Aga Khan: Guiding visitors through a complex collection

Aga Khan: Guiding visitors through a complex collection
Country: Canada
City: Toronto
Institution Type: Art, Historic/Heritage
Exhibition Type: Temporary, Permanent
Content Type: Audio, Multimedia
Players: Downloadable App (Android), Downloadable App (iOS), iPod
Functionalities: Timelines, Location sensing/Mapping
Language: English
Client profile
The Aga Khan Museum in Toronto, Canada opened in 2014 and presents an overview of the artistic, intellectual and scientific contributions that diverse Muslim civilizations from the Iberian Peninsula to China have made to world heritage and the arts.
Challenge - helping visitors understand the depth of the collections
The Aga Khan Museum collaborated with Antenna International to develop a guide to provide visitors with the best possible experience during their time in the museum. The guide needed to:
  • provide cultural context to Muslim world’s artistic achievements
  • provide content for museum visitors that would encourage repeat visits
  • illustrate the regional, historical and material breadth of Muslim art
  • demonstrate the richness of a geographically diverse contribution to civilization spanning millennia
The Museum regularly holds temporary exhibits so it was important that the guide also offered an option to easily update content.
Solution - innovative navigation and design supports visitor exploration
Antenna worked closely with the Museum to produce a 90-minute tour of the Permanent Collection and a 30-minute tour of the ceramics collection, content for select rotating temporary exhibitions and themed trails through the Museum.
The tours were designed to lead visitors through the Museum’s two galleries housing the permanent collection and the Bellerive Room, a replica of the former Aga Khan’s residence that houses the Museum’s ceramic collection. Audio stops were enhanced with multimedia features to provide greater depth of cultural context: a timeline, keywords, and a map to situate each object in the rich and complex history of Muslim civilizations.
Collection stops were filtered by theme, such as Architecture, Literature, Knowledge, and Cross-Cultural Connections, grouping the Museum’s collection by different cultural focal points to weave together a historic and cultural narrative of Muslim civilizations from Spain to China.  
Layered visual and audio content helped visitors to explore the Museum’s rich and varied collection while gaining an understanding of the historic and cultural impact of Muslim civilizations around the world. The concept of dynasties offered a unique navigational challenge. Antenna used existing timeline functionality to create a new keywords feature, using cards for each keyword and dynasty. 
Each stop had cards attached to it, and the visitor could ‘shuffle’ to browse through them. With the touch of a finger, visitors could quickly reference detailed maps, learn about keywords and concepts, and read about significant dynastic eras that relate to the object in front of them. 
The guide was designed to engage and delight the visitor, with every new view of the home screen showing a new design, creating a playful feeling of surprise.

The designs were based on patterns found in textures and designs within the art collections and architecture, with a subtle pattern change as visitors moved deeper into the guide, mirroring the idea of moving deeper into the content, and creating a sense of coherence between the guide and its surroundings.
Result - a flexible guide for Museum and visitors alike
The guide was available to download on IOS and Android devices or via an onsite iPod available offering the same experience.
Collaborating closely with the Museum, Antenna found creative ways to showcase the collections, producing evergreen futureproof content. The layered design offered visitors flexibility according to their needs and interests. There were multiple means to tell the story, and multiple ways for users to explore this complex collection. Providing visitor friendly trails by theme helped visitors to successfully navigate the collections, and find the right balance between depth and a manageable experience to drive repeat visits. 
Built with longevity in mind, the guide provided the structure and space to add tours for temporary exhibitions in the future. Added temporary exhibitions to date have included In Search of the Artist, examining manuscript painters and their rise to prominence; The Garden of Ideas, highlighting contemporary artists from Pakistan who use garden imagery in their work; and The Lost Dhow, an exploration of trade between China and the Arab world as told through artifacts discovered in the shipwreck of a merchant ship.