Enhancing the authenticity and sustainability of the visitor heritage experiences through 3D printing technology

Lead Research Organisation: Edinburgh Napier University
Department Name: Arts and Creative Industries


Gift shops are a common part in most museums and galleries that provide visitors with shopping experiences (Swanson and Timothy, 2012) as well as the opportunity to transform their intangible experience (gallery/museum) visit to a tangible memory through the purchase of a souvenir (Collins-Kreiner and Zins, 2011). It can also often be shown that the 'souvenirs' stocked within these gift shops are 'inauthentic' and 'homogenized' (Boorstin, 1961), 'commodified products', 'imitations', 'deceptions' (Greenwood, 1997), 'staged' (MacCannell, 1973), 'socially constructed interpretation of the genuineness of observable things' or 'mass standardisations oriented towards the export market' (MacCannell, 1989). Errington (1998) claims that making souvenir objects solely for the mass market undermines authenticity and promotes decadence. This can have the effect of detaching the viewer from engagement with the actual heritage experience and the overproduction of globalized, unsustainable, muddled, interpretive, disposable 'cultural' mementos.

However, technological innovations in design and personalization of tourist souvenirs, through 3D printing offer opportunities to escape the serial reproduction of culture through creative processes that engage the visitor in the creation of meaning. By becoming involved in the design of souvenirs, a new supply chain is created which transforms the visitor from a consumer to a co-designer and co-producer. Through this personal and emotional engagement in the production of the souvenir, visitors may assign more emotional value and attachment to the customized souvenirs.

This project proposes to offer an alternative approach to the contemporary heritage souvenir experience through the utilization of 3D scanning and printing and online, remote interfaces between the museums, galleries and heritage sites and local 3D printing facilities, without an in-between 'gift shop' provision. It proposes to provide a desirable, customizable, co-created range of products, based on scanned in versions of artifacts within the museums, galleries and heritage sites, produced remotely in the tourists nearest local 3D printing facility.

Planned Impact

Users and beneficiaries outside the academic community will be the participating museums and galleries, other heritage and visitor attractions which will gain insights from visitors' engagement with souvenirs and their collections. Depending on the project findings, there may be implications in terms of the retail offerings in their gift shop. A report summarising the main findings of the project will be circulated to the focus group participants. Presentation of the findings in specialist annual conference and publication in practitioner or specialist association journal will ensure the findings of the projects are disseminated to these type of beneficiaries around the UK and possibly, internationally.

Third sector organisations involved in heritage management such as the National Trust may also find the findings of the project useful as they manage a number of heritage attractions across the UK and would be interested in the potential for revenue generation through retailing that the project could pinpoint.

Beneficiaries may also include private sector companies such as 3D design/printing companies or manufacturers/retailers of souvenirs, who may be interested in the findings of the projects in terms of better understanding how consumers engage with 3D printed products and identifying products and services they could offer.

Invitations to the Exhibition of produced artifacts and the process of souvenir production will be sent out to private, public and third sector organisations. Attendance of the Exhibition by these organisations may also generate opportunities to establish how to progress this study further.

Finally, the general public may also benefit from the project as they will have the possibility to engage with the 3D printed souvenirs and consider the potential of 3D printing in their daily lives. Attendance at the exhibition will be the first experience of 3D printed objects for some parts of the general public. The possibility to further disseminate the findings of the project through Edinburgh Beltane will also be explored to maximise the opportunity of public engagement.


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Description Through this project and our work with Historic Scotland, we have found that there is interest within the Heritage sector for what our project proposed - customisable, 3D printed souvenirs of particular artifacts and sites. From a heritage and experiential retail perspective, the prototypes were acceptable and financially viable, in addition their being innovative in their visual aesthetic. The commercial nature of the proposed souvenirs will be further explored through collaborative funding bids and projects with Historic Scotland and other heritage partners. However, what was evident through our study through qualitative and quantitative observational research, was how the public engaged differently with their heritage surroundings through in-situ 3D printing and the customisable objects. The impact of this on the engagement with heritage is intended to be developed into wider reaching, more involved studies.
Exploitation Route It is intended that all our findings from this initial stage of the project will be presented and published through international conferences and peer reviewed publications in Design, Tourism and Heritage. In addition to this, some ideas have been taken forward and used in research-led teaching projects with 1st year design students at Edinburgh Napier University. This project received funding from Edinburgh Napier University's 50th Anniversary Fund. As the project progresses, further opportunities for engagement will be sought out including exhibitions, workshops and presentations.
Sectors Construction,Creative Economy,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Education,Environment,Leisure Activities, including Sports, Recreation and Tourism,Manufacturing, including Industrial Biotechology,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections,Retail

Description As this was a short pilot study, the findings are being developed for use rather than being directly used now. They will be developed into products, publications, further funding bids and exhibitions and workshops that will become research methods to gauge and act on public engagement and reaction. It is hoped that this approach and design technology's relationship with tourism will be developed towards policy within heritage retail and public engagement strategies.
First Year Of Impact 2013
Sector Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Impact Types Cultural,Societal,Economic,Policy & public services