How to Make a Museum App

Published: February 4, 2021

16 min read

Last updated: January 17, 2023

In the age of digitalization, many people learn about brands & places from the Internet. If we take a look at museums, the ones that don’t have digital presence, are usually behind their competitors.

Many museum lack financing to implement digital features

Many museum lack financing to implement digital features (image by Anton Valihura)

Those who want to turn the situation in their favor & take a step towards digitalization often start with developing their own museum app or website.

And it works quite well. By developing an app or website, museums сan:

  1. Improve brand recognition on the Internet and attract younger visitors that value digital technologies.
  2. Improve visitors’ engagement — for example, encourage them to spend more time and actively share their experience on social media.
  3. Disrupt the stereotype about museums being backward-looking & technologically unadvanced.

In this guide on museum app development we’ll help you define the best strategy for your digital expansion — whether it’s about a website or a mobile application.

The article is also relevant to other similar public places: from galleries and exhibitions to zoos or botanic gardens.

Hold the line — we’ll walk you through the most important parts of this process!

📲 How an App or Website Can Provide Better Visitor Experience

The offline workflow of many regular museums is quite far from being called “digital”.

However, there’s a lot of experience they can use for successful museum app development as well as the hidden potential to unravel.

Digital technologies help to address many concerns and issues that modern museums, galleries and exhibitions can have.

Target each audience even more accurately 🎯

If you'd like to address the Y/Z generations (10-40 years old), you should use gamification, personalization features & make the visits interactive.

Yet, even if you aren’t going to target this audience, they’re likely to be the ones who’ll use your app the most. Why? Because these 2 generations typically are the most active mobile users.

So, it might be a good idea to make your app gen Y/Z-friendly since they’ll use it anyway.

It’s not only about the app but the museum itself as well. Think about placing some “selfie-spots”, interactive exhibits, QR-codes with extra information & other similar details to make your museum more attractive to these generations.

To build a museum app, think about who your potential users are

To build a museum app, think about who your potential users are (image by Jessica Coelho)

What you can also do is take a look at who your target audience are in terms of their background — tourists, locals, cultural & historical specialists, etc.

Depending on that, you might need to highlight different information on your platform. For instance, tourists might want something more entertaining yet informative, while historians might be interested in deep details & facts.

A little side note: be sure not to drag visitors’ attention from the actual museum. An app should rather encourage them to interact with the exhibits more as well as deepen the understanding of their background & meaning.

With a mobile app or website you can also easily introduce new languages for your guests. Depending on the location, popularity and nationality of your visitors.

Per se, Germany is known for a large number of Turkish immigrants & citizens with a Turkish background. Thus, you can find guides in Turkish in many museums.

With an application, it’s easier than ever to create or edit guides or descriptions of exhibits — no need to re-print all the materials or duplicate information offline.

Interactivity & Engagement 🎮

It often can happen that visitors’ aren’t that interested in reading long paper guides & information about exhibits. Consequently, there’s not enough engagement for them to stay focused during the whole visit.

One of the best ways of increasing visitors’ engagement using the museum app is by making it interactive. And one of the most used interactive tools, in turn, is gamification.

Museums can use mobile devices to improve visitor engagement

Museums can use mobile devices to improve visitor engagement (image by Polina Šechanova)

Actually, many museums already use gamification elements: trying on ancient costumes, taking pictures with your head sticking out of copies of paintings, role-playing, and others. However, the use cases aren’t digital for the most part.

But with an app, your gamification possibilities significantly extend. For example, it may be implemented in following ways:

  • Platform currency or points that visitors earn through a variety of activities & achievements. They can include reading information about an exhibit, discovering new rooms, posting to social media, etc.
  • “Easter eggs” all the way around the museum. For example, when visitors read information about an exhibit to the very end, a hidden note with a fascinating fact about it or with additional points can pop up.
  • Quizzes & tests after reading or listening to a new piece of information. However, visitors who don’t want to take them should be able to simply skip them.

Eventually, gamification can help you not only in terms of engagement. You can use these features to encourage visitors to make purchases at your souvenir stores, cafes, etc.

For example, you can offer users an X% discount, depending on how many points they’ve collected.

Many museums and galleries have already understood the advantage of such an approach. For example, Bristol Museums

It’s an application that provides visitors with personalized routes, giving them rewards & points for taking photos, visiting special locations, and just exploring “the hidden”.

Another consequence of visitors lacking interactivity & engagement is that visits can be somewhat chaotic. It can result in the wrong perception of what they've seen.

Luckily, there’s a digital solution for this problem as well.

