National Museum of Antiquities – Ice Age

Period: October 11, 2014 – May 10, 2015
Project leader: Anna de Wit
Curator: Luc Amkreutz
Writer: Harmen van Straaten
Design agency: Peter Paulussen & Pepijn Borgwat / Synergique
Education department: Marieke Peters
Communication department: Gabriëlle van der Voort

Introduction

On October 11, Rijksmuseum Oudheden Leiden (National Museum of Antiquities, in short: RMO) opened their new children’s exhibition called Ice Age. An exhibition where children will – according to project leader Anna de Wit – experience exciting adventures and find out to what extent the real Ice Age actually corresponds to the image provided by the famous movies from 20th Century Fox. Bor and Veer, the lead characters in this exhibition, show the children how they lived during this period and make them aware of the fact that the ability to make fire was rather essential.

To create their exhibition, RMO was awarded a grant from Fonds 21 to bring their digital innovation plans to life. This was a direct inducement for the research group Crossmedia to have a better look at this exhibition, as the research group is specifically interested in the way multiple media combined in one exhibition lead to a specific experience. So while further designing the exhibition, we had the ability to observe the entire design process by attending meetings, interviewing the different stakeholders and studying the design output.

To see how children actually responded to the environment, we also observed children while they were walking through the exhibition. Next to that, we also interviewed them – and their parents – afterwards. We were specifically interested in how they walked through the exhibition (routing), what they did at the different installations and activities (behaviour) and how they felt about the different activities offered in the exhibition (emotions).

Design process

As soon as you enter the exhibition, you are immersed in the world of Bor and Veer, a story written for the exhibition by Harmen van Straaten. At least, that’s what the museum was going for. Together with design agency Synergique, they developed a children’s exhibition about the last glacial period. In the exhibition, children were encouraged to participate in all sorts of activities, such as making fire and hunting on mammoths. In the report – for now only available in Dutch – you can read all about the design of the exhibition and the assumptions that the museum had with regard to the visitor experience.

© 2015 Harmen van Straaten / Rijksmuseum van Oudheden

© 2015 Harmen van Straaten / Rijksmuseum van Oudheden

Field research

During the study several methodes were applied to gather our data. As the study proposed is fairly new, the methodology too is still developing. The National Museum of Antiquities is one of the first museums to work with us – which we are very thankful for – and in this programme, we gathered data according to the methods as listed below (also, see p. 6 of the final report).

Research methods RMO

Results

The study mainly showed that visitors were enthusiastic about the exhibition. Parents were satisfied with the educational value of the exhibition and thought the story added value to the exhibition yet weren’t sure if it would actually lead to a better understanding of the exhibition. Children were very active; they were eager to try out everything there was to do. Yet, despite all the activities they could undertake, they are most impressed by all the animals they could see in the exhibition.

Interestingly, without specifically designing for it, visitors appeared to explore the exhibition in four different routes:
1) the route of activities: mostly the children, who want to explore and do a lot and collect all the stamps;
2) the route of stamps: children who are fascinated by the stamps only collect the stamps. As a result they sometimes end up finishing the exhibition in less than 10 minutes;
3) the route of knowledge: often for parents and elderly people, who want to know more about the glacial period;
4) the route of Bor and Veer (storyline): visitors who follow the route the museum designed for.

One point for improvement was to make sure that if technologies are used, they should be kids proof (although the museum had taken this notion into account when developing the exhibition). Also, some visitors thought the exhibition was very short – especially if they only came to see Ice Age – and small. In particular on crowded days, it was very hard for visitors to easily navigate around the space.

The study revealed lots of more interesting insights, which can be best accessed by looking at the final report: Final report: National Museum of Antiquities. Unfortunately, this report is in Dutch only (for now). So if you’re curious and have a specific question, but can’t read Dutch, please contact us!