Creating remarkable visitor experiences across the cultural sector

Top 5 tips for integrated digital interpretation

Published by . Filed under Audio tour, Family Tours, Multimedia, Technology, Uncategorized. Total of no comments in the discussion.

Twitter -Physical-digital3

Increasingly heritage sites are commissioning digital offers for families and ATS has worked on a variety of successful projects aimed at this audience.   For example, this year we worked at Eltham Palace (London) alongside Edinburgh-based designers Bright 3D to come up with an updated interpretive offer for families.

There was an understanding that the family offer at Eltham was not as strong as it could be and that multimedia guides could help.   James Simpson, Senior 3D Designer at Bright explains more:

“All the components were there – medieval palace and Art Deco house – but we felt an additional layer, albeit a light touch one, would make a great impact especially combined with a redressing of the property at the same time…   By establishing the premise of a 1930s weekend house party.”

Immersive experiences rooted in fact appeal to most audiences, particularly the families and ’Experience Seekers’ that English Heritage were trying to attract to Eltham Palace.  So we worked with the design team and the property’s curators to recreate the atmosphere of the 1930s when the Courtauld family lived at Eltham.  English Heritage wanted every visitor to feel like a welcome guest coming to an event and Bright 3D had worked with them to identify a range of real life, fascinating Courtauld guests ranging from mountain climbers and arctic explorers to film producers and socialites.   We took these characters, created a party, and put them into the multimedia guide.

Visitors to Eltham are given an invitation when they arrive telling them which guest they are.   We created a film that told them all about their hosts, the party they were going to attend and that it was March 1937.    They then meet their guide (a different one each for adults and families) who via the multimedia tour shows them the house and gardens before cocktails and dinner.  It’s a tour full of people and activity, the build up to a party.  One of the greatest challenges was to make sure that visitors don’t meet their own character as they enter a room!

Multimedia content – for any audience – should not be created in isolation. It’s important while we’re being creative that we keep the users in mind and think about the fuller visitor experience. That’s why, when we’re commissioned to create content for a specific audience, we try to find out as much as possible about them and the context in which that product will sit. It’s all about creating joined up visitor experiences.   Bright 3D had planned this context.   As visitors explore the Palace they come across a series of discovery boxes linked to each character and family member, including a game of Mah Jongg. These boxes and artefacts were selected to suit the space and personality and include dressing up activities and handling objects, for example in Stephen Courtauld’s bedroom, his attaché case had his WWI medal, bow ties to dress up with, his collection of Roman coins as well as photos and letters from the archives.   Printed interpretation helps add another layer and link each space to the multimedia tour.

Eltham Palace Browse Menu

So how do we know that we got it right?   At Eltham the design team tested the interpretation with real audiences as part of the process which helped refine ideas and ensure that we created something that would be of interest to all visitors and encourage intergenerational experiences.

But don’t just take our word for it. Eltham Palace’s re-presentation won an Association for Heritage Interpretation Discover Heritage Award in 2015. When the AHI judges visited they said:

“Most visitors were using the media guide and a number of families and more elderly couples engaging together with the spaces and interpretation. (trying on clothes, discussing topics of interest). The media tour one of the best we had seen – broken into easy chapters and layered into interesting elements making use of a variety of media (music, film, reminiscence, key objects) appeals to a broader range of people.

Diversifying the interpretation offer has also improved the offer to existing core audiences, and provided more opportunity for the family engagement”

Eltham Palace has just been nominated for a Museum & Heritage Show award too, we’ll know if we’ve won on the 18th May.

So here’s our top 5 tips for creating multimedia experiences that appeal to your chosen audience:

1: Enjoyable not just educational –  all our multimedia is based in fact and research and curatorially led, but we focus on who are audience is and how we can best engage them with the heritage both emotionally and intellectually.

2: Memorable, unlike anything visitors can do at home – we don’t make documentaries, we make content that is unique to the heritage that we are commissioned to interpret.   We are looking for ways to bring it alive that visitors can’t experience anywhere else.

3: Layers of content are essential if visitor needs are to be met and interest maintained.   We like to work closely with designers and with our client to devise a scheme where high tech works with low tech to tell an integrated story.

4: Quiet is an important part of our storytelling.  We’re not afraid of a blank screen or a pause when another form of interpretation can take over.

