UseCase: How to Add Value to your Visitor Experience with QR Codes


Why Don't Museums and Galleries make more use of QR codes?

I spent the last few days (in February, 2019) visiting museums and galleries in Germany with my partner. We visited the Bach and Mendelssohn museums in Leipzig, the Zwinger and Albertinum in Dresden, the Sans Soucis Palace in Potsdam and the Bundestag dome in Berlin. But nowhere did I see a QR code being used to add value to the visitor experience.

So what, I hear you say...

Well, I find this very surprising given that the addition of a QR code next to an exhibit or painting can add a lot of value to the visitor experience. If you want to find out how then read on.

QR Codes?

Surely everyone is familiar with QR codes but if not the basics are that a QR code is a very recognizable kind of square visual image. Scanning the QR code using a reader installed on your smartphone or tablet generally links the user to a web page. The QR code image itself can be printed in a variety of sizes and onto almost anything: paper, a business card, a fridge magnet, a t-shirt, whatever. 

There is an example of a QR code shown in the image above (figure 1). This code relates to a specific work – in this case a painting by my partner – as an example of how the QR code can add value to a work like this when exhibited in an art gallery. Throughout the rest of this article, I will be using this QR code as an example for generating added value. 

If you already have a QR code reader installed on your phone/tablet then you can scan (I prefer the term ‘snap’) the code now. If not then go to your Apple/Android app store and download one. They are usually free.

When you snap the code you will go to the ‘landing’ page for the work. This demo page is very simple – just a set of buttons to click to get more information about the work. In reality this page would be branded and more elegant. But this demo landing page is just an example to demonstrate the points made in the article.

What’s Wrong with the Current Experience?

In almost every museum/gallery I go to, the visitor experience is much the same: 

  • - Next to each work is a small, textual explanatory panel that you have to squint at or bend down to see
  • - To get more detailed information about the works you can hire an audio device or carry a printed guide (free or purchased) with you
  • - If you want to purchase images or books about the works you must visit the on-site shop
  • - Some places forbid photography, some require it without the use of flash and some require you to purchase a ‘license’ to take photographs

The use of QR codes can either complement all or some of these or simply make them redundant. So let me explain.

 The Enhanced Explanatory Plaque

By placing a QR code on the explanatory panel next to a work, any visitor can snap the code if they are interested in learning more about the work. They do not even need to read the explanatory panel text. The QR code is specific to that work and takes you to a landing page from which you can get more information about the linked work in various formats.

When visitors snap the QR code shown in the image above, they will see a very simple landing page with a series of buttons to click that will enable them to get more audio/visual information about the work, We are not talking about any fancy ‘augmented reality’ here - which is also very possible - but simply web links to more information. 

 Click the About button on the figure 1 QR code landing page to learn more about the example work (in this case a painting by my partner).

Click the PDF button on the figure 1 QR code landing page to learn more about the subject of the example work (text sourced from Wikipedia).

QR Codes: Show Me More

QR codes make it easy to show more to a visitor.

Often when you see an exhibit that you personally like, you want to see more work by the same artist. The Albertinum in Dresden left examples of artist-specific ‘catalogues’ on the visitor seating for browsing. These booklets could then be bought from the shop.

A QR code can simply link the visitor to more works in the collection or, if it is a living artist, to the artist’s own website to see more of their work.

Click the Artist button on the figure 1 QR code landing page to learn more about works by the same artist. 

QR Codes: No More Audio Devices

QR codes make physical audio devices redundant. 

The QR code can link visitors to an audio clip that they listen to using earbuds connected to their phone/tablet. So that means no more inventorying audio equipment, issuing it, returning it, cleaning it etc.  

At Sans Souci in Potsdam we were issued with a phone-like audio-visual device. As we moved from room-to-room we were instructed to press the next room button on the device to hear a clip telling us more about the room we were in. 

A QR code prominently displayed in each room would achieve the same result but without the need to hold a separate device, as you listen to the clip on your own phone/tablet. No need to hand in the device or for the museum to clean it. Simple.

