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Smithsonian Digital Wayfinding

Page history last edited by ebirgeo1 11 years, 7 months ago

Project Title: Smithsonian Digital Wayfinding


Museum/ Institution: National Museum of Natural History at Smithsonian Institution


Program Created: 2008


Program URL: http://www.mnh.si.edu/


Project Image(s) and/or Video:






Media Source(s)/Credit(s):


First floor - http://launchdm.com/portfolio/digital-signage/wayfinding.html 

Image (trio) - http://www.screenmediadaily.com/marketing-openeye-wayfinding-smithsonian-natural-history-museum-063291.shtml

Restrooms - http://launchdm.com/portfolio/digital-signage/wayfinding.html 


Program Description: 


The National Museum of Natural History (NMNH) in Washington, DC attracts millions of visitors each year.  In 2008, the NMNH had its highest attendance records, attracting 7.5 million visitors since its opening in 1910.  To accommodate its large number of visitors, the NMNH decided to utilize new electronic media and technology to implement a new wayfinding system.  The digital screens, which incorporate flash media, create a visual guide to facilitate the flow of traffic throughout the museum as well as to educate and inform visitors about various activities and events.  The high-tech digital screens contain clear, bright animations and replace the outdated metal signs and maps covered with plexiglass that have been around for years.  The NMNH worked collaboratively with several media and software system companies to create the electronic wayfinding system. One company, Launch Dynamic Media, “developed over 80 individual Flash animations and a custom content management system for use on the signage network” (Multimedia Installations: 2009 MUSE Award Winners, http://www.futurepull.org/?page_id=297). Created in 2008, the NMNH’s digital signage system is the first of its kind and has received accolades like the 2009 Muse Award Honorable Mention in Multimedia Installation.


Firsthand review/secondary critique:


In discussing electronic wayfinding, director of business development at OpenEye Bryan Meszaros states “there’s definitely a misconception that digital wayfinding will replace traditional media...I believe it’s meant to be complementary, add value, and improve the [museum] experience” (Wayfinding Goes Digital, http://www.openeyeglobal.com/press/SEGD.pdf).  I, too, believe that this electronic wayfinding system  enhances the visitor’s experience because its information is clear and concise, it alleviates traffic congestion of the millions who visit the NMNH, and it offers a degree of flexibility if information needs to updated or changed, if events and/or activities are moved to a new location, or if construction is taking place.  As good as the electronic wayfinding system sounds, I do have some reservations.  Technology is not 100% reliable.  Glitches can occur at any time, which if it does, then the system could be temporarily disabled.  Another concern I have is in regards to the cost of creating such a  system and if it is the best use of the museum’s funds.  Overall, I think the electronic wayfinding system is useful for museums, especially the NMNH which attracts millions of visitors every year. 


Technologies incorporated:  Flash animation, content: open-source code, browser, Internet connection, databases 


Internally or externally produced:  Externally produced in a joint effort between OpenEye, Launch DM, FITCH and 3M Digital Signage


Entry Contributor and Date: Emma Birge-Osborne - February 4, 2011


Related projects/articles: 


"Wayfinding Goes Digital" by Jenny S. Reising http://www.openeyeglobal.com/press/SEGD.pdf 

"National Museum of Natural History at the Smithsonian Institution Adds Digital Wayfinding System



Launch Dynamic Media's website (shows signs in flash animation) http://launchdm.com/portfolio/digital-signage/wayfinding.html



Comments (2)

Scott Sayre said

at 11:51 am on Feb 16, 2011

Ongoing costs of maintaining such as system are definitely an important consideration. New continue development, hardware replacement, maintenance and daily monitoring are all a part of true costs of these kinds of systems.

Mary Whitworth said

at 2:04 pm on Mar 8, 2011

The cost for the systems described would be difficult for some museums to achieve. I think the way it is presented to visitors is wonderful and easy to follow. I wonder if there are a less expensive way to go for musuems who struggle finacially. Is there grants that can be applied for to help cover costs of new technology?

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