Framework to Guide Designing of Interactive Tools for Art Galleries

  • Motivation:

The perception of art has changed radically in the last three decades. Previously art was supposed to be reserved for members of the high class and the subject were displays such as things, paintings which were to be seen and were kept in a separated area of gallery or museum. But now with development art is now considered as a part of day to day life and is influenced by our rituals, political impact, culture, religion as well as our daily habit. Art also influences our day to day activities such as selection of a consumer product. It has been observed that people usually feel uncomfortable and intimitated at the hushed gallery setting. They feel that they have to behave in a certain way and have to be knowledgeable to appreciate a piece of art.

Another motivation was to encourage the millennials to visit galleries or museums.The younger generations specially so-called millennials do not like spending much time in reading the labels or panels attached adjacent to art object or the ones provided at the front desk of the gallery.

Art galleries and museums also act as important location of programs offered to people with mental and physical health issues. It was our aim to provide a more accessible experience at a gallery.

  • Research Problem:

While exploring different interactive options present in art galleries, the most important point that came up was to build the bridge between the artwork and the visitors. An interactive tool facilitates the interaction between the work and the visitor and provides additional information to provide an engaging experience. We want to assist future designers in their tool selection and building process. Hence we narrowed our research problem to:

To design a framework which will assist in designing/ building of interactive tools for art galleries/museums. The problem can be further divided into two sub-problems:

  1. The framework should be include tools to assess accessibility issues and suggest solutions to mitigate any such issues.

  2. To find influencing factors that will be used to customize the designing of the framework.

  • Data Collection and Data Analysis:

The data collection started with the interviews of art curators from different art galleries of Nova Scotia. Conducting a one-to-one semi-structured informative interview with the art curators in their once or any mutually acceptable location helped us to understand their viewpoints when they design or assist in designing an exhibit for the gallery. An ethics review was done before the study was conducted to ensure that the study meets the expectations for ethical research with human participants.

Since most of the curator’s offices are in the gallery building, we also had a tour around the gallery where the curators showed us pieces from the collection and how the artist expressed their thoughts through their work, how different paintings/sculptures were placed in the room. This helped us to understand the designing process with examples and references. As the interviews were semi-structured, we started with a set of inital questions and more detailed questions were asked based on the answers received.

The data collected from the interview were qualitative in nature. We conducted a thematic analysis on the data. The responses were categorized based on their similarities. The next step after categorizing the data by different theme was to make an affinity diagram. These themes and relations helped us to make the initial sketch of the framework or a platform to base our next step of research.

  • Framework:
    Overview of the framework which will assist in designing future interactive tools for art galleries.

The proposed framework is made up of 5 modules:

  1. Information Module: The types of information provided at an gallery/musuem has been categorized to two types- Synchronous (One where the exhibits have a story-telling aspect and a structured guided tour of the exhibits is suggested for a better experience) and Asynchornous (the route of tour does not impact the engagement and they visitor is advised to go around based on their preferences and choices).

  2. Visitor Module: For our framework we referred to Falk’s types of visitors for classifying different types of visitors for the visitor module.

  3. Navigation Module:The navigation module can be primarily divided into three parts: Physical Navigation, Spatial Navigation, and Social and Semantic Navigation. The physical navigation of a visitor in a gallery involves the actual movement of the visitors inside the gallery. Spatial navigation principles can be used to design virtual guidance system for galleries or museums. Social and Semantic Navigation principles as discussed in the literature review can assist visitors to choose their path of tour.

  4. Accessibility Module: Accessibility module, comprises of the Senses Module. It also includes accessibility issues related to mobility and usage of technology (cognitive accessibility). It was one of our sub problems to try mitigating issues due to disabilities.

  5. Technology Module: Designing of this part of the application involves heuristic evaluation as well as following other software requirements. Due to limited time, this module was not within the scope of our research and will be add as a future work.

  • Assessment:

We taken the Maud Lewis exhibit at the AGNS, Halifax as a test case to assess the framework we proposed. If we feed the data collected from the interview into the framework, we came up with three suggestions to enhance the focuses, provide a more engaging and a more immersive experience for visitors.

Digital Wall- One of the walls at the book corner has a list of the years of significant events in her life. The year are marked with a little description of the event. The book corner has several books with detailed information about her life, her art, and her house. We can use those information from the books and the wall to make an interactive wall.

Virtual LEGO game- From the data analysis, we have found out one of the main attractions of the exhibit is the house. LEGO is a popular toy and introducing a Virtual Realtiy (VR) application which will give the visitors an opportunity to experience the building of the house as well as knowing more about the reconstruction using hand gestures. Since the type of visitors is diverse and includes children, the suggested gestures should be easy to remember and perform. The structure that the visitors have to build will Maud Lewis’s house and each step will have instructions on what part to build. After completion of each step, the system will share some stories of reconstruction. In this way the visitor will have a more immersive experience as they get to virtually experience the story of the reconstruction of the house.

Visual Marker- : The Art Gallery of Nova Scotia site in Halifax has community programs such as Autism Art for children and youth ages six through early adulthood. Autism Art has an annual exhibition of the professional framed and installed artworks created by participants in the Autism Arts classes throughout the year. Hence this exhibit is not accessible throughout the year. Instead these paintings can then be scanned and made into visual markers. Each marker can be associated with a small audio clip describing the participants thought behind the painting or about anything they want. These markers can be hung in a wall at the exhibit. When a visitor comes, they can scan the marker to listen to the stories. This wall will help other people on similar spectrum as well as their caregivers from different places to connect and build a sense of community. Apart from that, other people can also learn and get inspired from their stories.

  • Conclusion:

We have suggested a framework instead of a specific tool as every exhibit is unique in its own way and every artist has different vision and motivation for their work. So a tool should be designed to meet those demands. Another important aspect of an art gallery is that all its exhibits are not permanent. Although a gallery may have a few permanent exhibits, most of the shows or displays are temporary and they are changed from time to time. Hence, any tools that are suggested should not have an elaborate setup as well as should be cost-efficient.

Link to full thesis