Audio Guide Development and Visitor Research at the Brunel Museum

Sponsor: The Brunel Museum
Sponsor Liaison: Dr. Jack Hayes and Katherine McAlpine
Student Team:

Benjamin Antupit, Sage Ugras, Connor Quinn, and Natalie Carrington

Abstract: Audio guides are increasingly used to enhance museum interpretation and accessibility. The goal of this project was to create a prototype audio guide, develop a visitor tracking and heat mapping tool, and collect visitor data to support the Brunel Museum’s Reinvented Project. We visited local museums and interviewed staff to determine current practices in the design of audio guides. We tracked and observed visitors at the Brunel Museum using our visitor tracking tool and identified potential exhibit improvements. We recommend the museum use the tracking tool for future visitor evaluations and expand on our prototype audio guide by transferring it to Bloomberg Connects, adding QR code signage, and including translations for commonly spoken languages.

Project Report


Blog Post

Executive Summary

Museums are crucial to the preservation of history and culture. They disseminate knowledge to visitors through interpretations of exhibits using text panels, guided tours, and increasingly through technical means. One of the most popular of these techniques is recorded audio guides; they are meant to supplement or replace text descriptions for museum exhibits and provide additional depth to the learning experience. The Brunel Museum, located in Rotherhithe in the London borough of Southwark, preserves and shares the history of the Brunel family and the Thames Tunnel they built. The museum will be closing in October 2025 to undergo extensive renovations as part of their Reinvented Project. One part of this project is to add an audio guide to the exhibit spaces.

In conjunction with the Brunel Museum Reinvented Project, our goal was to create a prototype audio guide, develop a visitor tracking and heat mapping program, and collect visitor data to support future museum organization decisions. We achieved this goal by: 

  1. Assessing how audio guides are developed and implemented in nearby museums and heritage sites;
  2. Creating and testing a visitor tracking system for museum staff and summarizing findings in a heat map and other graphics;
  3. Developing a prototype audio guide in the current Engine House, currently undergoing initial trials with visitors; and,
  4. Presenting our research findings and recommendations to staff and volunteers and sharing our resources for visitor tracking and audio guide development.

First, we conducted extensive research on audio guides at museums in and around London, identifying strengths and weaknesses while comparing delivery platforms. For our second objective, we employed visitor tracking and observation techniques in the Engine House exhibit area, generating heat maps and path maps to understand visitor behavior. Finally, we developed a prototype audio guide and webpage, incorporating design specifications and qualitative data to enhance engagement. Our findings from visitor research indicated varying levels of engagement with different exhibits, with insights gleaned from a trial run of the audio guide. Comparative analysis of audio guides across museums highlighted best practices and challenges, offering valuable insights for the development of our prototype.

During our museum visits, we discovered the most common platforms for museum audio guides in London are Bloomberg Connects, Smartify, Guide ID, and Acoustiguide. We recommend the Brunel Museum move forward with Bloomberg Connects. It is the most cost-effective option that still includes features that would benefit the Brunel Museum. Its implementation is supported through Art UK, with whom the museum already has a relationship. This partnership will provide ample tech support through both Art UK and Bloomberg Connects to relieve staff from maintaining the software. It also offers professional guidance in the development of content for the guide, as well as increased exposure through the Bloomberg Connects community.

With the completion of 14 weeks of research, the development and implementation of an audio guide as well as visitor research at the Brunel Museum, we have compiled the following series of conclusions and recommendations and provided the museum with three main deliverables. The deliverables include a visitor tracking tool, four prototype audio guide stops and a presentation to volunteers and staff summarizing our key findings. Both the visitor tracking tool and audio guide stops underwent testing and iterative refinement during this process.

The predominant trend we observed through visitor tracking indicates that interactive and interpretive exhibits attracted the most interest among visitors. We recommend that the Brunel Museum move forward with its current exhibit improvement plans for the Reinvented Project which feature the addition of numerous interactive exhibits and updates to text panels. Once the new exhibit layout is finalized, we recommend the staff continue using our visitor tracking tool with new floor maps. 

Although we recommend the adoption of the Bloomberg Connects platform, we encourage the museum to continue implementing our prototype audio guide through their website until the museum closes in October for renovations. Once the museum is closed, existing audio content and new sections should be added to Bloomberg Connects, in addition to information from the museum’s existing collections page. Regarding the design of the audio guide, we recommend the museum continue to have staff and volunteer narrators, use music and soundscapes to engage listeners, and use common language to increase comprehension. We also recommend audio guide signage and a non-linear format similar to that used in the prototype audio guide. Including QR codes on the audio guide signage would allow visitors to use the guide to learn more about any exhibit the visitor finds interesting. In this way, the guide is non-sequential and allows visitors to choose what they listen to based on their individual interests.


Audio Guide Sample

Listen to a sample of our audio guide.