Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery

Re-thinking tours and membership for all

The Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery tells the multi-faceted and ever-changing story of America by portraying the people who have shaped the nation’s history and culture. Smartify was asked to develop a guide for the museum across the main collection and the President’s exhibition, including the famous portraits of Barack and Michelle Obama. The guide had to be accessible in American Sign Language (ASL) as well as Spanish speakers. In addition, the Smithsonian team wanted to create a new membership experience to encourage loyalty and return visits to the museum.

The Challenge

Since the unveiling of the Obama portraits in 2019, visitor numbers at the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery have increased. One of the key aims of the project for the Gallery team was to highlight that there is so much more to the gallery than visitors expect. Staff wanted to showcase the variety of portraits across the permanent collection, as well as promote their loyalty programme.

Our Solution

Smartify worked with Smithsonian to create a guide that was available free to all visitors in English, Spanish, Audio described (for those with low vision) and Sign Language. We were able to draw on our extensive experience of working at some of the busiest tourist attractions in the world to develop a simple user experience introducing key highlights of the collection in an accessible way. We also created a custom digital membership programme where visitors could access an exclusive tour, discounts and events. The digital membership included a welcome message from Director Kim Sajet and a loyalty card saved to the user’s personal Apple Wallet.

The Results

The Smartify guide is advertised online and at the entrance to the Presidents exhibition. It has received high praise online and one of the surprising outcomes has been that because visitors are so much more engaged, visitor assistants have been given extra training to help them to interact even more with visitors. Deborah Sisum, head of new media at the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery in Washington DC said "We're seeing that people spend more time in the galleries, because the statistics tell us how it's used. We're finding that people are approaching the art more thoughtfully and more carefully, and so that's important to us."

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