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Digitalizing the Museum Experience

Feature Article | January 25, 2017 by Paul Baur

As an art museum financed through Hasso Plattner’s foundation opens to great acclaim in Potsdam, a team from SAP is behind the scenes magnifying the experience for visitors.

The opening of the new Museum Barberini in Potsdam, Germany, provided a brief glimpse into Hasso Plattner, the man, his childhood, and his passions. Hasso Plattner, co-founder of SAP and chairman of the SAP Advisory Board, is the museum’s reason for being, having financed the rebuilding of the Barberini Palace through his foundation, and donating his expansive collection of paintings to the Museum’s collection.

Why did he choose Potsdam, a pearl and former residence of kings on the outskirts of Berlin, as a location for the museum? Growing up in southwest of Berlin in the aftermath of WW2, Hasso recalled the joy of sailing the beautiful rivers and lakes surrounding the city, one of Germany’s most majestic. “It’s a dream landscape,” he said. Skippering his sloop, the island city Potsdam, which was for most of his life separated from his home by a wall and border guards, had awoken his curiosity and interest at a young age.

With the reconstruction of the Barberini Palace, reduced to rubble during the war, Hasso Plattner has added yet another important institution and contributed to the renewal of a this city. The project was financed by the Hasso Plattner Stiftung, a foundation dedicated to education in the sciences, and projects fostering art, culture, and social welfare. The University of Potsdam integrates the Hasso Plattner Institute, focusing on IT systems technology with a strong connection to industry.

The Museum Barberini opened its doors on January 23 to visitors, two days after Hasso Plattner’s 73rd birthday, with a long list of prominent guests from business, academia, and politics, among them German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Microsoft founder Bill Gates, and SAP CEO Bill McDermott. It has a fixed collection of over 80 paintings, and houses virtually all of the benefactor’s paintings, considered one of the most important collections of landscape paintings from the French Impressionists, including Monet, Renoir, Caillebotte, Pissarro and Sisley, but also modern American art (Andy Warhol), and works from the German Democratic Republic.

Hasso, who recalls accompanying his father as a boy to bombed-out museums in the ruins of post-war Berlin, said he purchased his first painting in Mannheim in 1972 – the same year he co-founded SAP. But his collection began to really take off in the late 1980’s after SAP went public. The idea for a museum to hold his art collection is at least 20 years old, he noted. With pride, Hasso Plattner said “I’ve never sold a painting.”

Creating the Digital Museum Experience

The rebuilding of a cultural center in the heart of an historic city in the former East Germany is a symbol for renewal in more ways than one. Through Hasso Plattner and his ongoing connection to SAP, the Barberini decided early to create an integrated digital presence that builds on the “analog” experience of viewing the originals. The museum wanted to offer visitors a new way of seeing and experiencing century old works of art.

Enter SAP. A team of employees from SAP Consulting Germany and the SAP Design & Co-innovation Center, Berlin, joined forces on a seven-month project to create a digital experience for visitors to the Museum Barberini. The team applied a method of user-centric design called design thinking, to develop an application to create the experience.

The app developed for Barberini is displayed on a 3×5 meter LED wall containing 8.3 million color pixels. The goal was to let visitors use the “Smart Wall” to experience the museum’s 160 artworks from 35 artists at a huge magnification factor and in brilliant resolution, and navigate intuitively through the collection via a tablet device.

“It’s really a new way of seeing art,” says Tilman Ulshoefer, Principal Consultant, Business Transformation Services, DBS, at SAP, who led the multidisciplinary team made up of consultants, designers and developers. Tilman works closely with SAP customers, applying user-centered design to help them develop new business models. “The challenge was to compliment the analog museum experience with a digital one without trying to replace it,” says Tilman. “The original artworks, the paintings and sculptures, remain the centerpiece of the museum visit, but the digital experience should open up the museum’s collection up to new experiences in order to attract existing and new visitor groups.

Hiding the Complexity

“The challenge was to use new technology to help make the museum as attractive for younger visitors as for older ones, and to hide the complexity to make the experience as intuitive as possible,” says Rainer Matthias, interaction designer and user researcher for the project and one of three designers on the team from the SAP Design and & Co-Innovation Center, Berlin. The other two colleagues were visual designer Alessandro Sposato and media designer Camila Lombana Diaz. In concert with software developers from the SAP Partner Network, the team worked in parallel in an agile way to design, develop, test and constantly improve the application running on the Smart Wall.

Holding true to design thinking methodology, the team introduced “personas” or characters who exemplify the needs and expectations of museum visitors. After beginning with four personas, they quickly decided on Beate (67, lives alone and has lots of time and a passion for reading and culture) and Phillip (student, 31, who loves films and plans his free time in social media). After developing an initial design, they performed intensive tests with selected visitors, inviting 16 people who fit the personas – even people who had never before set foot in a museum.

The initial results showed that the navigation on the tablet that steers the Smart Wall had to be simplified. For simplicity, the tablet only has a home button, a back button, and a help button.

The finished solution, which can now be experienced in the Museum Barberini, makes it possible to intuitively search for and display artworks by the location where they were painted, artist or theme. Visitors can probe which paintings an artist painted, where were they painted, and in which chronological order they were completed.

“The possibilities of associating the artworks with other information is virtually limitless,” says Tilman. “Museums in many markets worldwide are faced with a demographic change that will require new ways to attract visitors, and some of the testers we talked to confirmed that digitalization would motivate them to visit an art museum in the future.” “I am therefore absolutely convinced that SAP has a major opportunity in the cultural area, because we have the needed design competency and product portfolio to secure more business,” Tilman concludes.

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