How to avoid technological obsolescence in Museums?

screens museum

Technological obsolescence is the great challenge facing all new museums around the world that implement the digital footprint in their design, or decide to take the step towards digital transformation. It is well known that in 6 months all their technologies will have been updated, and in a few years they will have become obsolete. 

 The construction and design of a new museum is a long-term investment, and the budgets dedicated to media and interactive production is now an essential package to consider. Figures may vary depending on the subject matter and size, but audiovisual budgets for museums supported by new technologies are typically in the €100,000 to millions range.

That is why the conversations between the client and their content team, which used to focus on tangible collections, as well as the transport and conservation of tangible objects, are now divided between the development of digital media content and the choice of suitable audiovisual hardware that is capable of lasting over time, without becoming aesthetically and functionally obsolete in less than 3 years. 

Types of technological obsolescence

To best alleviate a problem, we must recognize all its forms. Let us first review the possible variants of technological obsolescence:

  • Functional obsolescence: this refers to the end of a device’s useful life. It is probably the most long-term of all those we are going to discuss.
  • Aesthetic obsolescence, also known as perceived obsolescence: The result of today’s consumerist culture. This type of obsolescence responds to a more advertising-oriented claim, where a new model of mobile phone, computer or console is presented at large tech events, being identified by the consumer as an extension of their own personality, leading to the replacement of the device before the old one has stopped working. 
  • Planned obsolescence, also called premature obsolescence, or built-in obsolescence : Illegal but common practice of certain manufacturers who intentionally install an expiry date on their products, so that they fail before what would be the real useful life of the product, and thus promote the purchase of new models. 
Video projection museum

8 Tips to avoid technological obsolescence in museums

Museums need to be timeless in nature, and this can be difficult to combine with something as “seasonal” as technology. Here are some tips to ensure that your museum project stands the test of time.

1. Choose old technologies.  

It may seem paradoxical, but it is.
We could say that there are devices close to reaching technological singularity, as they have been with us for decades: The choice of a 4K screen will still have an absolutely satisfactory definition for the human eye, even if there are new models with higher resolution. A current tablet will have almost zero latency if we need to create a classic interactive with 3 to 5 layers of programming.

However, let’s think about a more recent technology, which is in full evolution, such as virtual reality, where its hardware models are in continuous advance, and the design of its devices completely marks the year of its manufacture. In addition to this, there is also continuous progress in the graphics area. We can be sure that this technology will need to be upgraded in the short to medium term in a permanent exhibition. On the other hand, it is ideally suited to be purely avant-garde in a temporary exhibition.

2. Consider enabling a flexible model.

If your exhibition relies on new-fangled technologies, a hybrid model may be a very suitable option. More and more museums are setting aside space for temporary exhibitions, allowing them to add that avant-garde ingredient that interests visitors attracted by the latest technology and digital art.
 In doing so, we logically differentiate the purpose of each section of the building. In this way we can take care of the integrity of the permanent collection, regardless of whether we are talking about tangible or intangible objects. 

VR experience

3. Make sure the technology is at the service of the message.

Often, the insecurity of investing in a museum that is not sufficiently attractive to the new generations, as well as the consequent difficulty to amortize it in the medium term, makes it common to find exhibition spaces that have been carried away by artifice and the desire for technological superiority, totally eclipsing the motif of the original theme. 

When audiovisual and interactive devices take center stage, and are the main attraction, the visitor will judge the old-fashioned technology very harshly, because that is what they have come to see. On the other hand, we will find a much more benevolent visitor with any electronic support, when they understand that the hardware used is just another driver that integrates with the message of the tour.

mapping on airplane

4. Careful with audiovisual and graphic contents.

The average human receives thousands of audiovisual inputs a day, and without intentional training, is able to differentiate the decade in which an audiovisual work was created, based on its editing, aesthetics and graphics.

It is vital that we shy away from any graphic fad in trying to emulate futuristic interfaces or graphics. It will only reveal how we represent the future in the year in which the museum was made: a clear temporal footprint that we must avoid. Imagine a museum of the future conceived in 1999, which had chosen the aesthetics of the Matrix for its graphics, how do you think it would have aged? 

On the other hand, the most classic aesthetic lines of cinematography such as neutral typographies, cut editions with no more transition than modest fades, will create timelessness, simply because of the impossibility of placing them in a specific temporal frame.

5. Cover the hardware. 

interactivo touch screen

Following on from the previous point, we should avoid showing the part of the audiovisual support that is not essential to the visitor’s experience. 

This practice is already part of the fit-out package of any modern museum. It is not only necessary in order not to show the brand of the chosen hardware, but also to prevent the visitor from recognizing, through its design, the year or period of manufacture, closely linked to stylistic fashions that set the trend every year. 

6. Choose hardware models that allow for the replacement of parts.

Planned obsolescence, explained earlier in this article, is a reality, and it is applied in several ways: 

  • Creating unibody models that do not allow for the replacement of vital, and more perishable, parts such as the battery.
  • Releasing software updates that create incompatibility with perfectly functional hardware
  • And even the illegal, but by no means eradicated, practice of effectively programming a lifespan into the device itself, as well as its own “self-destruction”. 

A good comparative analysis before purchasing a hardware package can extend the life of your equipment by several years.

7. Leasing options for your audiovisual equipment

Although it is not a popular option, as it requires an extra effort in terms of budget planning, it is a solution that allows you to really mitigate the passage of time.
 We are talking about a leasing model in which the hardware equipment would be replaced after the contractually agreed years, with the consequent re-adaptation of audiovisual and interactive content, and a probable redesign of the space itself. 

modelos de proyector museo

8. Do not purchase hardware models that are already obsolete.

Despite the economic attraction, we will only be bringing forward the date of technical renewal considerably, and its consequent new budget item.

Of course, both newly created museums and digitally transformed museums have to be studied individually and in detail to find an optimal balance between resources and client requirements.
 Thus, the consultancy and audiovisual production company specialists in museums and exhibitions have become key figures to be integrated from the early stages of the design process of any modern museum.