They live endlessly, offer various narrative paths, speak to different audiences: why digital archives are useful to businesses and institutions, explained by those who design them

What is a digital archive and what is it for?

We asked two of the four founders of Dotdotdot, the studio of interaction design which, among the many activities, translates and transports online the historical heritage, values ​​and activities of institutions and companies.

“The digital archive, like the physical one, is a well-organised and thought-out cataloguing system in which materials, documents and information of interest for a specific field of research or communication are collected: for the use of historian or a wider public" say Laura Dellamotta, architect, and Alessandro Masserdotti, philosopher and interaction designer, by Dotdotdot.

“The added value of the digital archive compared to the physical one, in fact, is its being inclusive”, they explain. “It is accessible everywhere and by everyone, it offers the possibility of consulting and discovering hidden, often inaccessible treasures (such as volumes and artefacts that cannot be touched so as not to ruin them).

Furthermore, the digital archive lives infinitely, can be organized according to different narrative paths, can be implemented and modified over time: it is therefore a commercial and communicative vehicle, as well as a cultural one, and can become a source of inspiration for designing events and temporary exhibitions."

Designing a digital archive therefore does not just mean making information and physical materials virtual, but doing deep research into the heart of brands or museum institutions and telling their historical heritage in an interactive and compelling way for a wide audience and heterogeneous.

“To facilitate the use of archives”, explain Dotdotdot, “we design engaging and dynamic narrative paths, with different access points regardless of who the user is: because the question is not for whom we build a digital archive, but for < strong>what reason to visit".

What is a digital archive and what is it for?

Laura Dellamotta and Alessandro Masserdotti, co-founders of Dotdotdot: “The digital archive, like the physical one, is a well-organized cataloging system and thought in which materials, documents and information of interest for a specific research area are collected.

The digital archive is inclusive, it can be reached everywhere and by everyone, it offers the possibility of consulting and discovering hidden treasures, often inaccessible, such as historical volumes that cannot be leafed through so as not to ruin them.

An example is the Atlantic Code, the most large collection of drawings and writings by Leonardo da Vinci, digitized and accessible to all. Furthermore, the digital archive can be organized according to different narrative paths, lives infinitely and can be implemented over time and potentially by anyone".

Why are narrative paths the heart of a digital archive?

Dotdotdot: “Digital archives are extremely powerful platforms, equipped with advanced search functions, filters, personalized views of topics, and containing an enormous amount of information. This power also represents their limit: in an archive, digital or physical, the researcher feels at ease and knows how to move.

The general public, on the other hand, could feel a sort of frustration when faced with a large availability of data.

To facilitate enjoyment by a large and varied audience, we design engaging and dynamic narrative paths, with a close relationship between the scientific finding and the narrative one.

An example is the Multimedia Museum of the Italian Language, which we designed in 2022-2023, with narrative paths organized according to scrollytelling, that is, by "scrolling" the site you navigate the story and on each web page you can click and discover the find".

Why are more and more companies valorising their archives?

Dotdotdot: "There is a growing awareness of the importance of treating the archive as an element to be valorised: to tell the story of the company, but also its values, its evolution, its products, its initiatives. The digital archive is a commercial and communicative vehicle, as well as cultural, an interesting and engaging way to tell your story and build corporate value.

Furthermore, the digital archive becomes a source of inspiration around which to build temporary exhibitions and also a tool for employees, customers or visitors. We help companies tell their story through purely digital proposals, such as platforms, archives and online sites, but also with phygital solutions, with hybrid interactive interfaces between physical and digital.

Like the touch video wall we designed for Mufoco, the museum of contemporary photography. Or the interactive table for Atlas Concorde, in the Fiorano Modenese showroom: a different way of using the repertoire material that transforms the experience from digital to physical, with the possibility to explore the archive through actions, such as "playing" with the tiles arranged on the surface, to which the information is associated.

Or, again, the step-by-step route to the Aboca business museum, with digital stations to make their research and activities for the common good live and known to a heterogeneous audience made up of customers, school groups , citizens, tourists or simply curious people.

We are working with the Pirelli Foundation to build together an engaging multimedia experience that starts from the story of their vast archive".

How do you design a digital archive?

Dotdotdot: “We start from the archive and organization of the historical heritage of the company or museum. The contents are digitized and catalogued, documents are scanned and objects are photographed in high definition. After this phase, we design the experience on the archive, which could be a web platform or a phygital experience that combines the digital with the physical interface for exploring the archive, also taking care of the user experience , that is, how the visitor approaches the contents.

To design a functional, engaging archive that responds to the client's wishes, we ask the client specific questions to focus on his needs.

We propose a content consultation which can take place in different ways: it can be guided and organized around specific themes, chronological, or random based on the visitor's interests.

In the studio we prototype and give the customer the opportunity to discover the preview of our design output, modify it and improve it together".

How do you plan creative storytelling for the digital archive?

Dotdotdot: “We work in co-design with clients and with various professionals, such as the curator, the archivist, those who know the company or the museum and its audience well, we have internal content strategists, storytellers, designers and service designers who deal with the construction of an interesting storytelling and the content strategy to achieve the client's objectives.

Over time we have refined a method for creating effective storytelling, with targeted interviews and workshops in which we extrapolate the information we need to plan.

What are the objectives set? What do you want to tell through the archive? Who do you want to address? What tone of voice do you want to adopt? How does the visit to the company/museum take place, how long does it last, is it guided or free, is it open to students?

Once the company's objectives have been identified, we propose the content strategy and storytelling which can be divided into multiple stories based on the public's reasons for visiting, personalized, or in a single chronological story. Finally, we plan the design of the virtual interface or the physical touch point, proposing multiple story channels".

How can the digital archive be made accessible to various target audiences?

Dotdotdot: "Once we have focused on the type of archive, who it is aimed at, how the visit takes place, what tone of voice we want to adopt, we design the experience of use. We follow the approach to museum experiences of John Howard Falk, director of the Institute for Learning Innovation of Oregon: the question is not for whom we build a digital archive, but for what reason to visit.

The same user can approach the archive for different purposes: a scholar can go to a museum to study a specific topic and the next day bring his child with him for a more informative and entertaining experience.

This is why archives must have different access points regardless of who the user is: if in the design phase it is possible to include different reasons for visits, then a broad-spectrum target will be covered".