As Head of Digital and Experience at the V&A, Kati Price has undoubtedly been in the thick of things during what has been an exceptional and unprecedented two years for the arts and culture sector. With unique insight into how the V&A responded to the demands of the pandemic, Kati sat down with MuseumNext’s Jim Richardson to talk past, present and future of V&A digital as her team looks to evolve the museum’s digital estate.
Being a digital team, the pivot to home working was admittedly easier for Kati and her department when the first lockdown closed the doors of the museum in March 2020. That’s not to say it was easy. The immediate focus on creating digital experiences brought an added pressure to a team already busy with creating and delivering digital content across the museum’s many channels.
However, with a more urgent push from all areas of the organisation to deliver digital experiences, the V&A team needed to look carefully at how key areas of their programme could be replicated digitally to assist colleagues doing their business online.
Kati quickly realised the key was not to try and do everything at once but to think more strategically about priorities. To the team, that priority was all about online engagement and how museum events could be repurposed for use across existing digital channels. For some of the more commercial areas of the museum, the digital switch was transformative. The Learning Academy, for example, was one area able to adapt and grow to become more inclusive and international – a positive trend which would go on to be replicated in other areas of the museum (Find out more about how V&A pivoted their learning offer during the pandemic in this interview with Ian Ellard).
The international reach of the V&A has grown during the pandemic and the type of content available has evolved as its diverse audience has become clearer. Creating regular events for learning, such as Let’s Make Wednesday’s, helped improve online engagement for pandemic audiences such as homeschooling parents. Meanwhile, an ASMR series offered similarly high engagement by creating content that mirrored a popular online trend but also supported more direct and creative interaction with the collection.
By keeping one eye on social and online trends and adapting content to reach a global audience, the V&A have been able to use digital platforms to create novel experiences.
Creating a digital Wonderland
The Alice: Curiouser and Curiouser exhibition at the V&A challenged post-pandemic audiences to engage in an immersive and theatrical show. Kati believes Alice in Wonderland was the perfect topic to test the Virtual Reality experience on audiences.
She said: “We didn’t want to do VR for VR’s sake. Instead, it was important to think about where it can really create a sense of agency or where it can do a brilliant job of transporting you into different worlds. Exhibition making is all about world building anyway and so VR on top of that has to be thought about quite deftly because developing worlds within worlds becomes quite an interesting design challenge.”
The exhibition was ultimately well received and it helped to showcase effectively how museums can use technology to deliver immersive experiences as well as learning opportunities.
The Alice in Wonderland exhibition was an exciting way to bring audiences back into the V&A but Kati has also been working on ways to engage people in what the museum discovered to be “explorer mode”. Explorers are those classified as engaged with art and design but not necessarily knowledgeable on search terms or using a “search” function on a website engine.
This particular challenge led Kati and her team to consider how they might better support online visitors and help them to navigate the website. The solution was to launch “Explore the Collections”, this uses data to unite stories. By using more intuitive search methods, developing relevant and educational editorial content, and finding new ways to display collections, the V&A team were able to opening up the museum’s assets and facilitate exploration to great effect.
An expanding future
As the museum finds its physical feet again after the events of 2020 and 2021, connecting the online exhibitions, experiences and collections with the physical V&A environment is now a key focus for Kati and her team. At the same time, the V&A’s family of museums is growing, with V&A East, Young V&A, V&A Dundee and more.
Kati says, “Our digital estate is really important in helping people understand the different parts of the V&A offer. We are thinking hard, doing lots of head scratching exercises about what that means for translating a complex brand architecture into information architecture. And from then into a design experience and a content offer.
Kati Price is the Head of Digital and Experience at the V&A. She spoke at the MuseumNext Digital Summit in June 2022. Find out how you can watch all the presentations from this event on-demand here.