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Exploring Hong Kong’s Heritage Museum

Work by Mark Bowers

May 2011-July 2011 The Hong Kong Polytechnic University School of Design MDes Interaction - Capstone Project



Introduction The following report is a summary of a design project meant to enhance the current museum experience at the Hong Kong Heritage Museum. With a focus on improving community involvement through collaboration between the museum and its patrons, as well as increasing interest in the exhibits by facilitating evolving content.

Profile Mark Bowers Mark is a United States native and studied Industrial Design at The Ohio State University for his undergraduate degree and is now working towards his graduate degree in Interaction Design at The Hong Kong Polytechnic University. His interests lie in combining design and business to promote social innovation and create products and experiences that are creative, and useful.


Table of Contents 6



Issues Today


Research and Discovery


Creating the Instruments




10 12

16 18 20

26 28 30 36 42

45 47


the assignment

current trends no digitial engagement

what is heritage? current experience insights and objectives

introducing hong kong heritage site map eco-system looking beyond scenario video

references reflection



Hong Kong Heritage Museum Under the umbrella of the Leisure and Cultural Services Department, the Hong Kong Heritage Museum presents a unique mix of history, art and culture in a great variety of programmes that cater for the wide-ranging interests of the public. Designed both to entertain and to enlighten, their lively and informative exhibitions and activities offer a kaleidoscopic array of cultural and educational experiences for their visitors. Featuring an exhibition area of some 7,500 square metres, the museum houses six permanent galleries - the Orientation Theatre, the New Territories Heritage Hall, the Cantonese Opera Heritage Hall, the T.T. Tsui Gallery of Chinese Art, the Chao Shao-an Gallery and the Children’s Discovery Gallery - as well as six thematic galleries that regularly host exhibitions showcasing the diverse treasures of our heritage.

School of Design The Hong Kong Polytechnic University School of Design is at the forefront of applying Asian innovation to global opportunities. It is committed to sustain excellence in design education, practice, consulting and research; to harness the legacy and dynamism of Asian cultures in creating solutions for human needs; and to create strategic models for products, brands and systems in local and global markets. The school has over 1200 students and is the only institution offering design education at the higher level in Hong Kong.


Issues Today The Hong Kong Heritage Museum states its Mission is “to preserve, study, present and interpret the material culture of the peoples of Hong Kong for the education, inspiration and enjoyment of Hong Kong residents and visitors.” Sadly, more and more challenges are presenting themselves to museums everyday. While the core functions of museums remain acquisition, research, education, and exhibition, there are new demands rising up including engagement and participation. The Hong Kong Heritage Museum is one of the largest museums in Hong Kong, offering exhibitions on history, art and culture; but, the times are changing and the museum is losing its audience. The intent of this project is to create a more engaging experience with the “heritage” of Hong Kong and in turn benefit the Museum itself.


A photo from inside the HK Heritage Museum, of the T.T. Tsui Gallery of Chinese Art. Is this an art museum or a Heritage museum? Is there room for both in Hong Kong, or does the Heritage Museum need to find a more distinctive voice of its own?


Current Trends Museums around the world are seeing changes everyday: different types of visitors, different ways to attract audiences, engaging new people with new tools everyday. How well these tools can be utilized depends on the museum, but there are significant trends that run in common between all of the successful ones. There needs to be effort put toward engaging meaningfully that adds to cultural or social value. Additionally, the ability to provide relevance to the content and visitor is essential and that should be directed by the museums sense of purpose. Below are examples from the Museum of Modern Art and the Tate Modern Museum, among others, of ways they are engaging visitors. Whether through tactical wall displays, digitally enhanced content, physical play areas and interactive spaces, or community driven components. For the HK Heritage Museum to be effective, it needs to first find ways to engage meaningfully and with a sense of purpose.


Social media has found a home in many museums, as it is a cost effective way to reach out to and start a conversation with its audience. But, there are many things that need to be done correctly in order for social media to be effective. The museum needs to understand its users and when/why/how/who/where they will use the tools it provides. Primary Benefits of Social Media

1. Increased awareness of HK Heritage Museum, its exhibits, and events among target visitors 2. Increased traffic to website (official page, facebook, blog) 3. More favorable perceptions of the HK Heritage Museum and HK heritage itself 4. Ability to monitor what is being said about the Museum 5. Development of targeted marketing activities 6. Better understanding of customer perceptions of the Museum and “Heritage� 7. Improved insights about target market 8. Identification of positive/negative comments 9. Increase in new business 10. Identification of new exhibit/service/event possibilities 11. Ability to measure the frequency of discussion about the Museum 12. Early warning of potential problems or service issues


No Current Digital Engagement The Hong Kong Heritage Museum has an online presence, but it is not being taken advantage of in a way that is fostering community building, awareness of events, connection to the museum content and the heritage of Hong Kong. There is room for growth and the Museum can become a very talked about, highly successful, community resource if it can effectively integrate some changes.


