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Interactive Design of Museum Exhibitions Essay (Critical Writing)

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Updated: Dec 30th, 2020

Introduction

The experience that people receive by visiting art museums may differ from one person to another. Some visitors prefer to engage with an exhibit without any help, while other individuals want to gather more information with the aid of additional devices. For that purpose, people started to create interactive exhibitions which allow visitors to participate in or become a part of an installation. The development of technology also became a part of the solution as its incorporation into one’s experience at a museum allows people to engage in the active learning process.

This paper aims to address two central themes connected to interactive design of museum exhibitions. First, it attempts to analyze the introduction of technology as a deliberate design strategy to increase visitor participation. The emerging technological equipment fosters the involvement of visitors with such techniques as augmented or virtual reality and interactive walls and tables. Furthermore, user participation and co-creation of art installations place individuals in the center of attention and further help the learning process. Second, the paper assesses the issue of knowledge retention as the interaction of visitors with an exhibit does not always result in them taking the gathered information home. One’s learning experience may be supported through preserving information with the use of social media and additional devices.

How Is Having Interactive Exhibitions Beneficial to Engagement

People may visit art museum exhibitions for a number of purposes. First of all, visual appreciation for the works of art may be the central reason for visiting a museum as it allows individuals to view art pieces that could not be seen otherwise. Furthermore, the process of learning is also at the core of every exhibition as museums usually provide much information about the authors of art pieces and the history of art itself. Thus, the process of museum visiting is linked to education and information gathering. While people may view art and appreciate its visual beauty, not everybody can be engaged by an exhibition in the same way.

To engage the audience and affect the participation rate, museums started to adopt some interactive techniques into the design of their exhibitions. According to Heath, Luff, Lehn, Hindmarsh, and Cleverly (2002), many pieces of visual art may need a more active visitor that can pay enough attention to the creation to see its underlying motives and analyze its true meaning. Therefore, the problem of keeping the visitors interested and focused becomes apparent in the field of museum design. The solution that lies in interactive exhibitions offers some benefits for visitor participation. For instance, the inclusion of interactive pieces may encourage visitors to pay attention and improve their learning experience. Moreover, mixing traditional methods of exhibition design with some new approaches can also provide a place for visitors to relax and change their way of perception as they stop simply observing the art and use other types of information gathering. Finally, interaction with the art may allow visitors to personalize their experiences.

How Is Interactive Design Done Now

The current state of interactive design encompasses many approaches. However, the use of technology deserves particular attention as its developments can significantly change one’s museum experience. As Heath et al. (2002) note, “digital technologies have provided resources with which to represent and transform conventional materials to engender new forms of interaction and experience” (p. 11). In this case, new types of visitor and museum interaction are created with different devices and equipment. Macdonald (2007) outlines three central areas of research in the sphere of interactive design, including media, co-creation, and space. The correct implementation of knowledge about these areas into the final design helps museums to create an environment which engages people, attracts their attention, and strengthens the outcomes of learning.

Media

This sphere of design incorporates the use of any materials needed to display the art pieces. For instance, the types of presentation such as dioramas, screens, or computer devices all fall under the category of media (Macdonald, 2007). Here, the choice to create an interactive exhibition implies that the visitors are going to engage in the process of art perception in a way that somehow differs from a simple observation. Individuals that come to a museum use the provided technology as the means to gather the information about the installations. Thus, visitors treat the media as a part of an exhibition.

Current developments in the area of media include the use of augmented and virtual reality (AR and VR). These types of presentation foster participation as they offer visitors to not only actively engage with the equipment but also choose their path. Moreover, according to Reeves, Benford, O’Malley, and Fraser (2005), interactive technology allows people to view objects that would otherwise be impossible to display. For instance, the artworks and projects presented through the means of virtual reality let the individuals interact with objects that cannot be present in a room in their physical form. Buildings, destroyed artifacts, or creatures can become a part of an exhibition with the use of AR and VR. The interactivity of these methods is enhanced by the use of 3D technology, which gives people an opportunity to observe an exhibition piece from all angles. The ability to create pieces with dynamic scenes engages visitors even more.