Similarly, at the Mendelssohn Museum in Leipzig we were issued with a physical audio ‘pen’ so that you could touch an audio button at certain exhibits and listen to a clip about the work.  Complicated.

Click the Audio clip button on the figure 1 QR code landing page to hear what I mean (non-professional audio recording!).

QR Codes: No More Audio Stations

QR codes can complement or make audio ‘stations’ redundant. 

At the Leipzig Bach museum there were audio stations scattered around where you could sit down and listen to music clips using a nice pair of Sennheiser headphones. Perfect. 

But what if the museum is busy and the audio station is occupied? You can’t listen to the clip and so you move on reducing the overall ‘immersive’ value of the museum.

A QR code prominently displayed on each station would achieve the same purpose but without the need for headphones and a chair. If the station is occupied, simply snap the QR code and listen to the linked clip as you continue walking.

As music is just another kind of audio clip the QR code can link to via a landing page button, this is not a button on the demo landing page.

QR Codes: No Need to Take Photos of a Work

QR codes mean that photography of works by visitors is largely unnecessary.

My partner loves to take photos in galleries and museums. She takes photographs of a work either as memorabilia or to send it to someone else. Of course Whatsapp and other messaging apps make this easy but by using QR codes the museum/gallery can also make it easy and gain other useful advantages.

In all the museums/galleries we visited, different photography protocols were in place so we were ‘told off’ more than once by staff. Not a great visitor experience and a pain for the staff.

The exhibit QR code can link to a professionally taken image of the work and let visitors send this by email to a friend.  In addition, this email message itself is easy to leverage as a branding, marketing and call-to-action opportunity for the museum.

Click the Email-A-Friend button on the figure 1 QR code landing page to see what I mean.

Click the Video button on the figure 1 QR code landing page to view a video clip linked to the work.

QR Codes: A New Revenue Opportunity

 QR codes can complement the on-site store by promoting online shopping to sell postcards, posters, books and other stuff relating to the work on display.

How many times have you looked at an exhibit and said to yourself: “I would really like to buy a card/poster/book about that work”? But then you forget about it, or you don’t have to time to visit the store or it’s not in stock when you do look for it. 

The QR code can link to one or more shopping pages on an e-store, either the museum/gallery’s own e-store or something like Amazon where you can earn affiliate revenue from each sale. Now visitors can make an impulse buy and have it delivered to their home. So now there’s no need to find room for it in their luggage to pack it and lug it home. 

Click the Buy Stuff  button on the figure 1 QR code landing page to link to an Amazon page for a book related to the example work.

So Now What?

Any competent programmer or IT department could build a system to deliver all of the above and more. Of course, you still need the digital assets that the QR code can link to, for example: web sites, images, audio and music clips and so on.

But the ‘barriers to entry’ are low:

  • - QR codes are free to use
  • - QR code reader apps are usually free and available for both Apple and Android devices and take just a minute to download and install
  • - All recent smartphones/tablets can display images and play audio/video clips
  • - These days, almost everyone takes their phone/tablet with them on a visit
  • - Prominently displaying large QR codes is easy either in a room or next to an exhibit either on the wall, on the explanatory panel or on a stand. 
  • - For ‘newbies’ a simple one-page help guide issued with an entry ticket should be enough to get them up to speed on the use of QR codes

If you are using QR codes to enhance the visitor experience for dozens, maybe hundreds of works, then you need a properly designed system to easily and effectively manage this QR code ‘inventory’.

The Viziwork system (viziwork.com) is designed for galleries and museums to make it easy to manage lots of QR codes used for the purposes outlined above. The administration back-end also provides the analytics (statistics and charts) needed to determine if your experience enhancement efforts are paying off. Specific, customized, museum/gallery landing pages can be created and there is a 10-work trial version available so you can try it out for free.

The bottom line: Using QR codes is a low cost way to enhance your visitor experience and could save your institution money and/or generate additional revenues from your works for minimal extra effort.   

So why aren’t Museums & Galleries using them? 

Stewart McKie PhD is a business analyst and programmer who believes that the visitor experience in museums and galleries can be improved using QR codes. Find out more at viziwork.com or scan the QR code below with your smartphone QR reader.