Below are 3 examples of more or less unused Facebook pages that have seen engagement, but with no response. The power of social media can be used to help increase awareness of the museum, increase traffic to the website, help develop a more favorable perception of the museum, identify positive/negative comments, and gain a better understanding of users’ perceptions regarding HK heritage.



Discovery Topics of Interest After an initial secondary research phase, I decided to focus on three key areas to further explore opportunities. I wanted to promote:

Research Objective To gain an understanding of both locals and tourists and how they wish to save, remember, and interact with Hong Kong Heritage, in addition to how they understand it.

Primary Target Users Locals and Tourists - Two types of users, active and passive.


What is Heritage? Heritage is not static; it involves recording historic development over time. It is dynamic and grows and changes through continuous interpretation. Each generation redefines its heritage in response to new understandings, new experiences and new inputs. Heritage can also be viewed on an international, national, regional or local level. Those managing cultural or heritage assets serve a number of different user groups including: tourists, school children, ‘traditional owners’ such as indigenous or ethnic community groups, local residents and experts. These groups may have different, often conflicting interests. This raises the question of “whose heritage?” (Teo and Yeoh, 1996). The ICOMOS cultural tourism charter of Paris (1999) resulted in two classifications of Heritage: Tangible Assets: Natural and cultural environments including: landscapes; historic places, sites and built environments Intangible Assets: collections; past and continuing cultural practices; knowledge and living experiences. Sofield and Li (2000) believe Heritage can have social and political dimensions: Social: the key concept here is identity. Heritage allows individuals, communities and nations to define who they are, both to themselves and to others. Heritage may provide a sense of ‘belonging’ to a culture or place. Political: refers to the selection of one site over another. Interpretation and presentation may be used to sustain or overturn a particular version of history. Heritage may promote certain political or social values.



�I never know what is at the museum, but it always seems like a collection of leftovers from the other museums.�


Heritage Museum Experience The Hong Kong Heritage Museum is located in Sha Tin, in the New Territories, and many Hong Kongers and tourists find it inconvenient to travel to. Although it is the largest and most diverse of all the museums, it tends to have a bad reputation as its collection is centred around Heritage, which is hard to define. Currently, with their 12 exhibits they cover a variety of different subjects and offer insight into Hong Kong. But, with such a loose control over the subject matter they are often seen as the display area for content that the other museums could not fit. They have exhibits that are similar to the Art museum, as well as the History Museum - and recently featured an exhibit on Pixar Animation - which, one has to ask, how is that related to Hong Kong Heritage? The exhibits themselves are very disconnected and are commonly presented as separate rooms entirely different than one another. Both through the design and layout and the content itself - no storyline or narrative connecting the artefacts and heritage other than its loose connection to Hong Kong. This was a main point many brought up in interviews, often stating that they felt the museum is boring, or maybe only one exhibit catches their interest. If this experience were to become a more holistic journey through Hong Kong’s heritage, it might provide relevance and a more interesting story for visitors.


Insights and Objectives

Hong Kong people are interested in their history and heritage, but in a way that must be useful, insightful, and relevant to their daily lives. People are not interested in the “Heritage� that the museum presents and they see it as overlapping with other museums. The museum itself many find boring and straightforward, the permanent exhibits are stale and never change.


Understand users value system and desired content and translate this into meaningful interactions and actionable experiences. Enable audiences to be both critical learners and creators of cultural and/or heritage content. Identify opportunities to re-articulate the content, format of display, and how it is interpreted so whatever we do connects in a more personal, meaningful way.






�Museums need to respond to and become places where ideas, opinions and experiences are exchanged, and not simply learned.� - Nicholas Serota Tate Modern Director


Design Challenge Content provided at the Hong Kong Heritage Museum is not relevant or engaging in meaningful ways to audiences, resulting in declining attendance over the past years. By finding appropriate methods of engagement that allow for curiosity, interaction, and participation we can improve the museum experience and its content.


Introducing HongKongHeritage HongKongHeritage is a platform for citizens and visitors to preserve and learn about Hong Kong heritage through a participatory and collaborative method aimed at discovering what its citizens’ truly believe represents its heritage. Through multiple tools such as Smartphone apps, a website, and an installation at the HK Heritage Museum, users will be able to upload and share “items, or sites” of particular importance or relevance to HK heritage. Other members in the community of users will be able to comment, like/dislike, etc in order to help curate the content and build up a visual archive of Hong Kong’s heritage. The goal of this project is to give the citizens of Hong Kong a voice in what their heritage is, what it means to them, and how they can use it to create more enriching experiences. The possibilities for future development are endless – layering experiences with in-museum tours, tie-ins with local heritage sites and/or businesses, and connecting the content to real world locations. It is the museums responsibility, as an ambassador of Hong Kong Heritage, to help its citizens and visitors think critically and engage with the culture and heritage around them.