The use of interactive video walls and tables is also a way to let a visitor participate in the museum experience more actively than before. Here, the individuals are given the ability to choose the most mattering information. It can also allow the public to participate in the viewing of an object together as some displays allow for collaborative use. For example, Reeves et al. (2005) describe a table that can be used by up to four people who interact with a physical model. In this case, such factors as the desire to explore and be in control of the situation encourage visitors to pay more attention to the artwork. This type of interactive design may benefit museums that want to use group participation in their exhibitions and create shared experiences.

In contrast, a different way of implementing technology into a museum exhibition is the use of smartphones. This method allows for a more private experience, which can be shared with others without direct interaction. An example by Bødker, Klokmose, Korn, and Polli (2014) shows how phones can become a part of one’s experience. The authors present a concept where smartphones can be connected to the informational panels of some artworks, where visitors can leave their comments and insights for other people to see. This type of media is both shared and private. More individual ways of using smartphones to interact with art pieces are the ability to find the information about an exhibition online or through some applications created by museums. These methods allow people to experience art privately and at their own pace.

Co-creation

The approaches to interactive design described above show the trend towards collaborative museum experience. In fact, such media devices as interactive walls and tables and smartphone commenting are used to encourage visitors to share their time at a museum with other persons. However, collaboration does not end with visitor-to-visitor interaction as it may involve the art pieces and their creators as well. This method can be considered as a type of co-creation as it allows individuals to become a part of an exhibition. Heath et al. (2002) present an example of a co-creative piece where people have to interact with an installation to understand its meaning. The use of this method does not only invite visitors to participate in the observing process, but it also influences the way they interpret the information about the installation. In this case, communication is also an aspect of creation as groups of visitors may show the discovered art piece to each other, prompting a reaction and sharing their thoughts about it.

Putting the spectator into an art piece is another type of collaboration. The example with smartphones and object descriptions mentioned above shows that people can share their original thoughts and discuss the context of an installation. Another example of co-creation is user-generated content (UGC). This approach can be seen in the #HowDoYouMuseum campaign of the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles (2017), which encourages people to share photos of their museum visits. This campaign allows individuals to enter photography contests to win an exclusive tour of the museum. The use of social media presents an opportunity to discover how people experience new content and share it with other persons. Moreover, this method personalizes individuals’ experiences and promotes feedback and interaction after one’s visit.

Space

The aspect of space can also affect one’s experience and can be used in interactive design to raise one’s attentiveness. According to Tzortzi (2015), different spatial patterns can alter one’s visiting pattern and influence the overall experience. For instance, massive space of an exhibition can tire visitors out and make them skip particular installations to conserve energy. Thus, spatial design should respond to the individuals’ needs and devise a map that would be easy for a person to cover in one visit. Here, an interactive approach can enhance one’s experience through the use of various devices. Digital maps that can be downloaded by visitors before or during their trip can help individuals to move according to their interests. Alternatively, interactive walls and tables that show information about an exhibition’s contents can also improve one’s experience. A person can interact with these devices and go through the installations without becoming frustrated. Such virtual guides give visitors an ability to choose their path.

Who Sees the Design

To create exhibitions that will leave a lasting impact on people and their knowledge, one should understand the audience. The types of visitors and their demographics can give one an ability to create a design that will engage the public. According to Mancas et al. (2009), there are four types of visitors such as “ants,” “fish,” “butterflies” and “grasshoppers” (p. 91). The visitors of all types have their unique patterns of movement and engagement, which complicates one’s task to create a ubiquitously efficient design. While some visitors experience an exhibition in a linear way, others move from one place in the room to another, sometimes ignoring a part of an exhibit and focusing on their favorite installations. Moreover, the demographics of the individuals can also give one some information about the design strategies. For example, people’s desire to collaborate with each other may result in a museum adding more group activities into their interactive design. On the other hand, private interactive methods can balance out the need to communicate.

