Augmented reality mini-brainstorm

(Reading time: 2m, 52s)

Knock knock …

Who’s there?


AR who?

AR you coming to the museum?


There’s an unsubscribe link at the bottom of this email. I’ll understand. But look on the bright side — It’s my 40th birthday today, and I’m just warming up with the bad dad jokes. You’re lucky I don’t send two emails a day. 🤔

List member Lauren O’Meara replied to an email this week with questions about augmented reality (AR) and experience design:

This question may not be relevant - but I've always been curious about AR and museums. When you talk about experience design and the audience being focused on the experience of their visit - does that add to the experience? create an unjustified expense? distract/detract from the experience?

I told Lauren I don't know a lot about how museums are using AR or how decision-makers at museums view the potential of AR, but she said she was ok with me sharing with you all to see if you have any thoughts on or experience with AR.

Are you familiar with AR? Have you used it or considered using it to improve service design or enhance visitor experience in any way?

My initial thought to Lauren’s question was that many museums might be better off directing money required to develop AR programs for visitors to studying and improving more conventional visitor experience issues and opportunities — for many museums there’s plenty of “low-hanging fruit” yet to be picked in terms of understanding audience segments and creating a more unified experience and product for those audiences.

There are lots of questions to be answered, too.

Are we talking about an AR experience through an application on people’s phones? There’s an appealing sort of efficiency in imagining a world where people could walk through a museum and gather lots of information about objects and environments just by holding their smartphone’s camera in front of them — labels could become a thing of the past, right?

But there are a few people who don’t have smartphones. I suppose the museum could supply those or some similar device, but the logistics and expense of developing and maintaining software that’s compatible with operating platforms (presumably Android and iOS at least) may not be realistic for many museums.

I also wonder how many museum folks like the idea of people using their distract-o-machines to access museum content. The museum offers a chance to get away from all the noise and notifications that our pocket computers have brought us. Museums are places where we can be alone with our thoughts to together with the thoughts of others IRL. I bet there are lots of children’s museum leaders who are not exactly champing at the bit to have more families accessing their phones for whatever reason while at the museum.

On the other hand, there must be lots of interactive applications that could add a new layer to the experience … There is a hands-on aspect to AR. I could imagine choose-your-own-adventure style applications that could perhaps enhance children’s learning more than simply reading object labels or listening to a guide.

I often think of AR being accessed through people’s phones, but it could be a more shared experience. You could install an AR system in just one part of the museum. It’s interesting to think about an AR system in terms of the visitor journey:

  • How could AR be used when people arrive or when they’re leaving?
  • Could it be used to capture attention in some particular way when people’s attention is at a low point?
  • Could it be used to assess the impact of the museum in some new way?
  • Could it be a tool to improve museums' service design?

I did a quick Google search and can see some results on how museums are using AR, but I’m trying not to dig into that. I thought it might be more fun to use our imagination for a minute and see what we can come up with.

What do you think? Hit reply and tell me your thoughts on using AR in museums and cultural organizations — or any other context. I’m curious.

Have a great weekend,


Kyle Bowen