This platform will help attract visitors and start a dialogue. Not only will visitors talk about the Smartphone app and museum installation, but it will foster conversations across social media platforms such as Facebook, twitter, and Flickr. This rise in the museums profile will lead to a significant awareness of museum activities and propel more people to visit the museum or at the very least take an interest in furthering its goals. What the museum presents as heritage, and what the concept is for everyday citizens is different, but there is an opportunity to merge the two. Hong Kong moves very fast, its history and heritage are being swept up in the rapid “progress� this city is undergoing and people are beginning to feel disconnected from what Hong Kong is, what its heritage really means, we have the chance to change that.


Smartphone Site Map Information Architecture To help support usability I wanted to provide a platform that could be easily understood. This diagram demonstrates the organization of the smartphone application and how all the various functions and features are supported and connected through the three main pages: participate, gallery, explore - in addition to the Home page.



Smartphone Application Key Interfaces By making content mobile, people can engage with different aspects of culture and heritage in a more informal way. Heritage tells our stories, it is our past and present, and guides our future. We should be able to explore it as such.

Contribute (your own uploaded content)


Participate (in adventures around the city)

Browse (the gallery of the cities heritage)

Explore (locations around you in person)


Website Key Interface Connect with other members in the community and share your own content, or comment on others. Help curate and build up a visual and narrative archive of Hong Kong’s Heritage using similar tools to the smartphone app, but from your home.



Heritage Museum Installation Heritage is not well defined, and it lacks exciting and engaging content to help connect audiences. Through interactive exhibits - with content curated by peers - and participatory activities, we try to provide a platform for communities to discover their heritage at the Hong Kong Heritage Museum.



Experience Eco-system An eco-system will be developed for this experience. All of the information is connected and relevant to one another and can be accessed from any of the three platforms. The Smartphone application allows users to connect with the content and help create it out in the real world, but it’s only part of the experience. What is uploaded from at home or from the Smartphone can be browsed at either location, or you can go to the Heritage Museum to find a large physical installation displaying the same content, but in a unique way. Here you will be able to browse the ‘tagged’ heritage and filter it to create distinctive paths through the history and culture of Hong Kong, helping to reveal unique stories and information. Additionally, a marketing and awareness campaign will need to be put in place to increase recognition for the tools and the museum’s new goals. To the right is an example of marketing materials, a poster placed in a district acting as a see-through portal to the past (mimicking the effect of the AR History on the smartphone app).



Who Will Benefit? There are many different roles people in Hong Kong take on - some are the businessmen, others students, or stay-at-home parent, etc. There are active citizens in Hong Kong though who want to preserve, remember, and give back to the city in many different ways. By tapping into these interested parties we can allow them an outlet to contribute and effectively “crowdsource� some of the work. By fostering this collaboration we are enabling citizens to become active in preserving and appreciating their heritage, as well as offering it up for the hundreds of thousands of other users who are interested. There is often a division between providers and consumers, but through this process, much of the city can take an active role and contribute in their own way. The design will benefit people in different ways, some users will participate in the curation of HK heritage, others - tourists and citizens alike - may use it to build a more meaningful connection or experience during their time in or exploring the city. People will be able to actively save heritage, or engage and learn about it.

It is the museums responsibility, as an ambassador of Hong Kong Heritage, to help its citizens and visitors think critically and engage with the culture and heritage around them. 38


