The Museum of the Bible was raising eyebrows even before its opening in 2017. This $500 million museum is structured much differently than its Smithsonian neighbors a few blocks away. As a privately funded museum, it has been scrutinized by individuals and covered thoroughly by outlets such as The New York Times and The Washington Post.
These outlets voiced concern that the museum is politically motivated and is a safe space for Christian nationalists. They worry about the curators’ focus on the Bible’s positive impacts, while ignoring negatives. Though these concerns are important to consider, this article draws attention to an element that has been left out of the news. This article takes a moment to focus on the skillful use of technology throughout the museum.
In Washington, DC, The Museum of the Bible is strategically using various modes of technology to encourage audience engagement. The entire museum is full of interactives for an array of targeted age groups and technological comfort levels. Thoughtfully placed throughout the museum’s 7 floors, there are tech-focused interactive opportunities for individuals, small groups, and even guided experiences for up to 25 visitors at a time.
The interactives in the museum vary, some are clearly targeted for young children, some utilize intentionally placed speakers and motion sensors, while others are software applications housed on an in-house touchscreen device. Perhaps the most impressive part of the user experience design is how intuitive the tech interactives are for guests. The touchscreens in particular are designed to walk even the most uncomfortable users through the discovery process. A guest is able to dig as deep into the material as they desire. There are opportunities to investigate the Vatican’s database of digitized materials, or simply touch through musical recordings of spirituals by popular artists.
Interactive Experience and Audience Engagement
While spending the summer in Washington, DC, I set aside a Friday morning to investigate The Museum of the Bible, located near the National Mall at 400 4th Street SW. After reserving my 20 dollar ticket online, I began researching the exhibits the museum had to offer. Though I had some familiarity with Bible stories, I do not actively study the Bible. Therefore, I wanted to get an idea of what would be most interesting to me.
The first exhibit that intrigued me was The Impact of the Bible, which highlights how the Bible is present in the everyday lives of Americans with specific focus on how popular culture around the world is embedded with biblical references. I am happy to relay that the exhibit’s design did not disappoint!
Audience engagement was significant as The Impact of the Bible was brimming with interactives.
Geographical Mapping Interactive on Bible Terms, The Impact of the Bible
Video Credit: Michaela Kizershot White
The spirituals interactive was complete with strategically placed speakers that stopped sound from bleeding to various motion sensor audio experiences throughout the exhibit.
On the Friday morning that I visited I observed a diverse spectrum of ages from toddlers to grandparents. There were many families in the museum, likely escaping the summer heat during their vacations in the United States capitol.
The diversity of the exhibits did not inhibit the exhibit designer’s thoughtful addition of engaging technology. On the main floor, there is an exhibition from the Vatican Museum that houses two large touchscreens set to access Digivatlab (the Vatican’s Digital Library). Though this interactive was geared toward scholars, it demonstrated accessibility features such as language translation, zooming capabilities and large text.
In addition to the Vatican Museum exhibit, the main floor is home to an experience designed for an entirely different target audience – young children. The Courageous Pages Children’s Exhibit has gamified Bible stories. The room looks like a Bible-inspired Chuck E. Cheese. Each corner houses interactives and arcade games designed for guided learning. The space features kid-friendly design with interactives that are placed low to the floor as opposed to an adult height. Though this room was specifically designed for kids to let loose, complete with carpet and a small cargo net crawl area, this is not to say that kids weren’t equally as engaged on the other six floors.
I will end my review with a secret. In my opinion, the most masterful combination of technology guided learning occurs on the third floor in The Drive Through History of the Bible. The museum’s website does not give away many details on this experience, so it came as a surprise to me. It was the most fun I had all day! As someone unfamiliar with Bible story details, I learned a fair amount about the stories of the Old Testament. However, there were some individuals in my group of 21 that knew the stories well and were equally as blown away. The experience is 30 minutes long, and is a combination of recordings, light shows, and short films. If you are looking for an informative, participatory, and immersive museum experience led entirely by intentionally sequenced technological communication (no tour guides), this is a must see.
The Museum of the Bible has clearly worked hard to meet their visitors at their individual comfort levels both technologically and also regarding the subject matter. No matter where you are coming from, this museum will provide engaging opportunities for you to expand your knowledge of this ancient text as well as expand your knowledge of intentional and effective user experience design.