5: Timing is the key to the success of our top 5 tips.   If we’re brought in at the right stage of a project as we were at Eltham, then we can help to create a fully integrated interpretation scheme.  Too often multimedia is just a bolt on.

Considering how a digital element could work with your interpretation? Give our friendly team a call on 02392 595000, or email us.

If you liked this, sign up to our newsletter.



Deaf Awareness Week – can you recognise a deaf visitor?

Published by . Filed under Access, Uncategorized. Total of no comments in the discussion.

Welcome to Deaf Awareness Week, a week of opportunity for you to to recognise, empathise and improve your visitor experience for people who are D/deaf!

The most difficult challenge around inclusion of deaf visitors is communication. I’m going to ask you to do one important thing this week, as an individual, or as a team, I want you to think about what your visitor journey is like for a person who is D/deaf. You will no doubt discover those ‘of course, I didn’t even think of that as a barrier’ moments, and if you do, please share them with me, I want to know what you learn this week and will help you wherever I can.

Improve customer service & visitor experience

All types of organisations (not just museums) often fall short when it comes to communicating with visitors who are deaf. Frustrations and misunderstandings can arise at various touch points and the whole visitor experience can be pretty awful for both sides.

Customer service can be improved greatly with a basic understanding about deafness and the barriers that may be preventing you from offering your visitors a great experience.

This week we’ll be offering you tips and advice to reduce those barriers, starting today with an introduction to the different types of deafness and how to recognise a deaf visitor.

Why be deaf aware?

  • Develop staff communication and customer service skills
  • Improve the reputation of your organisation for being positive about deaf visitors
  • Attracting and retaining more loyal visitors through great customer service
  • Avoid unintentional discrimination

Types of deafness

There are few types of deafness and with each type there are different preferred methods of communication to use, so it’s good to understand these from the outset.

It’s fair to say that some hearing people are afraid of what terminology should be used when talking about deaf people. Here is an explanation of each type.

  • D/deaf

D/deaf is a term used to cover all people with some type of deafness and includes those who are:

  • Hard of hearing people have a slight to moderate hearing loss and will probably wear one or two hearing aids. They have difficulty hearing speech clearly, but are generally able to join in everyday activities.
  • Partially deaf people have a more severe hearing loss which significantly affects everyday activities and communication. They may use both speech/lip-reading and sign language and probably wear hearing aids.
  • Profoundly deaf people have little or no useful hearing and while some may wear hearing aids these do little more than assist with environmental awareness and do not help much with the understanding of speech

This last group of profoundly deaf people can be further subdivided into people who are: ‘deafened’ ‘deaf’ and ‘Deaf’

  • ‘deafened’ people have lost most or all of their hearing after childhood. Speaking was their first communication method so they use speech and lip-reading, but some may use Sign-Supported English; others choose to use BSL (British Sign Language)
  • ‘deaf’ people, with a lower-case “d‟, are those born profoundly deaf, but choose to use speech and lip-reading and regard English as their first language.
  • Deaf people are those who use British Sign Language as their first or preferred language and are known as “Deaf‟ with a capital “D‟. They regard themselves as a linguistic and cultural minority and have a separate “Deaf Culture‟ and a thriving deaf Community.

“Deaf and Dumb” – Did someone just say that?! This is extremely offensive and should never be used. Thankfully it’s not used so often nowadays, although we have heard examples of some people still using it (which make all of us cringe!).

It’s important to understand that depending on the type of deafness, there are varying levels of spoken and written English being used – basically this is whether English is their first or second language. This is one major barrier when communicating – using English with a deaf person whose first language is actually BSL – this is an opportunity for misunderstandings to develop.

Deaf people might sound different

You might meet deaf visitors who have an unusual sound or pattern to their speech – they simply have never heard the word they are saying and so it may not sound like what you are used to hearing. Also, hearing people have the ability to gauge the volume of their speech, so some people who are deaf may have louder voices.

Consider why this is – when a hearing person learns English as a child the process is to listen and repeat, if you take away the hearing element the process suddenly becomes more difficult, so levels of English grammar and sounds of speech will vary with D/deaf people depending on what teaching and support they’ve had.

