Test, test, repeat
I imagine many organizations in Ottawa are thinking that it would be nice if the first of July was just a little farther off—like September, maybe. Sure, we too could benefit from more time before our opening, but the stress of a looming deadline just makes you stronger, right? The Museum is, for all intents and purposes, complete. The last few stragglers among our artifacts are ready for installation and the interactives and digital labels are bulking up with the final software and data in them, so it’s all there, functional and looking fantastic.
For a couple of weeks, now, technicians have been pulling levers, cranking wheels and swiping and tapping every touch panel in the Museum and will continue do so until the doors officially open. All that is well and good, but what about getting a sense of how people who know nothing about the Museum would respond to the interactives and understand the content? How might we do that before they arrive so we can make those little tweaks and adjustments that help to create that “it just works” feeling?
At the end of May we invited students from local schools to come into the Museum and, ready or not, take it for a spin around the block. Twenty teenagers participated, bringing with them a broad range of learning styles and curiosity (or not) in the Bank and economics. They were at the younger end of our primary target audience (15–25) and a predictably difficult demographic to attract to this kind of subject. At the very least, we could rely on their frankness.
Although most of the hands-on aspects of the Museum were designed for just this sort of audience, it was still amazing to watch how naturally the kids manipulated the touch panels. They seemed to instinctively know when to swipe and tap, whereas duffers like me often had to pause and think it through. It was most interesting, though, to see what captured their attention. We have one unit that is a full-on video game which of course made a hit. But a surprising number of kids found the plumbing-themed interactive that helps to introduce the Bank’s role in maintaining the safe and efficient operation of the key elements of the financial system very absorbing—and quite a few really got caught up in the foreign currency area of the artifact display cases.
The radio frequency ID bracelets were also very popular. This wearable technology carries visitors’ language preferences as well as their aliases and the little cartoon avatars they build before entering the gallery. For the interactives, visitors just have to tap their bracelets on a bright circle to have the unit operate in their chosen (official) language and for many of the stations, visitors’ avatars and aliases will also pop up. Our guests really liked this aspect and wanted to see their little characters showing up wherever they logged in with a bracelet—even in videos alongside the Governor. Something we didn’t see coming: the students didn’t like saying goodbye to their avatars. They wanted some means of taking them home: more food for thought.
Likes and dislikes were explored more deeply at an afternoon de-briefing in the “IdeaSpace,” the Bank’s highly flexible, and very comfortable, meeting and brainstorming centre. Enlarged floorplans of the Museum were tacked on the walls and the students were asked to place sticky notes on features they really liked or those they didn’t, as well as where they encountered problems.
All sorts of comments popped up about seating, lighting and sound levels, placements of signage and computer performance. These were the sort of practical things one expects to discover before opening day. What was gratifying was the interest the kids had in learning more about the topics that had been “gamified.” Where they were asked to play a game or adjust levers and wheels, they often wanted more background information on the subject or wanted the interactive’s metaphor more deeply explained. (Interest had been piqued!) Also, for a generation that is more at home with a smartphone than a book, it was interesting to see that they still wanted and expected to see traditional, printed labels beside the artifacts.
This was a very valuable experience for us and we will be doing more such testing sessions in the future. Many of the suggestions we can act upon immediately; some will have to wait for a while—like the one in which students recommended that the inflation control interactive have four levels: beginner, intermediate, expert and insane. We’ll speak to our technology team about that one after opening day.
Among other events preceding our opening day was our participation in Doors Open Ottawa 2017. Relax, our doors were not actually open on 4 June; Canada Day is still our opening day. However, we took the opportunity to provide people with a virtual look at the Museum.
The Bank invited the public into its spectacular 12-story atrium, the “Knowledge” information centre and the beautiful 1938 entrance hall with its mulicoloured marble finishes and art deco details. The tour included a stop at the Museum’s kiosk where visitors were given a little introductory chat about the Museum in addition to being shown a video. The video consisted mostly of conceptual images, but they are accurate ones and very good for raising expectations and piquing curiosity. In all, more than 750 people participated in the Bank’s Doors Open event and the Museum got some great news coverage (sorry, English only). On Canada Day, instead of doors open, it will be open doors—nothing virtual about it. Come check us out.
The Museum Blog
The Adventure of Exhibit Planning VI
This is not the time for ‘nay sayers’. Basically, we planned a luxury car knowing that when all was said and done, it was going to be a very nice family sedan (maybe with the big engine?).
The Adventure of Exhibit Planning V
Now the writer takes a deep breath and attempts to take a subject like the ‘representation of 75 years of national identity as depicted on stamps and bank notes’ from 50 pages of research and squash it into 65 words.
The Senior Deputy Governor’s Signature
For much of their history, Canadian bank notes have represented a promise, a guarantee that they could be redeemed for “specie” (gold and silver coins) at their parent institution.
Becoming a Collector V
Suppose you walk into a bar frequented by currency collectors and in an attempt to join in you refer to a ‘planchette’ as a ‘rosette’ (beer mugs hit the tables and the pianist stops playing). This could be pretty humiliating and you’ll probably never be able to go to that bar again, at least not on numismatic night.
Becoming a Collector IV
Now that you have a grasp of preservation techniques for coins, you might want to familiarize yourself with the finer points of their anatomy. It is all part of your numismatic education and besides, you need to be informed and sound informed when you are buying coins at flea markets or coin fairs.
Museum Reconstruction - Part 3
Though naturally we are aware that the former Museum space is being gutted, the reality of seeing it empty is still pretty strange for most of us here. In the last blog of this series we showed you the empty cafeteria space that will become the new Museum, as well as some images of the old Museum as it was at the time: stuffed with odds and ends of exhibit cases, the occasional display still on the walls.
With all the blogging we’ve been doing for Voices from the Engraver, you’d think we had nothing else on our exhibition plate. We do, actually, and it’s called CENTimental Journey. This temporary exhibition, hosted at the Canadian Museum of History, walks you through more than 150 years of the Canadian 1 cent piece.
Museum Reconstruction - Part 2
We are coming up on a year since we closed the doors on the physical museum. During that year, we’ve worked very hard to make sure everybody knows that we are still a functioning museum and one that will be opening its doors again in a few years on a beautiful new space, with an expanded mission and mandate.
Becoming a Collector III
For you as the steward of your collection, your aim is to preserve the items as best as you can by protecting them from further deterioration. The pros call this preservation.
The Adventure of Exhibit Planning IV
This exhibition is about engravers, production processes and the beauty of postage stamps and bank notes. In the previous episode of this series we talked about the process surrounding securing the bank notes for this exhibition and how it had to take into account both the needs of the exhibition team and the concerns of the collections department.
Becoming a Collector II
So now you’ve decided that collecting currency is far more fascinating than collecting 14th Century Flemish altar paintings and have begun to accumulate some items. Good for you, those paintings are a bother to dust and currency is far easier to take care of.
Becoming a Collector I
Collecting things is a very common human urge. Be they matchbooks, pop bottles or 17th century Flemish altar paintings, owning large numbers of the same type of thing is a fascinating pastime for many of us.
The Adventure of Exhibit Planning III
During the planning stages stamping the word ‘final’ on any given aspect of a travelling exhibition can seem less of a directive and more of an overly optimistic suggestion.
Notes from the Collection: Recent Acquisitions II
This month’s selections highlight various areas of Collection development. These include what are called financial instruments: items such as stocks, bonds shares and other articles that represent a contract to deliver money in some manner.
Museum Reconstruction - Part 1
In early February, a small group from the Bank’s Communications Department booked a brief tour of the main floor and first basement at the Wellington Street head office. It’s still in the demolition phase of the renovation.