Additional Interface




Scenario Video So here we are in Hong Kong. It’s a huge metropolis and it is crowded full of buildings, people, history, culture and heritage. Yet, the city moves so fast its heritage often seems to be swept up in the rapid “progress” this city is undergoing. Of course, heritage is a whole collection of “things,” its your entertainment(beyond), your buildings and landscape, the food, the religion - it’s all of that. But those things are defined by people, what they find important or necessary and it helps to shape the individual and the community into who they are today, and how they did it. So, Hong Kong… Can we enable citizens with the opportunity to save their heritage by acting as curators and archivists, while allowing others - tourists and citizens alike - to use that information in ways that build more meaningful connections or experiences in the city? To successfully do this I think you need to promote three things: Community, Collaboration, and Curiosity - and we will do this using three different tools. First we will use the Hong Kong Heritage museum itself, and place an installation there to engage visitors. Now, this installation - this video wall - its content will have to constantly change in order to maintain visitors interest. Well, we can do this by working together with the community and putting the tools in their hands. The second tool is a smartphone app that allows for them to explore, contribute to, and debate about their heritage. We will pose challenges quarterly that ask for the community to identify, define, and humanize a heritage object or topic. It’s not the challenge itself that interests people, but rather the community and THEIR response to it. Before a person was just a part of the audience, now they are a participant. So, for someone like our friend Kevin, when he uploads a photo for a challenge and submits a short story about its meaning or importance to him - Robin might take notice. She sends a comment back to him and starts a debate… or, finds the location and goes to take a look for herself. A tourist might use the application to find a heritage trail, a tour through that equity that offers up stories and insights from locals along the way. Whereas a local may be more interested in seeing a glimpse into the past as they are walking around town, helping them further connect to the old and appreciate how much has changed. All the while users can add reflections or stories, contribute their own content, and connect with their city, its people, and their heritage. The final tool acts in much the same way, a website operating to give users at home a chance to engage. And with all three of these tools together we create an ecosystem of products that work in conjunction to promote those original ideas of community, collaboration, and curiosity. The end goal of this is to of course take part in, curate, and learn from their heritage - so in a way, everyone benefits. 43


References Howard, A. (n.d.). Ignite Smithsonian examines the evolution of museums and culture - O’Reilly Radar. O’Reilly Radar - Insight, analysis, and research about emerging technologies. Retrieved July 22, 2011, from http://radar.oreilly. com/2011/04/ignite-smithsonian.html Ename Center. (2005). Excellence in Processing Open Cultural Heritage. Epoch, D2.1, 84. What do people want from museums on Facebook? | MuseumNext - Europe’s big conference on social media and digital media for the museums. (n.d.). MuseumNext - Europe’s big conference on social media and digital media for the museums. Retrieved July 22, 2011, from what-do-people-want-from-museums-on-facebook 41 Ways Museums Are Merging Social and Tech to Engage Audiences « Know Your Own Bone. (n.d.). Know Your Own Bone. Retrieved July 22, 2011, from http:// Akmon, D. (n.d.). Leveraging Technology to Attract, Engage & Educate Museum Visitors. Upload & Share PowerPoint presentations and documents. Retrieved July 22, 2011, from Sherman, R. (n.d.). Museum Social Media Planning Worksheet. Upload & Share PowerPoint presentations and documents. Retrieved July 22, 2011, from http:// Sheila. (n.d.). Yes, Museums Still Need Objects & Digital Exhibitions, too | Lot 49. Lot 49. Retrieved July 22, 2011, from Photographs Flickr: HK Man’s Photostream. (n.d.). Welcome to Flickr - Photo Sharing. Retrieved July 22, 2011, from


Reflection Working on a museum project was one of the first things to spring to mind. I find museums undervalued, both by themselves and their patrons, and there is an opportunity to improve. A museum can be a library, an archive, a tomb of history, and many other things to different people, but its main goal is to make history or the past fun. Approaching this project I initially considered a complete exhibit. Rapidly, it became obvious that this would not be feasible within the time limit I had, as well as numerous constraints that one faces working with a museum. So, it seemed necessary for me to approach this project in a unique way. I was told early on that I would have the ear of the Heritage museum, and they would listen to what I had to say, offer suggestions and guide me toward a project that we would both be happy with. Things did not quite work out this way, because of once again, the realities of working with larger forces than yourself. So, I changed my approach, and worked on this project as if it were a business pitch. I wanted to create something that could involve the community, I mean, they are the audience after all. Wouldn’t it be best if they could help decide on what they actually want to see and learn about? So, with this approach in mind, and wanting to give the Museum more of a voice to communicate with its audience, I turned towards social media. Of course, all industries have been looking toward social media lately, but as I found in my research, many do not actually know what to do with it. Sure, they have a facebook account, but how can they engage and inspire their customers and visitors to actually care? These were some of the more challenging and fun topics I sifted through as I came to my main experiences and activities I wanted to foster. Layering more depth onto the project, it became clear it needed to have more entry points, because not everyone is a social media player. So, I began crafting an installation that would engage visitors at the museum as well and use content that could be linked between the systems. Essentially wanting to build up a sense of collaboration between the community, and invite curiosity. Developing this project over the last two months has been rewarding, yet extremely fast paced. Often seeing ideas I would have liked to pursue further have to be set aside as I made the necessary changes in order to finish on time. This capstone was an exercise in efficiency, creativity, and reality. What could be done, how, and why does it matter? These were the questions I asked myself, and I believe I came out with a solid project in the end, that challenges visitors and the museum alike to take a more active role in their heritage, and be just a bit more curious about what there is, and what others think.





Hong Kong Heritage  
Hong Kong Heritage  

The following is a brief summary of a three month research and design project targeted towards creating a platform for Hong Kong citizens an...