Methods of communication

Depending on the type of deafness and their first language (either English or non-verbal such as British Sign Language) will depend on the preferred method of communication by a person who is deaf. Methods include:

  • Oral – Lip reading
  • Manual – sign language, finger spelling, gesture, mime
  • Written – any text based communication such as, signage, email, fax, SMS, web chat, textphones or literature

Tips: How to recognise a deaf person

  • Person may tell you.
  • Person wears hearing aids (remember it/they may not be visible)
  • Person uses Sign Language.
  • Voice may sound different.
  • Does not respond when spoken to from behind.
  • Watches the speaker’s mouth as they rely on lip reading.
  • Ask you to repeat.
  • Language is different – simple or unusual English.
  • May have a hearing guide dog

There is not one solution for all

So there are methods of communicating that work best depending on not only the situation, whether it’s face to face or non face to face, but also depending on what type of deafness someone has. By recognising these staff can use the best method to engage with your D/deaf customers.

Next post we will look at face to face communication and give you tips and advice on skills including lip reading and sign language.

Have an event, or want to share your best practices – tweet us

If you liked this, sign up to our newsletter.


Twitter Onsite or BYOD

5 reasons why BYOD isn’t the silver bullet for digital cultural experiences.

Published by . Filed under Apps, Audio tour, Multimedia, Technology. Total of no comments in the discussion.

Twitter Onsite or BYOD


Is now the time to go all in on a BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) offer?

Virtually every visitor has a mobile device in their pocket, so when cultural sites are considering an audio or multimedia guide we’re often asked whether dedicated on-site audio/multimedia guides are still relevant.

We’ve been working in this sector a long time, we provide on-site devices, but we also create apps too, so we thought we would share some of our thoughts on why on-site devices might still be the better option over the BYOD experience.

1: Add value to the visitor offer

Perceived value by visitors is paramount to an enjoyable visitor experience, many of our clients offer free audio/multimedia guides in their ticket price, with the majority of visitors having one, the audio/multimedia guide becomes a central part of the experience. If you ensure you have great content that tells your stories really well and engages your audiences in the overall experience, you will see more enjoyable visits and rising positive feedback.

2: Greater integrated on-site visitor experience

Do you want to publish your content to anyone at anytime, anywhere – with say a virtual tour or website? Or do you want to hold something back exclusively for the on-site visit and want them to only experience specific content in the context of a site visit? An on-site device is the perfect way of providing great content to visitors on location only.

3: The (tricky) experience of using an app on site.

We know that just because you have an app version of your audio/multimedia tour, doesn’t mean they will want to use their own device. Common barriers include:

  • low battery/memory
  • don’t have headphones with them
  • time poor and can’t be bothered going to the app store and waiting for a download
  • they don’t have data roaming
  • there is no access to high spec free Wi-Fi to download the app

These are all simple but effective barriers which visitors will consider before downloading a tour app.

4: Multimedia content is big! 

The best multimedia tours out there have really immersive and creative content (often audio, film and interactives) and can be in multiple language and access versions, which unless a venue has a high performance Wi-Fi, can make this difficult to stream effectively to mobile devices (how much do you hate the buffer icon?), or just makes a downloadable app huge (which takes up lots of memory).

5: Higher quality user experiences built for one device

One challenge with developing an app that utilises mobile device’s features (e.g. camera for image recognition/augmented reality, or bluetooth beacons), is ensuring that the app works across platforms (iOS, Android, Windows etc.) and multiple devices your visitors might be using (legacy devices too, not just the latest smartphones).

Depending on the project size, this could require extensive testing and development, which is costly and if you don’t get it right, severely impacts the user experience.  With on-site devices, you can design and perfect the experience to work on one single device, negating the ‘it doesn’t work on my phone’ complaints and subsequent poor visitor experience.


Virtually everyone has a mobile, but limited number of visitors are adopting the behaviour of using mobile app tours instead of onsite devices. The choice certainly comes down to what visitor experience you want to create – you may intentionally want and off-site virtual experience (in which case an app /website is a likely option). As you can see from our list, there are still compelling reasons for having onsite devices. Over the next generations of mobile devices, networks and Wi-Fi advancements, we may well see the balance change towards a BYOD, when rich content can be streamed effortlessly and batteries last weeks (like my old Nokia!) but right now there is a healthy demand for on-site devices as part of a great integrated visitor experience.


