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Designing the future of history in South African museums

Local interactive technology design expert Formula D interactive has worked with local museums in Southern Africa on upgrading their exhibitions by introducing various advanced technological elements to transform the museum-goers' experience.
Designing the future of history in South African museums - Formula D interactive
click to enlarge
According to Chief Executive Officer Michael Wolf storytelling in South African museums is undergoing enormous change thanks to the advances in computers, electronics and information technology.

"Museums play an important part in telling the history of a nation and are a crucial component of any educational system," said Wolf.

"We apply creative design solutions through interactive technologies in order to make education and knowledge communication effective, engaging, adaptable and accessible to all."

Wolf said museums are traditionally late adaptors of technology since traditional exhibit design seemed to be more cost effective and durable than technological displays.

"Fortunately, the costs and reliability of computer-based systems have dramatically improved in the last ten years," said Wolf. "Museum designers are now familiar with technology and are not scared to use it to effectively engage their audiences."

Working closely with the Johannesburg Holocaust and Genocide Centre, Formula D is currently conceptualising an app that makes use of iBeacon, an indoor positioning system, to provide layers of additional media content onto physical artefacts and exhibits.

As a visitor makes the tour, the app finds additional location-specific content that will then show on visitor's mobile devices provided by the museum as they move through the exhibition. In addition, they can record and annotate their personal museum journey and share it with friends after the visit.

Designing the future of history in South African museums - Formula D interactive
click to enlarge
Director of the Johannesburg Holocaust & Genocide Centre Tali Nates said, "We are extremely happy with the partnership. Formula D provided us with exciting new ideas on how to use cutting edge technology best in a museum setting, and we believe that this app will greatly enhance our visitors' interaction and participation."

Stellenbosch Museum also approached Formula D to help design an audio-visual interactive historic timeline. Wolf picks up the story. "Visitors are now able to navigate through a four-metre wide projection by turning a dial either clockwise to move forward in time or anti-clockwise to move back in time. When they stop at any particular point, animated graphics and voiceover narrations explain the historic event - in Afrikaans, Xhosa or English."

Stellenbosch Museum Manager Debbie Gabriels said she was confident the interactive display would attract more tourists to the museum. "The historic timeline displayed in a digital format, is a creative, fun way to tell the history of Stellenbosch, it is visually appealing and easy for visitors to interact with it."

Wolf said that when touchscreen kiosks are suggested, clients often imagine clunky, ATM-sized boxes with small screens. "State of the art touch technology, however, is unobtrusive and can be scaled to almost any size and shape. The largest touch display we designed for a museum in the Middle East - it measures 5 by 1.25 metres," he said. Recently, the company installed a 106cm (42 inch) wall-mounted touch display which sits behind a large glass panel at the Transport Rider's Museum in Ceres. The custom app provides multiple interactive activities such as an explanation of the origin and historic uses of the ox wagon - and involves a wagon-builder game that allows children to assemble a "personalised" wagon.

Museums are by nature a repository of historic events, but Formula D's interactive town model for Moorreesburg Wheat Museum enables the visitor to not only explore the changes the town has undergone but to do so from various viewpoints and through a panoramic 3600 view. Viewers can also switch between historic periods and discover the changes and hear the stories for each era.

At the Thaba Bosiu Cultural Village in Lesotho, the national heritage site that marks the beginnings of the Basotho nation, Formula D interactive designed a scale-model of the mountain out of wood. Tablet computers are mounted around the model from which visitors control the central mountain projection. Each tablet features specific content about the mountain that enables visitors to explore different topics simultaneously.

"A really exciting potential of technology is that we can now allow visitors of museums to contribute to exhibitions." said Mr Wolf. "Museum visitors have often witnessed important historic events themselves, for example, they may have experienced Apartheid and the liberation struggle. Interactive technology enables us to record this crucial oral history at the museum."

    
 

Formula D interactive's press office

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