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Best Practice 2014
Category: Projects, proposals, methodologies and studies

Interactive sensory labels for improving the visitor experience at the British Museum: Trophy 2015

University of Reading and The Rix Reseach Center UEL

United Kingdom

Logo of University of Reading and The Rix Reseach Center UEL Postcard of British Museum

Sensory Labels” is an output from the AHRC-funded project called “Interactive sensory objects developed for and by people with learning disabilities” (2012-2015) and carried out by University of Reading and The Rix Reseach Center UEL.

One of the broader aims of this project is to explore the use of technology and sensory information to help make museum/heritage sites more exciting and appealing to people with learning disabilities.

Over the past three years, we have held a series of workshops for people with learning disabilities, engaging them as co-researchers in art-based and technology-focused activities to elicit their views on how technology could best be employed to improve their museum/heritage experience. Our co-researchers have a key role in the development of artefacts for use within museums and heritage sites. In multisensory art-based workshops, they can explore technologies that could potentially be integrated into artworks and they can select those that they find most interesting and stimulating.

Over the last year, our co-researchers from the charity Tower Project in London have made several visits to the Enlightenment Gallery at the British Museum in London, with the view to improving the visitor experience. They enjoyed the exhibits in the Gallery, but found the (mostly) textual descriptions of the objects difficult to understand. Furthermore, nearly all the objects were displayed in glass cases and there was very little that could be touched. They wanted to find an alternative that was more exciting and accessible to them. This prompted the idea of the Sensory Labels – an alternative visitor experience, in which textual labels are either replaced or supplemented by ‘multisensory labels’.

The co-researchers originally started by using off-the-shelf recordable postcards, to experiment with making sensory labels which provided both a visual and audio interpretation of their selected exhibit. These were developed further into a set of handheld bespoke wooden tactile labels which are designed to trigger sounds and smells that were inspired by objects in the Enlightenment Gallery. From sketches made by the co-researchers of objects in the gallery, we made engraved wood tactile drawings and also engraved photographs of the co-researchers. Our co-researchers have created sounds capes to install in the sensory labels and have tested smells to install in a refillable ‘smell chamber’ that is also contained in the interior of the label. At our showcase day at the British Museum our co-researchers will personally hand their sensory label to members of the public to explore and discuss the ideas behind the research.

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