Many modern museums are actively using iBeacons — devices that catch visitors’ location and trigger special events. Thus, when users pass by, it will play a specific part of audioguide, open a specific page in the app, etc.

And that’s exactly how the German Bundestag organized audio guided tours to the Reichstag’s dome.

When visitors walk along this spiral passage with the audioguide, it automatically starts telling the next piece of information at certain locations because of such beacons.

Social Media 📱

Nowadays, Social Media is such a strong tool for improving reach & engagement. So, to stay ahead of the competition (since many museums neglect this opportunity), consider providing engagement with social media via your platform.

Besides, you can offer your visitors to share their experiences at your museum on social media right from your app or website.

Maybe, offer them free coffee in the cafeteria — just something encouraging so they’ll have a reason (except for having a good time) to do this simple but such a useful action.

And the best part about it is that users can make the museum “visible” by themselves when sharing their experience.

In fact, social media is one of the best marketing tools that’s totally affordable, compared to offline marketing.

But online ads have to lead users somewhere, which is where an app or website can help — these are great options to place a link to.

To create a museum app, don’t forget to interact with social media for affordable & efficient marketing

To create a museum app, don’t forget to interact with social media for affordable & efficient marketing (image by Halo Mobile)

Additionally, social media reinforced by your platform can provide you & your visitors with a powerful community.

Those who regularly visit museums are likely to be like-minded.

Thus, by creating a forum on your platform or Facebook group chat, for example, you offer visitors to share their thoughts with people of similar interests as well as allow this communication outside the museum.

✅ Top Features to Add to Create a Museum Website

In certain cases, a museum website can be sufficient to cover the digital business needs. For example, if your goals are:

  • Build online presence to improve brand recognition — have a website that people can browse.
  • Sell tickets online so visitors could print them out in advance or show them from the phone.
  • Place information about your museum — exhibits, rooms, tours, prices & others.
  • Post news about events, temporary exhibitions, etc.
  • Offer souvenirs, merch, and other museum-related stuff online.
To get to know how to make a museum website, you should decide on what you’ll use it for

To get to know how to make a museum website, you should decide on what you’ll use it for (shots from Louvre)

In case you want to provide something slightly more interactive, think about developing PWA (Progressive Web App) — a web application that is close to a mobile app in terms of functionality.

So, a website for a museum can consist of the following sections:

1: “Plan Your Visit” 📄

The structure of this section can look like this:

  • The first feature to be in this section is normally ticketing so users can buy tickets in advance.
  • Some museums like to give potential visitors some tips on where to go in the museum.
  • Along with recommendations, you will often find a museum plan & calendar with events.
  • If a museum has some additional facilities like souvenir shops or cafeterias, you’ll find a list of items or menus there, too.

2: Tours 🗺️

This is a place on a website to put all information about available tour options.

On a museum website, you can place information about tours options & other services

On a museum website, you can place information about tours options & other services (shots from the Museum of London)

Options would often include tours for adults, children, families, schools, visitors with special needs, babies, etc.

It’s also popular to offer visitors 3D virtual tours around the museum.

Such tours can come in handy in several ways:

  • To plan visits in advance by briefly researching what each hall of the museum has.
  • For people from all around the world to e-visit the museum, not depending on the location.
  • To cover needs of those who due to personal reasons aren’t able or don’t want to visit the museum physically, thereby expanding the clientele.

Besides, the COVID-19 pandemic has significantly influenced the museum industry & many of them started offering virtual tours to stay afloat.

3: Study & Research 📚

Many museums cooperate with universities & scientific centers to conduct research or do it on their own.

A website is a perfect place to post them.

4: “About Us” 📁

An “About us” page is a place where you can deploy information about the museum & the building itself.

Normally, museums place:

  • Museum’s historical background.
  • Important individuals who had a hand in the museum’s establishment.
  • Links to articles about the museum.
  • Links to Social Media Pages.

5: Payment Gateway

In case you want to sell tickets & museum-related goodies, you’ll need a Payment Gateway.

To implement it, you could use Braintree, Stripe, or other APIs.

⚙️ Top Features to Add to Create a Museum App

In this section, we’ll review the main features of a web & mobile museum app.

But before that, a quick reminder: if you want to have something simple in terms of interaction, a PWA can be sufficient.

In these cases, a native app might be a better option to suit your business needs:

  • You need a highly interactive solution that users will use while visiting your museum.
  • You have many features like audio guides, QR-code scanners, gamification, etc.
  • PWAs don’t allow using certain features like сamera, mic, and push-notifications for iOS. So, if you don’t want to limit yourself in terms of functionality, you could opt for a native app.
  • You want to engage with visitors through an app after the visit itself.
  • You want to allow visitors to save or download certain information before the visit so they can access it without the Internet connection.

