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Yesterday, I went to MONA in Hobart, Tasmania – the Museum of Old and New Art.
It is really amazing, and if you haven’t been there before, you should.
There are a few obviously amazing things, such as the location, the property and architecture, the story behind its development, and the exhibitions and artwork itself. MONA also offers free entry always to Tasmanians, which I think is awesome.
I want to focus on two of the digital aspects that are done really well, although one of them I both loved AND hated. Mind you, I love that it drew such a passionate response from me. I’d much rather LOVE or HATE something than just be indifferent to it. Indifference is so… meh.
Giving your brand personality a real personality
So firstly and quickly, I’ve spoken with a lot of organisations recently about developing “brand personalities” for their organisation to provide a consistent and more human-like experience when using digital and social media.
Social Media is simply communication between people online, and individuals are much more likely to engage with a brand, when it has a personality, rather than being a nameless, faceless logo that spouts updates at them.
MONA has a monkey.
That is to say, they have created a monkey character that represents the museum on social media. This is a great brand personality technique (though not the only one) and very creative, which works in perfectly with who they are as an organisation and what they are doing.
They also share the individual creative personalities involved in MONA on their blog.
Making useful, creative and distracting apps…
Secondly and mainly, MONA doesn’t have written descriptions printed and displayed next to each art work.
Neither do they have numbers next to each and an audio guide to explain each to you.
They give each guest headphones and an iPod loaded with their app guide, known as The O.
The app uses location tracking to find nearby artworks, and offers a variety of information about each of them. Some a simple overview of the artist, artwork name, and materials used, some with relevant quotes, or observations on the piece, audio interviews with the artist, interesting snippets of information, etc.
The information provided varies between each piece, adding to the interest, some even including an “Art Wank” section, which reinforced the cheeky irreverence that carries through the museum and it’s communications.
The current exhibition (in addition to the permanent pieces) is The Red Queen, inspired by Lewis Carroll’s Through The Looking-Glass (the sequel to Alice in Wonderland), so I assume this is why sections of the O used Alice in Wonderland references, e.g. Tweedledum and Tweedledee’s perspectives, Jabberwocky for the audio etc. Or it could use these references all the time. Must find out.
The O also keeps track as you view information about each piece, highlighting them as “viewed”. This is useful for making sure you see each item in the maze-like museum that traverses over three levels.
As you move through the venue, you can refresh the O whenever you like to refresh the list of nearby artworks.
There is also an option to “Love” and “Hate” each piece. I’m not sure what they do with that information besides collating it on their website (see below right), but as a data-phile. I love that they are giving people an option to share their feelings, and recording it in some way.
Pretty cool, huh?
As you can see, I spent a lot of time focused on The O.
So much so that when we took our half time coffee break (it takes at least 3-4 hours to work your way through the museum), I realised that I had probably spent more time focused on the iPod in my hand that the artwork around me!
When I looked around I saw scenes reminiscent of today’s footpaths; people walking along, looking down at their phones, not noticing the REAL world around them. And I was also doing just that!
So while it is a really useful tool, I also hated that I had gotten sucked into being focused on it. And yes, I DO take full responsibility for my own actions, HOWEVER, these tools and technology are very addictive and trigger our desire to be constantly fed new information.
For the second part of our visit, I made a conscious effort to not let it consume me. Instead of wandering through the museum, viewing the pieces as I normally would, and only consulting The O if interested in more information.
This was also made easier by the fact that you can provide your email address to receive access to The O’s information after your visit (and probably also receive marketing material, but it’s give and get, and I’m okay with that).
This follow up feature certainly helped calm my FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out).
To end on a positive note though, I still think The O guide is a great tool.
It’s also a great example of a RELEVANT and USEFUL app. So often I hear people say “we need an app!” whereas what they usually need is for their website to work well on mobile devices.
Apps should have a purpose, and provide obvious benefits for the user, who will want and/or need to use it regularly, making it worthwhile to download.
If it’s just a tool for sharing the same information that’s already on your website, that users only want occasionally, just make your website mobile friendly, and think of real features and benefits you can offer via a separate app.
Anyway, I digress again.
So, in summary, MONA; an incredible real life experience with clever, creative and relevant digital integration.
A great example of a focused organisation that uses digital to enhance their users’ experiences.
Just try not to get too caught up in them and miss what’s going on around you…