Have a project idea or thinking about devices or apps? Give our friendly team a call on 02392 595000, or email us.

If you liked this, sign up to our newsletter.

British Sign Language or Subtitles for D/deaf access?

Published by . Filed under Access, Best Practice, Multimedia. Total of no comments in the discussion.

With this Saturday 12th March being Disabled Access Day 2016, we thought we’d answer a common question – why a D/deaf person would need BSL and/or subtitles? 

The answer is it depends on the D/deaf person’s first or preferred language.

// You might also be wondering what’s with the capital/lower case spelling of ‘D/deaf’? The term D/deaf is used to describe people who are Deaf (British Sign Language users who consider themselves part of the Deaf community) and deaf (who are hard of hearing but who have English as their first language and may lip-read and/or use hearing aids). //

Big ‘D’ Deaf people overwhelmingly use BSL as their first or preferred language so we provide BSL signers/interpreters on our multimedia tours, whereas a small ‘d’ deaf person will most likely have English as their first language and therefore prefers reading English subtitles as they may not even use sign language.

We encourage Museums to review their accessibility for D/deaf visitors, particularly of audio and visual materials which are often a significant part of exhibitions and methods of interpretation. Having text descriptions doesn’t necessarily mean content is accessible to all D/deaf people either as they may not understand written English that well so incorporating BSL is a really important mission.

Many Museums put on BSL tours on ’special’ days, and although this is a positive thing – it isn’t a truly ‘inclusive’ approach, what happens when a D/deaf person wants to visit on the day the BSL tours aren’t on (which let’s be honest is the majority of days)? Our clients address that issue by providing BSL signers and subtitles of tours on our visitor multimedia guides and apps, which are available everyday – what an inclusive welcome for D/deaf visitors!

If you liked this, sign up to our newsletter.

St Paul's Cathedral BSL Guide


Highclere Castle – the ‘real’ Downton Abbey app launches

Published by . Filed under Apps, Multimedia. Total of no comments in the discussion.

Highclere Castle is one of England’s most beautiful Victorian Castles, home to the Earl and Countess of Carnarvon, and the real-life location of TV’s Downton Abbey.

Narrated by Jim Carter who plays Carson the Butler in Downton Abbey, this app allows you to explore the history of the Castle, its rooms and treasures and to discover what it’s like to live and work there.

ATS developed the content including script writing, audio and film production and the app design and development. The app includes:

  • 360° photography of the Castle’s interiors.
  • Exclusive video interviews with Lord and Lady Carnarvon about life at the Highclere.
  • A chance to meet Highclere’s chef and butler and find out what it’s like to have dinner at Highclere.
  • Behind the scenes footage of Highclere’s collections including paintings, furniture and a desk that once belong to Napoleon Bonaparte all introduced by Lord and Lady Carnarvon themselves.
  • The remarkable story of Highclere’s connection with Egypt and Tutankhamun.
  • Family Tree
  • Stunning footage of the gardens and wider estate.

Available now on Google Play and iTunes

If you liked this, sign up to our newsletter.

Re-interpreting Eltham Palace wins AHI Award

Published by . Filed under Apps, Audio tour, Family Tours, Multimedia. Total of no comments in the discussion.

The anticipation of being shortlisted for an AHI award for our work at Eltham Palace finally came to a nail biting end, with this innovative project coming away with the ‘Association for Heritage Interpretation Discover Award’ for the ‘Museums and historic properties/sites’ category.

English Heritage, Brigh3D and ATS Heritage, winners at the AHI Awards

Amidst strong competition, AHI summarised the project and the reason for awarding this project the winner:

Eltham Palace provides visitors with a startling juxtaposition of stylish 1930s design and medieval architecture set in exquisite grounds. Bishops and monarchs dominate the early stories, wealthy industrialists and their high profile friends the latter. Light touch, flexible and stylish interpretation brings the palace and people to life.

Re-Presenting Eltham Palace won this category because:

“Good dwell time and visitor engagement through a good balance of interpretation without compromising rooms. The project exhibits good layered interpretation, good use of media to enhance key messaging, along with clear aims and themes. It is well executed to create new perspectives on an inflexible space, so getting away from a linear visitor flow.”

