ICOMNEWS | N°4 2014
You have beenworking for the Rijksmuseumsince 2002.
Howhas the visitor experience at themuseumevolved in
that twelve-year period?
Peter Gorgels:
Twelve years ago, theRijksmuseumpresented
its various collections of paintings, fine art, crafts and so on, as
separate departments. There was also a separate Dutch history
department. Touristsmainlycame toseeourmost famousartworks,
those of Rembrandt and Vermeer and the paintings of the Golden
Age; the rest of the permanent exhibition was primarily of interest
to specialists and enthusiasts. The connections between these
different strandswere left unexplored. This led to a perception of the
museum as complicated and daunting. A visit to the Rijksmuseum
wasmore of an obligation than an energising experience.
Our recent renovation was an opportunity for the museum
to reinvent itself. Today the Rijksmuseum tells the story of the
Netherlands from the Middle Ages to the present. The collection is
presentedchronologically,mixing thevariousstrands toproducean
enchanting picture of the history and art history of theNetherlands.
In your experience, what do audiences really love?
I think visitors want to see a fresh, modern presentation,
with an open atmosphere and a few surprises in store. These days
everyone is welcome to take photographs in the Rijksmuseum; we
have high-quality public-access Wi-Fi and a first-rate restaurant.
We have also introduced playful elements such as Maarten Baas’
Grandfather Clock and Shylight by StudioDrift, a light sculpture that
unfolds and retreats in a fascinating choreography that mirrors the
movement of real flowers. As themuseum’sdirectorWimPijbesputs
it: ‘theRijksmuseumshould be an exciting, happening venue’.
It’s also important to carry out renovation that lasts. I’ve seen
some wonderful new renovations lose their sheen and look dated
within amatter of years. Inmy view, a combination of freshness and
durability is ideal.
What digital channelshavebeenmost effective inbringing
about positiveexperiences for visitors to theRijksmuseum?
Our new website has proved to be a success. We believe
that this is due to a number of principles. The first is simplicity. The
Reaching the
modern visitor
PeterGorgels,DigitalManager at theRijksmuseum
in theNetherlands, explains howthemuseum’s
renovationanddigital strategyhave transformed
thevisitor experience
N°4 2014 | ICOMNEWS 13
by Studio Drift, a captivating light sculpture at the Rijksmuseum
websitehasbeendesignedasanapp.Wehave takenagood lookat
whatmotivates visitors tovisit our websiteandwehavedesigned the
site to responddirectly to their needs. That’swhy there are only three
buttons on our homepage:
Plan your visit, Collection
About the
Plan your visit
cover 90%of visitors’ needs.
The Rijksmuseum sells 30% of its tickets through the website, an
unprecedentedlyhighfigureforthemuseumworld.Whilethis ispartly
a reflection of themuseum’s success, we think it’s also because the
vast majority of visitors to the site are able to find what they want
immediately. In no time at all, they can dowhat they came to do.
Themaingoal of our e-strategy is toestablish theclosest possible
of the image comes first. We live in a visual, digital culture where
led us to identify a new target group known as
culture snackers
group enjoys viewing images online and sharing them with friends
and followers.We reckon that, tosomeextent, everybody isaculture
snacker nowadays and it’s important for museums to tap into this
Rijksstudio has been developed with this target audience in
mind. It is an environment in which visitors can view all of our works
full-screen, zoom in and create collections based on their own
interests, Pinterest-style. They can also download all of our works in
high res and do their own thing with them, even for commercial use.
Rijksstudionowhasover 170,000accounts, 250,000collectionsand
What are themost common pitfalls for museums in
digital terms?
In our opinion, a good concept and good execution offer
the best chance of success when combined with thinking in terms
of relevant trends from the perspective of today’s digital users.
Museums often make the mistake of emphasising issues that are
of little direct relevance to their audience, focusing too much on
political or organisational concerns or letting themselves be led by
technology. Open data, open design, html5, apps, responsiveweb,
zoom-in technology and the like are all important elements, but in
themselves, don’t really provide added value for users. The ultimate
aim is to offer products and services that genuinely enhance the
user’s experience andwhich are a pleasure to use.
In your opinion, is social mediamost effective as a com-
munications tool, or as ameans of engaging visitors?
I think that socialmediacanbeextremelyeffectiveasawayof
gettingvisitors involved in themuseum. Theaim isnot somuchdirect
conversion, though that may be a knock-on effect, but to establish a
natural presence in the lives of our visitors.
In our social media strategy, the image is paramount. We present
beautiful and surprising works that have a topical link or relate to a
specific activity or exhibition. This enables the collection to function
as a natural form of content marketing and turns the works and our
friends and followers into ambassadors for theRijksmuseum.
In emphasising the digital experience, is there a danger of
alienating amore traditional, older audience?
No, I don’t think so, because—as I’ve already mentioned—
these days we are all culture snackers to some extent. That said, it
is important not to lose touch with enthusiasts and professionals,
and that’s something that we’ve built into the Rijksstudio concept.
Choosing a target audience and focusing on that group doesn’t
necessarily mean that you stop serving your other audiences. The
more people engagewith theworks through digital media, themore
they want to come and see them in real life. The physical and the
digital domains work hand-in-hand towards the same goal: encour-
aging people to enjoy theseworks of art, wherever they are.
Interview by Aedín Mac Devitt