How Do People Consume Knowledge from Interactive Exhibitions and Carry It to Their Lives

The issue of interactive design is further complicated by the fact that people may not remember the information that they acquired during their visit. To increase the success of information retention, museums should create interactive exhibitions that allow individuals to participate in the experience even after they leave. Thus, the approaches to interactive design can be separated into two types. The first kind lets people interact with the installations in the museum but does not provide a platform for further participation. For example, Guscott (2013) explores the Cleveland Museum of Art and its MicroTiles video wall that allows visitors to experience the exhibit at their own pace. This device is very interactive. However, it does not offer any way of information retention after the person leaves the museum. Another example is the application “ASK” created and used by the Brooklyn Museum (2017), where visitors can take pictures of specific pieces and installations and ask questions related to them. This app is a viable source of communication and information gathering, but it is restricted to the time of the visit.

The second type of interactive design offers people to participate in the discussion about the museum’s contents. Here, social media becomes the primary source of interaction. The campaign #HowDoYouMuseum mentioned above can be considered an example of visitors’ participation as it engages them to recall their experience. However, it is unclear whether people carry the information from the exhibit into their lives. While some individuals create a social heritage of their favorite exhibitions and installations, it does not show the level of their engagement. Another type of application is Smartify, which allows people to scan an interesting art piece and learn more information about it through their smartphone (Smartify, 2017). This app lets people retain their knowledge as it creates personal galleries of favorite art pieces.

Conclusion

Current developments in the field of interactive design incorporate various types of technology into exhibits and art presentation. The use of AR and VR allows a museum to present objects and data that would not be available to people otherwise. Moreover, these interactive devices encourage people to pay attention and participate in group or individual learning. Such factors as media, co-creation, and space can be outlined as the main areas of research. One can create an exhibit that will engage the visitor through some technology such as interactive walls or tables, allow people to become a part of the project, or use additional devices to construct the best route through the installations.

To choose the best strategy for information retention, one has to learn more about the audience of museums. The use of applications and devices may give one an idea about the techniques that can be implemented in the design. To make people remember the information that they learn during their visit, museums need to engage them in the process of learning during and after the exhibition. For this purpose, one can use smartphone applications that encourage information gathering and interaction with other individuals. Finally, social media also becomes a way of creating a personal gallery that allows people to reflect on and share their experiences.

References

Bødker, S., Klokmose, C. N., Korn, M., & Polli, A. M. (2014). Participatory IT in semi-public spaces. In Proceedings of the 8th Nordic Conference on Human-Computer Interaction: Fun, Fast, Foundational (pp. 765-774). Helsinki, Finland: ACM.

Brooklyn Museum. (2017). Web.

Guscott, C. (2013). Web.

Heath, C., Luff, P., Lehn, D. V., Hindmarsh, J., & Cleverly, J. (2002). Crafting participation: Designing ecologies, configuring experience. Visual Communication, 1(1), 9-33.

Macdonald, S. (2007). Interconnecting: Museum visiting and exhibition design. CoDesign, 3(S1), 149-162.

Mancas, R., Glowinski, D., Brunet, P., Cavallero, F., Macy, C., Maes, P. J.,… Volpe, G. (2009). Hypersocial museum: Addressing the social interaction challenge with museum scenarios and attention-based approaches. In eNTERFACE’09 Summer Workshop (pp. 91-96). Genoa, Italy: Casa Paganini.

Natural History Museum of Los Angeles. (2017). #HowDoYouMuseum. Web.

Reeves, S., Benford, S., O’Malley, C., & Fraser, M. (2005). Designing the spectator experience. In Proceedings of the SIGCHI conference on Human factors in computing systems (pp. 741-750). Portland, OR: ACM.

Smartify. (2017). Web.

Tzortzi, K. (2015). Spatial concepts in museum theory and practice. In Proceedings of the 10th International Space Syntax Symposium (pp. 1-14). London, UK: Space Syntax Laboratory.

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