So now let’s take a look what features you might need for your museum app.

1: Sign Up & Profiles 🔐

For many apps, it’s not the most needed feature and we recommend making it as simple as possible.

As for museums, you can even skip this stage and allow your visitors to use the app without signing up.

To create a museum app, don’t ask your users for too much info

To create a museum app, don’t ask your users for too much info (image by Natalia K)

However, it’s always good to know a little about your customers so you could reach out to them later & inform them about upcoming events.

For this purpose, you can ask for:

  • Name.
  • Email address.
  • Phone number.

But still, make it optional — an obligatory sign-up can be repellent.

Sometimes,an app can be accessible without signing up, but extended features like gamification (collect points & get a discount for that, in many cases) require it.

It’s also popular among museum-like places (galleries, exhibitions, etc.) to place a QR-code that leads directly to their application either on App Store/Google Play or on a web page.

It’s popular to create a membership for museums

It’s popular to create a membership for museums (image by Sviatoslava Vaskovska)

Nowadays, it has become trendy among museums to offer a membership. So in case you offer such subscriptions, it might be a good idea to offer exclusive content & other benefits right in their app profiles.

So, if you want to digitize them as well like British Museum, American Alliance of Museums, and others, you can offer:

  • Free digital magazine throughout the duration of the membership.
  • Access to the exclusive/limited content on the platform.
  • QR-codes and digital cards that are discounts for visiting museum cafes or at souvenir stores.
  • Emailing or regular content updates with relevant recent news & others.

In fact, we have an article dedicated to creating a membership website of your own in case you’d like to learn more about it:

Read Also

How to Create a Membership Website

2: Home Screen 📊

Home Screen is a kind of lounge before starting the actual journey.

Normally, users should have quick access to the main features from here. You can also place sections “About us” where you tell a story of the museum itself, links to social media, etc.

A home screen in a museum app is intended to allow access to the rest of the features

A home screen in a museum app is intended to allow access to the rest of the features (image by Mateusz Klein)

This is also where users would access the ticketing.

3: Informational Guides 🧭

An app can partially or even fully replace your paper booklets with the information about the museum & exhibits.

Apart from convenience, you won’t have to spend money on printing them. You can also be more eco-friendly by reducing paper use.

Besides, you can easily correct mistakes and typing errors in the code of an app, without having to reprint the booklets & guides.

And generally, managing them (adding new languages, descriptions of new exhibits, complementing the old info, etc.) takes much less time & can be done at no cost.

With a museum app, you can replace your paper tour guides with the ones on mobile devices

With a museum app, you can replace your paper tour guides with the ones on mobile devices (image by Yi Li)

What’s especially great about museum apps is that you can create and implement any type of guides in it:

  • Textual descriptions of exhibits & halls.
  • Audio guides of any type — for instance, for a museum visit in general or for certain exhibits/rooms separately.
  • Video content.

4: Exhibit Screen 🗿

This feature is usually organized as a separate screen, fully dedicated to a certain exhibit. Here you may place a general description, some interesting facts, pictures or videos, etc.

A museum app should have a separate screen for each exhibit

A museum app should have a separate screen for each exhibit (image by Jon John)

It can be done in different ways:

  • You can make a list with all available exhibits & a search bar.
  • Many museums go further and place a QR-code near each exhibit.
  • Or you can mix both approaches – whatever fits your case the best!

5: Ticketing 🎟️

To make the user experience & visit as convenient as possible, you can offer your potential visitors to purchase tickets in advance via an app.

First of all, it can save both your & visitors’ time.

Second of all, it allows visitors to book tickets for special events on time so they wouldn’t miss them.

You can offer any visitor to purchase a ticket online to provide great digital services

You can offer any visitor to purchase a ticket online to provide great digital services (image by Barna Erdei)

To pay for them, users would need a secure & reliable Payment Gateway.

It should:

  • Be consistent with different OS.
  • Allow using all popular payment options like a credit card, PayPal, Apple & Google Pay, etc.
  • Function fast without delays.
  • Protect users’ personal data strongly.

You could also offer to book a ticket and pay in cash later. However, it’s possible that some people will book it and then simply don’t come.

6: Virtual Tours 🥽

It’s kind of an extended feature but still totally doable.

So, many museums (and not only they) offer their visitors 3D virtual tours around the museum.

