Bild D-Labs

How the Pots­dam-based com­pa­ny D-LABS helps visi­tors find their way around the Bode Museum

How can visi­tors be gui­ded through the thick walls of the Bode-Muse­um with an app alt­hough they don’t have W-LAN, mobi­le pho­ne or satel­li­te recep­ti­on, or even GPS, and not­hing can be chan­ged struc­tu­ral­ly? The Pots­dam-based com­pa­ny D-LABS (initia­ted by Has­so Platt­ner in 2006) was facing this chall­enge in 2018. SAP, who has been one of the main sup­port­ers of the Prus­si­an Cul­tu­ral Heri­ta­ge Foun­da­ti­on (SPK) for many years, com­mis­sio­ned D-LABS to pro­vi­de an app for the “Bey­ond Compa­re - Art from Afri­ca” exhi­bi­ti­on at Berlin’s Bode-Muse­um to suit the actu­al user needs and be sta­te of the art.

The mana­ging part­ner of D-LABS, Jörn Hart­wig, an alum­nus of the Has­so Platt­ner Insti­tu­te, says: “We help cus­to­mers to under­stand whe­re the dif­fe­rence is bet­ween desi­re and need”. D-LABS designs, opti­mi­zes and imple­ments digi­tal pro­ducts and ser­vices with a clear focus on the essen­ti­al: the needs of the user. With sound know-how in the are­as of user rese­arch, digi­tal expe­ri­ence design and soft­ware engi­nee­ring, the digi­tal experts work tog­e­ther in inter­di­sci­pli­na­ry teams to crea­te opti­mal digi­tal solu­ti­ons. The solu­ti­on-ori­en­ted and clo­se coope­ra­ti­on with the tech­no­lo­gy experts from SAP Con­sul­ting Ber­lin also enab­led them to work tog­e­ther to bridge the gap bet­ween tech­no­lo­gy and design.

Clau­dia Stein­hoff, Direc­tor User Expe­ri­ence Design at D-LABS, explains that the exhi­bi­ti­on the app was being deve­lo­ped for was spread over seve­ral flo­ors of the muse­um and in various muse­um are­as. The com­pa­ra­ti­ve exhi­bits stood next to exis­ting art in the muse­um. The task was to sug­gest a tour and use the app to show visi­tors whe­ther they were in the right room. “The con­cep­ti­on and design pha­se of the mixed teams las­ted about three months. But the real chal­lenges came afterwards…”

“We made use of Son­oBe­a­cons, small loud­spea­k­ers that emit signals at a very high fre­quen­cy that can’t be heard by a human being, but which can be recei­ved (heard) by the smart­phone,” adds Jörn Hart­wig. “We wan­ted to equip the exhi­bits direct­ly with them. So, the Son­oBe­a­cons sup­pli­er crea­ted an even nicer design for us. But then we lear­nt that the Son­oBe­a­cons could not pla­ced direct­ly on the art objects for aes­the­tic reasons. We had­n’t reckon­ed on that at all. We then thought about the alter­na­ti­ve of fil­ling the who­le room with sound. But then the spea­k­ers tur­ned out to be much too quiet for that.” In the end, they had to install a Son­oBe­a­cons - Blue­tooth com­bi­na­ti­on in the pas­sa­ge­ways. This is not ide­al, but still meets all the needs of both the art and the visitors.

The app its­elf, with its intui­ti­ve user gui­dance, offers the visi­tor addi­tio­nal infor­ma­ti­on once they have com­ple­ted the gui­ded tour. Afri­can and Euro­pean art are jux­ta­po­sed, the­re are inte­res­t­ing facts about spe­cial mar­kings on the art, pic­tures of the exhi­bits are shown in their ori­gi­nal sur­roun­dings, and the­re are also inter­views and vide­os as well as lots of other pie­ces of exci­ting information. 

The inno­va­ti­ve tech­no­lo­gy can now also be found in other muse­ums - in various dif­fe­rent forms. “D-LABS was a cou­ra­ge­ous pio­neer,” says Hart­wig. “We have recei­ved many plau­dits for this. Of cour­se, the­re was also cri­ti­cism becau­se things don’t always work with new tech­no­lo­gies”. The pro­ject taught him “that a well thought-out idea could be working well, but then fail due to quite dif­fe­rent things – in this par­ti­cu­lar case, it was becau­se of the argu­ment that such a loud­spea­k­er could impair the aes­the­tics of the works of art. “This was a mis­hap which could even hap­pen to us as experts in the fields of user expe­ri­ence and cus­to­mer focus.” Clau­dia Stein­hoff adds: “Even the best digi­tal pro­duct is use­l­ess if you don’t have the who­le con­text in mind.“ 

In gene­ral, Hart­wig and Stein­hoff warn against sim­ply set­ting up an app for every muse­um. Digi­tal sup­port may be good for muse­ums, but some­ti­mes having a mobi­le pho­ne in your hand can be a hin­drance, for exam­p­le, in an expe­ri­men­tal muse­um. The need must be pre­cis­e­ly deter­mi­ned in advance.

Whoe­ver would like to get an idea of the D-LABS app for the Bode-Muse­um should click here for the iOS app and the Android app.

More blog artic­les here.

About MTH Blog

The media technologies of the future are already being used today – not only in the entertainment sector, but also in a wide variety of industries. Christine Lentz meets up with tech enthusiasts, established companies and researchers for our monthly MediaTech Hub Potsdam blog to tell the stories behind the innovative business models.