“Most visitors were using the media guide and a number of families and more elderly couples engaging together with the spaces and interpretation. (trying on clothes, discussing topics of interest). The media tour one of the best we had seen – broken into easy chapters and layered into interesting elements making use of a variety of media (music, film, reminiscence, key objects) appeals to a broader range of people.”

“Diversifying the interpretation offer has also improved the offer to existing core audiences, and provided more opportunity for the family engagement”

This was a project delivered to English Heritage with Edinburgh based Bright3D as designers and ATS Heritage delivering the film and multimedia tour experience. Watch a clip from the tour here.

We are mindful that multimedia content – for any audience – should not be created in isolation. It’s important while we’re being creative that we keep the users in mind and think about the fuller visitor experience. That’s why, when we’re commissioned to create content for a specific audience, we try to find out as much as possible about them and the context in which that product will sit. It’s all about creating joined up visitor experiences.

Tripadvisor is a fantastic way to gauge visitor feedback, with the multimedia guide being cited regularly as an important part of the interpretation.

If you liked this, sign up to our newsletter.

ELTHAM PALACE The Entrance Hall

St Paul’s Cathedral launch new multimedia guide for visitors

Published by . Filed under Apps, Audio tour, Family Tours, Multimedia. Total of no comments in the discussion.

Throughout 2015 ATS Heritage has been working with St Paul’s Cathedral in London to create a brand new suite of visitor multimedia guides which launch to the public this week.

Anne Fletcher, Interpretation Consultant at St Paul’s Cathedral explains “St Paul’s had come to the end of its 5 year audio guide contract and was keen to test the market to ensure that its new guide would be able to take advantage of the latest multimedia techniques and of the best creative ideas. ATS Heritage was chosen at the end of a competitive tender process to develop a new range of tours for the cathedral and to staff its provision to visitors.

In selecting a partner we were looking for a company that could help us to develop a large amount of content that would tell our story creatively. We also needed a team that could run the guiding operation (the biggest price inclusive operation in the country) to ensure that every visitor receives a guide and understands quickly how to use it. We have been delighted with the ideas and creative solutions that ATS has given us and their willingness to listen to our requirements, our feedback and our visitors’ opinions. In both the development of content and the staffing of the operation, ATS has demonstrated an excellent understanding of our visitors and their needs and we look forward to working with them to develop both further over the course of the next five years.”

St Paul's Cathedral Visitor looking up

Building on our expertise of interpreting churches and cathedrals in recent years ATS has created a guide that does more than simply show visitors around. We believe passionately in working in creative collaboration with clients, so have spent plenty of time in conversation and planning with the St Paul’s interpretation team to come up with a tour aimed at visitors and their expectations and needs when visiting an historic place of worship.

As part of the tour visitors get to climb to the top of the building to the viewing galleries and descend to the crypt below the nave, looking as aspects of faith and architecture as they go.

The guide is accessible to blind/partially sighted visitors through an audio-described tour and to D/deaf visitors with a subtitled and British Sign Language tour. And given the international appeal of the cathedral, the guide has also been translated into a range of languages.

St Paul’s contract with ATS covers full on-site service for these new guides. In addition to working with the cathedral on creating the content we have also provided the iTouch 5 hardware the guide content is delivered on as well as staffing the operations desk for handing out, charging and returning the guides at the end of the tour.

English Heritage properties explore stories of the Duke of Wellington

Published by . Filed under Best Practice, Multimedia. Total of no comments in the discussion.

ATS Heritage has joined forces with two English Heritage properties to explore stories about the life of the Duke of Wellington

Audience research conducted by English Heritage in the last few years shows that many members of the public – even those who visit museums and galleries regularly – are not really that aware of the Battle of Waterloo, the forces who fought in it or the historical context in which the battle sat. But the implications of that one battle on the future of Britain and Europe were huge – indeed, it’s been argued that European history wouldn’t have been the same if it wasn’t for the outcome of that conflict in 1815.

jonny wellington

Key to the story from the British side was Arthur Wellesley, better known as the Duke of Wellington. Using his personal story as a catalyst English Heritage decided to redevelop the visitor offer at three of its sites linked to the man – Apsley House and Wellington Arch in London and Walmer Castle, in Kent.

