In an increasingly digital world, one in which museum attendance decreasing, there is a need for museums to adapt to a new audience. One response to this is the collaboration between National Museum Wales, Cardiff Universty and Yello Brick to create the app: Traces (or Olion for welsh speakers).
The project for St Fagans National Museum of History aimed to find an alternative way to bring the digital experience into museums, and hopefully bring more visitors too. It is not an audio guide, or a digital map of the site. It is an interactive story that uses music and narrative to take you on an adventure around the castle gardens. The app can be used either by new visitors as a guide around the gardens or by people familiar to the site, to give them a new perspective of the space.
I went to St Fagans on a sunny May afternoon and was surprised to see nothing promoting the app at the entrance of the museum after seeing it being promoted on the website. However, after finding a lack of signal at the site, I understood that downloading it once you are there may prove to be difficult and so is best done beforehand.
A friend and I decided to do the partner experience. It is not necessary to watch your screen whilst using the app which allows you to appreciate the scenery rather than concentrate on your phone.
The walk took around 45 minutes to complete and was very enjoyable! The stories took me on a path I wouldn’t necessarily have chosen myself which was refreshing since I got to see St Fagans in a new light. The partner aspect was also a great addition, allowing you to be alone for a few minutes and then joining up again with different bits of information about the characters.
However, I would probably recommend the single journey option for family groups as a few times we ended up in different places due to not quite understanding the directions or walking at different paces. This made the walk more entertaining as we found ourselves speeding up and slowing down at points to match the thread. Although it is clear they have considered pacing with the music, we still found that in some sections we did not walk at the correct speed and in one case a section was closed off so some improvisation was needed.
The stories we heard conjured a number of emotions and all were interesting, they give you a sense of history of the area despite being fictional characters. At one point, I became especially immersed in the story when I looked down and found leaves in the shape of a heart, just as I had been told there might be. I wasn’t sure whether this was intentional but it made the story feel more authentic and effective by mixing the digital story with real life space.
Overall, the walk was very enjoyable and was a great way to spend a sunny afternoon. I would definitely recommend it to people on their own, in couples, groups or families. I would say as well, that a pause/ fast forward/rewind would be useful since if you mishear something you have to go back to the beginning of the chapter to listen to it all again and catch up. I think this is a great app for people both familiar and unfamiliar with St Fagans because it really does place you in a different reality. Going forward, I hope to see more publicity for the app as summer approaches. This app has proven to be a great attempt at incorporating a digital experience into St Fagans and I think it would be great if similar storytelling apps were developed for other sections of the site or even other museums.
Download the app for free on iTunes Store
Credit: Screen grabs taken from Traces Olion app.