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Ever since his first experience of a museum audio guide back in 1990, Alejandro Lopez has been fascinated by the potential of audiovisual content delivery. Today, the advanced digital solutions designed by his company, MuseumMate, may be a far cry from those early radio cassettes but the aim remains the same: to elevate cultural experiences and deepen visitors’ love for art in all its forms.
Looking back on his first encounter with an audio guide in 1990, MuseumMate CEO, Alejandro López, says,
“That experience opened up a world unknown to me until then: one of culture and knowledge of Art in general.
“That impression was so pleasing that I wanted to give other people, with no knowledge of art, the opportunity to discover and feel what I felt in front of a work of art, through the explanations of these autonomous devices.”
Until that point, Alejandro’s professional career had been outside the cultural and museum sector. But such was the profound effect that his first audio tour had on him that it changed the course of his career journey. Now, many years later, MuseumMate is among the leading names in museum technological solutions, distributing content for museums and monuments around the world. Indeed, the company’s SmartGuide Visitor Assistant is dramatically different to the simple, analogue technologies available before the turn of the century.
Back in the 1990s, Alejandro says that it was immediately clear that the technology of the time had significant room for improvement – both in terms of functionality and quality of narrative:
“I began a process of research and work that concluded with the development of a device that was totally revolutionary at the time – based on mp3 and screen.
“But I also knew that the most critical improvement that needed to make to many existing audio guides lay in the storytelling. I knew that this was the real secret to capturing the attention of people so that they would also enjoy the art they were observing.”
Alejandro stresses that it is not just understanding art but also the audience that can mean the difference between a successful guide and one that misses the mark.
“It is essential that museum technicians know their public better and know how to adapt their content offering to each visitor profile.”
While MuseumMate was conceived three decades ago, growing the business into the enterprise of today is an interesting one. Today, MuseumMate serves institutions welcoming more than 27 million visitors every year across many countries around Europe and even as far as Hong Kong.
Discover some of MuseumMate’s success stories here.
“We have created the first Visitor Assistant: a combination of hardware, digital solution and Data Intelligence. With it, we improve the information that visitors receive during their tour and, in addition, we provide the museum with intelligent data on the habits, behaviour and preferences of its visitors in the rooms, so that museum technicians can get to know their audiences better and better.”
This form of feedback is integral to the MuseumMate service because it helps museums and monuments constantly monitor, assess and improve their delivery for a more enjoyable and engaging experience. Alejandro himself has led research into new narrative techniques over recent years, looking at how technologies can facilitate high quality storytelling within museum or monument environments.
That quest to constantly improve the visitor experience is what drives innovations and has seen MuseumMate grow and develop its range of hardware and software solutions. Speaking on the rigorous approach his team take to each new project, he says,
“For me, the visitor is at the centre of the project and our mission is to provide the museum with the necessary tools to give them a unique visitor experience. That is why we always like to experience the current visit first-hand, before we engage with museum managers on a new project. That helps to detect shortcomings at the functional, operational and content levels.
“After several visits we propose to the institution the best solution to improve the current experience – identifying the most appropriate technology and the contents or operational functionality.
“By helping institutions to promote their content through innovative technology and new storytelling techniques, we can help their visitors appreciate every detail even more: the creaking of the wooden floor when approaching a work of art, the emotions that a simple piece of marble arouses when observed up close. Ultimately, the aim is for the visit experience to be a harmonious combination of environment, content and technology.”
For a solutions provider like MuseumMate, it is important to understand how visitor demands are constantly changing – so that they might continue to find the best way to engage with customers.
“Visitors increasingly spend a large part of their time consuming content through the likes of Netflix, YouTube and other channels. When a museum puts a SmartGuide Visitor Assistant in the hands of a visitor, we must take into account what consumers want from their solutions.
“We are providing them with the ‘digital extension’ of the museum during their visit to the galleries. It does, of course, include audio guides, but it extends beyond this to provide a multitude of practical functionalities that contribute to a unique and enriching visitor experience.
“The Visitor Assistant is available both via the physical SmartGuide device and as a digital EasyGuide solution direct onto the visitor’s smartphone.”
For museums, one of the key advantages of modern digital technologies is the valuable data and insight it puts at their fingertips. As a visit management tool, MuseumMate’s solutions help to inform teams of the habits, behaviours, interests and profiles of their users. As Alejandro explains, this insight helps museums to “know their pubic better, being able to adapt their content offer according to different public profiles.”
Asked to identify some of his favourite museum projects in recent years, Alejandro says,
“There are many, and they have all been carried out with a lot of love and care: without this love and dedication from the MuseumMate team, we would not achieve the innovation and great results we are getting.
“I wouldn’t be able to single out one project above the rest. But I will say that it can be particularly rewarding to help small museums and local monuments that aren’t top of most people’s tourist attractions. A great project isn’t always about visitor numbers but about the quality of experience: creating an emotional response and lasting memories for visitors.”
Asked to give his own perspective on the challenges, hardships and uncertainties of the pandemic period, Alejandro says,
“I used those first few days of lockdown to take a deep breath and look at this situation with a view to the future . . . from day one, we stopped our services to analyse whether our audio guides could really be a source of contagion. Fortunately, time has proven the effectiveness of our usual way of working: every physical audio guide is sanitised by our staff before being used again by another visitor. This is not something new; it has been part of our working protocol for more than fifteen years.
“We also have a digital solution in place, which allows visitors to use the audio guide on their own mobile device, without the need to download data or use the internet. We have offered this solution since 2015, but from Spring 2020 we worked to improve it significantly. Within two months we had, if I may say so, a ‘beast of a tool’ in our hands. It was amazing the work that our technical team had developed.
“We know how useful BYOD solutions such as EasyGuide can be, and will continue to be. However, as of today, our research shows that visitors continue to choose a physical device delivered by the museum itself – so we are proud to be able to offer both options to institutions.”
Alejandro also knows that there is no room to sit still in a fast-paced world where innovation is constant and the demands of consumers are ever growing. But while many institutions can find themselves struggling to decide between technologies, platforms and hardware, he advises that the real focus should be on innovation in content.
“Yesterday it was radio cassettes, museum room leaflets or traditional audio guides. Today it’s the Visitor Assistant and tomorrow . . . tomorrow it could be any new technology. What they will all have in common is that they will serve to transmit a message.
“Fortunately, more and more museums are allowing us to apply new storytelling techniques to their content, with which we can update the offer and captivate new generations of visitors.
As he looks toward MuseumMate’s immediate future, Alejandro explains that the next 12 months are already full of exciting projects and opportunities with museums and monuments around the globe. And looking further ahead, he says that there are always functionalities and technical developments in the pipeline that can help each iteration of the Visitor Assistant become more powerful and valuable to users and museums.
“We are always working on the design of our solutions, finding better ways to act as a bridge between the museum and the visitor during their tour of a gallery or exhibit.”
You can find out more about MuseumMate by visiting the website here.
Tim Deakin is a journalist and editorial consultant working with a broad range of online publications.
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