Engaging Younger Audiences With Museums

By: Dave Nicosia

July 11, 2017

It’s cliche, we get it: Everywhere you look, you see younger audiences constantly engaging with technology: phones, laptops, tablets, watches, speech recognition. They have virtual and augmented reality, touch screens of assorted sizes and sensitivities, self driving and fully electric cars, digital assistants, artificial intelligence, and more that is being dreamed up as you read this.

It’s exhausting, and sometimes even a little agist. Yet institutes such as museums need to be able and willing to embrace these new technology experiences to capture their younger audiences while staying within limited budgets.

How can museums efficiently harness current technology to engage with younger audiences?

Here’s the big reveal: there’s no simple answer. But at Vibethink, we’re helping museums bridge the digital and physical experience to provide an answer to this question. And we’re doing it without the mega-budgets of some of the larger museums.

The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts

The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (VMFA) came to us wanting digital assets to go along with one of their most famous exhibits: The Lillian Thomas Pratt Archives, the largest public collection of Faberge and Russian decorative items outside of Russia. One of their main goals for this project was to improve engagement with the younger audiences without alienating older audiences. They also wanted to freshen up the exhibit for return viewers, providing even more of the rich history behind the pieces displayed in the updated and expanded gallery.

Faberge Egg Didactics

The VMFA has five of the 52 of the famous Russian Faberge Eggs on display as part of the Lillian Thomas Pratt Archives. These had always been popular pieces at the museum. However, while their gallery was being renovated, the museum decided to work to improve younger people’s engagement with these rare, historic pieces by showcasing more of their unique features and history.

Working closely with the Learning and Education teams at the VMFA, we created a didactic, a digital learning tool that would be displayed on the new touch screens that the museum had purchased for the new Faberge gallery. These large, multi-touch LCD screens were placed strategically around the room to give visitors a chance to interact further with the eggs that are displayed throughout the middle of the circular room. Each screen allows you to get a close up, 360 view of the egg that shows close up details. Each egg also has an associated video of the reveal of the ‘surprise’ inside each egg.

By juxtaposing digital touch abilities to spin, rotate, and zoom with the physical no-touch displays, the designed user experience aims to bridge the gap and let those younger audiences finally “explore” the priceless eggs. All without the dreaded “Humpty Dumpty” experience. These prominent screens combine an interesting way to learn about the Faberge eggs with the knowledge that if they’re entranced by one particular one, the real thing is just a few feet away. As of today, these didactics are running on screens in the Faberge Egg Room in the Lillian Thomas Pratt archives at the VMFA.

The VMFA knows they need to continue visitor engagement... beyond the physical walls of the museum.

Five Pathways App

The VMFA knows they need to continue visitor engagement with younger audiences before the visit, after the visit, and beyond the physical walls of the museum. A downloadable app based on the stories behind the eggs was the logical next step to this engagement.

This complex app was meticulously planned and designed before development. One of the first steps was building the stories that the app would tell. Our museum team put together five stories that expanded upon the history of the exhibit in different ways. Once we established the basic ideas and concepts of each story, we worked extensively with the team at the museum to create a design that incorporated their content and rich imagery.

Each story was carefully crafted to grab and keep the attention of the smartphone and tablet users. We took the historical stories and gave them interactive timelines as optional navigation through the information. The fairy tale combined an old story with three dimensional moving images that were recreated using images from the VMFA’s rare book collection. It’s special navigation was a map that brought you through the physical path of the story.

To really push toward younger audiences in the Five Pathways app, we included a game experience: Create Your Own Faberge Egg. This portion of the app let users create their own unique Faberge-style eggs with a variety of base colors and decorations. Once created, the user could upload their egg to an online database, email their egg to themselves or others, and view eggs created by other users.


Juxtaposing the digital and physical experiences, while giving younger audiences an app to “take home with them”, has proven to be the right level of engagement for VMFA. We didn’t need a million dollars to produce cutting edge technology. We just needed to zero in on the unique offerings from the museum, and then use creative design and fresh technology to produce engaging, interactive experiences.

Embracing new technological advancements can keep museums in the modern lexicon and encourage increased engagement. With a heavy dose of creativity and a dash of common sense, museums of all sizes can provide quality digital experiences to engage a younger audience.