “Who do you think you really are?” It’s the inaugural experience in their David Attenborough Studio lecture theater — a 64-seat theater where each seat has its own tablet computer.

The 50-minute film teaches visitors about evolution using a mix of techniques. It looks like an interesting experience, using narrative storytelling, heads-down individual interactive segments, and heads-up/social augmented reality and image sharing.

The project was a design collaboration between Pentagram (read here for more about the overall concept and space), BBC Research and Development (read here for more about the technology behind the augmented reality), and the Natural History Museum (read here for more about the film).

Although I’ve always loved science museum shows where you sit back and watch in wonder, this looks like an intriguing way to make shows more interactive. The challenge, over the long term, is preventing the show from feeling out-of-date — a real concern since technology changes so quickly.

An insightful comment on this Guardian article about the film points out a recurring problem with these sorts of experiences — that short durations (less than an hour) force authors to keep the content fairly light. It’s a problem I hadn’t really considered before — that science museums tend to tell the same stories over-and-over again. This may be fine for young audiences who are being introduced to the subjects, but its not very interesting for people who have already learned the basics (both for parents and the kids who’ve been to other science museums).

Augmented reality, dynamic books, and tablet computers are booming right now and Open Exhibits is creating an open source library of tools for museums to build “interactives.” How can museums embrace these developments and engage with people in an ongoing manner? Well, it’s more than just technology. Museums should think about:

  • How can the depth of content be controlled by each individual visitor to match their interests and previous understanding?
  • Can visitors bring content to the museum, and have it put into the context of the exhibition?
  • Can visitors prepare for their visit to the museum?
  • How can people continue their experience after they leave the museum? Can they explore the subject in greater depth, see how it applies to their daily lives, or …?

It’s a tough but exciting challenge.

All images: Copyright Natural History Museum- Rights Reserved.