Basically, it’s a digital version of the museum that users can access anytime for free.

Louvre digital tour around Petite Galerie can be a great example of how you can offer digital experience & services

Louvre digital tour around Petite Galerie can be a great example of how you can offer digital experience & services (image by Louvre Online Tours)

If you’d like to charge users for these tours, it’s a great idea to offer virtual visits to some parts of the museum at no cost, but take charges for full access.

7: Calendar 📅

To better manage special exhibitions, openings, celebrations, and other events that museums organize & inform users about them as quickly as possible, museums often add in-built calendars.

You can mark each event in a calendar in your museum app

You can mark each event in a calendar in your museum app (image by tubik)

Quite obviously, you can place event details on a relative day in the calendar. It’s also great to place a “Buy a ticket” button next to each event.

Besides, you can offer users to turn on notifications to send reminders of these events & use them for marketing purposes.

8: Support Service 🤖

So that the impression of a visit or user experience won’t worsen because of some easy-to-solve problem, we’d recommend you provide a support service.

Customer support can be important for providing a great interactive tour experience

Customer support can be important for providing a great interactive tour experience (image by Offriginal)

An ideal support service should:

  • Provide an AI (artificial intelligence) chatbot that’s programmed to deal with simple troubles & connect users with live real specialists.
  • Live chat.
  • Several wide-ranged FAQs.
  • A list of contacts with several phone numbers for different operators, an email address, Social Media & messengers like Viber, WhatsApp, etc., linked.

✈️ Tech Stack for a Museum App

Since museums were out of the game in terms of digitalization for quite a long time, now communities pay much attention to make sure that museums don’t miss out on the most progressive technologies.

Nowadays, the most used ones are AR (Augmented Reality) & VR (Virtual Reality).

Augmented Reality (AR)

Augmented reality is an interactive technology that allows representing different objects digitally to complement the reality.

As practice has shown, such technologies make the visit much more engaging & allow visitors to better percept the information.

Many museums use it to interact with exhibits. Some make their paintings move, others offer visitors to try on ancient costumes or change them on the statue.

The easiest way to use it is to add text near an exhibit when the camera is on it. Simple, but makes a great impression!

This video shows how Chinese museums implement AR technology:

Sometimes, museums use AR to provide tours with virtual guides. For example, some museums use the guideBOT from ViewAR to provide such tours.

Virtual Reality (VR)

Virtual reality is a technology that simulates the real or imaginary world or situation.

The difference between AR and VR is actually quite substantial.

AR is a kind of complement to the real world while VR immerses you to the whole new world without interacting with reality.

Museums use it to provide virtual 360-degree tours, organize remote exhibitions, and bring historical scenes to life.

For example, this is a fully digital tour around the Royal Tyrrell Museum:

It’s also popular to use for a part of the visit.

Let’s say, the museum is dedicated to ancient England. So, to show a battlefield, museums use VR technology.

📜 Case Study: Track Holodomor History

We at Stormotion recently created an app for the Holodomor Museum in Kyiv.

In this article, we showed you many cases of how an app for in-the-museum use can look like.But this is a great example of how a museum app can provide a unique out-of-the-museum experience.

The idea of this project was to create an app that will guide its users through Kyiv of the 1930s and show the unknown history of Holodomor — tragic events of that time.

Track Holodomor History app provides great tours all around Kyiv & an interactive history learning experience

Track Holodomor History app provides great tours all around Kyiv & an interactive history learning experience (image by Stormotion)

Despite the fact that the app was developed for the museum, it’s not supposed to be used inside. The application features historic locations all over Kyiv with archival data — photos, videos, documents. Users can access them either through the list or on the integrated Google Maps.

The application also has gamification elements. For example, some content appears only within 400 meters from the location which makes users more engaged, and encourages to explore Kyiv.

If you’d like to get more detailed information on this case, you can follow the link to the case study on our website.

💡 Takeaways

As you can see, museums can use the app in many ways — from increasing reach & retention to reaching the audience that’s hundreds of kilometers away to gathering a digital community by creating a membership to complement the app.

So, let’s briefly summarize what steps you should take to digitize your museum by developing an app for it:

  • Before starting the development, define your target audience & take your facility aspects into account.
  • Reason out whether or not you’re going to use gamification features.
  • Decide on what features you want to see in your app.
  • Deepen your knowledge about AR & VR technologies to decide whether you’ll use them.
  • Find a Tech Partner and start the development.

If you need any help with the development or have any questions left, don’t hesitate & drop us a line. We’ll find a way to help you!

Build Your Museum App or Website!

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