ATS Heritage were invited to assist English Heritage with the reinterpretation of these properties and our resulting suites of multimedia guides at Apsley House and Walmer Castle are installed and ready for the public to use.

We had to think carefully about both of these projects, matching up English Heritage’s objectives for what they wanted visitors to experience as part of their visit and of a handheld multimedia experience, along with the technical issues of working in hugely important heritage spaces.

At ATS we pride ourselves on using specific and appropriate storytelling techniques for different audiences and historic environments. At Apsley House we help visitors to identify and recognise what they are looking at in each room, but also to understand more about the figure of the Duke of Wellington who lived and worked there. The idea is that visitors are able to understand Apsley House as a home, not as a museum.

Apsley is more than just bricks and mortar though. English Heritage’s collection of artworks, furniture and interior decorations are of world-class importance and the guide draws visitors’ attention to these too.

Meanwhile in the quieter, coastal setting of Walmer Castle we told a more reflective story, explaining to visitors the life and legacy of Wellington in the place where he died. Using first-person accounts, quotations, archival imagery and recorded oral history. Overall it’s a more personal tour, aimed at getting visitors to connect with people, rather than just with bombastic castle architecture.

ATS often has to consider how to tell stories to visitors at sites with multiple layers of history and Walmer was no exception. In this instance, family visitors are taken back into various historical periods by a time-travelling character who uses puzzles and quizzes to collect objects on the tour and build up a fuller picture of the castle’s structure and history.

Both these tours – with options for adults, families, visually impaired visitors and those with first languages other than English – tell stories specific to the sites visitors are in. We don’t create content that could be written in a book or shown on television. We pride ourselves on standing in the shoes of a visitor, often making repeat site visits to truly understand a property, considering what people need to know and using out storytelling expertise to communicate with them directly. We think we’ve created a range of content that targets specific stories at specific audiences in specific historical spaces.


Winchester cathedral

Interpreting a cathedral

Published by . Filed under Uncategorized. Total of no comments in the discussion.

When we’re on a short break, say in a European town or city, there are a few set things we always do – visit a museum, have coffee outside in a public square, shop for souvenirs etc. And something we often find ourselves visiting is the local cathedral. Cathedral buildings are generally impressive and equally intriguing – the sheer scale of architecture, decoration and human ingenuity to get these huge structures built is awe-inspiring.

But the actual visit is often rather similar, isn’t it? Enter at the west end, walk up one side of the nave, behind the altar, peek into a chapel or two and look at the tombs before wandering down the other side and exiting. Tourists who visit cathedrals as part of their trips start to pick up on things that are the same in each visitor experience.



ATS Heritage has worked on interpreting a range of churches and cathedrals over the years and we have spent much of 2015 working with one of the biggest and best in England – St Paul’s in London. As one of iconic London landmark buildings it’s a great project for us to add to our portfolio. (We’re also working on a tour for The Shard, but more on that another time.)

At St Paul’s we wanted to do more than simply show visitors around another cathedral interior, so we spent plenty of time working with the in-house interpretation team to come up with, what we think, is a fresh way of looking at the building. Visitors get to climb to the top of the building to the viewing galleries and descend to the crypt below the nave, looking as aspects of faith and architecture as they go.

The guide launches at St Paul’s Cathedral this September. If you go along and take the tour, do let us know what you think.


ATS continues relationship with National Portrait Gallery

Published by . Filed under Uncategorized. Total of no comments in the discussion.

ATS has won the contract to continue providing audio and multimedia tours at London’s National Portrait Gallery for a further five years. We are delighted to have retained this contract. We see it as a sign that the work we done there over the last few years has impressed the client, but also that we have a strong relationship with them. It’s those personal relationships with heritage organisations that we pride ourselves on. But this doesn’t mean we’ll just continue to offer the same content as before. Over the next few years we will bring fresh, new equipment and functionalities to the NPG, helping their visitors to engage with portraits in new ways. We plan to develop a smartphone app version of our NPG guide, allowing visitors to explore new functions – what that might be we aren’t yet sure, but it could involve image recognition software, augmented reality and Bluetooth beacons. Alongside this development work we will continue to develop regular audio and multimedia content for the NPG’s permanent collection as well as temporary exhibitions and explore family-focused tours.    

sargent NPG