THE NATIONAL MUSEUM OF ITALIAN EMIGRATION OFFERS MORE THAN INDIVIDUAL VISITOR EXPERIENCES. THE MUSEUM HAS CURATED ROUTES AND ITINERARIES FOR DIFFERENT TARGET GROUPS THANKS TO NEW TECHNOLOGIES, INTERFACES, AND TEAMWORK.
The Museo Nazionale dell’Emigrazione Italiana (National Museum of Italian Emigration) – a multimedia museum that opened its doors in Genoa in May 2022 – provides us with the perfect example of how to use digital technologies in cultural heritage settings.
While maintaining the museum’s visual identity, digital interfaces were designed to meet visitors’ varied and sometimes conflicting needs. The reason for this flexibility is to tell the stories of more than 200 migrants, who are the focus of the museum’s exhibition, using digital tools that allow visitors to select the content they want to enjoy personally.
Visitor-researchers want to learn about the history of their descendants, their surname, or the maritime disaster in which a relative perished by examining a small number of stories, documents, or testimonies in search of specific details. The digital medium must provide access to a large quantity and variety of materials, catalogue them according to various criteria, allow them to be searched within the archives, improve the quality of photographic documents, and allow users to zoom in on them.
Instead, visitor-explorers approach emigration from a historical perspective. Here, the aim of digital technologies – as well as the entire museum layout – is to group an assortment of individual stories into a collective memory.
Digital interfaces, and touchscreens, in particular, play a crucial role in combining these two experiential modes within the same museum display. They are designed to grant visitors access to multiple levels of information.
The primary interface unit is the story, which contains text, images, audio, and video files ranging in length. These files are categorised into collections, which can be represented and visualised in various ways depending on the curator’s preferences and the message to be conveyed. As a result, multiple stories become a unified narrative, and the specific events of a personal story become elements of a shared experience.
To design the MEI’s interactive interfaces, we conducted a series of lengthy discussions with the design and curatorial teams to analyse the available materials and their communication objectives.
This was a crucial step in producing a stylistically coherent interface that contained different stories and collections of stories – about people, professions, political beliefs, continents, and tragedies – and used the two intended modes of experience.
It was also essential to define design guidelines – which enabled the mass editing of archive materials, making the process sustainable in terms of deadlines and resources employed – and the paths created to access content.
Once the museum had opened its doors, the decision was also made to spend a month collecting feedback on the user experience from visitors, museum assistants, professionals, and curators to refine the experience. Doing so led to the movement of certain buttons for accessibility reasons and the facilitation of user interaction.
Digital technologies are agents rather than mere museum experience tools as they determine how users access an ephemeral and intangible heritage with no physical manifestation other than the museum’s multimedia installations.
Alongside these installations – as witnessed by the final changes made to the MEI user experience – organising opportunities for professionals and non-professionals to engage in the act of comparison, observation, listening, and collaboration is becoming increasingly valuable when establishing and maximising the enjoyment of cultural heritage.