Reversed Interactions. Facilitating Social Experiences in Art Galleries solo project final report melisa mukoviÄ‡ 2019/2020 tutor: celine mougenot word count: 4996
Abstract The following report is a documentation of the process and development of a design intervention which aims to facilitate social interactions in art galleries. Contextual investigation consisting of a literature review, benchmarking and field observations, proved that there is a scope for research into the area of building social experiences in art galleries. While this is already widely applied in other types of cultural institutions, such as science museums or natural history museums, art galleries remain an underexplored context. Generative user research in the form of context mapping was conducted on a small group of people to gather qualitative data. Three key insights were identified: art galleries exist for their own sake; gallery visits are transformative; interactions are self-centered. As an answer to those insights, an interactive installation was designed, which reverses the interaction feedback from the user onto other people, encouraging participation with other visitors. The concept underwent preliminary validation through the use of 3d modelling and animation, and enough proof was gathered to show that the design can be successful in fulfilling its aim. However, additional contextual validations will need to be conducted in order to establish the design with a higher certainty.
Introduction DCMS*-sponsored museums and galleries in the UK have been visited by 49.8 million people between April 2018 and March 2019 â€“ a 38% increase from 2002/03, when the records were first created (DCMS, 2019). 2
Introduction In recent years, museums and art galleries have been regaining their role in shaping the cultural lives of the public. By trying to reach out to a wider audience and to create more meaningful experiences, institutions are transforming the way in which their collections are exhibited. Since the start of the century, a clear shift to the introduction of more interactive elements in exhibit curation has been observed, as a means of encouraging participation and engagement. Although some work has been done to establish the importance of the introduction of such elements to museum settings, this work is mostly focused on their cognitive (learning) benefits and implications, rather than their effects on shaping a social and interpersonal experience (vom Lehn & Heath, 2001). Meanwhile, studies have shown that interactive experiences can be a catalyst to social education and development (Falk et al., 2004). Exhibits placed in museums and galleries cannot be abstracted from their social context, and should be allowed to benefit from it. These findings call for a further exploration into the possibilities of using interactive exhibits to shape social experiences. Although the benefits of social learning have been widely explored by institutions which are most commonly visited by people in groups (such as science or natural history museums), those attended by a higher percentage of lone visitors (art galleries) face a more difficult challenge. While as little as 0%-3% of all visitors of science museums come alone, the number is as high as 30%-50% in the case of art galleries (Adams & Moussouri, 2002). There emerges a question of:
how can interactive exhibits be used in art galleries to shape social experiences for visitors and how can they encourage interpersonal engagement?
Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport
The following report is a documentation of the process and execution of a master research project aiming to address that question. The exploration of the nature of human interactions is of great importance to the field of design engineering. By evaluating the behavioural patterns of people in the context in which they are already accustomed to engaging in interactive experiences, we can draw conclusions applicable to universal scenarios, hence contributing to the design engineering knowledge base. Furthermore, as a result of the increased application of digital solutions in exhibit curation, art galleries and other institutions can benefit from the support from people with technical backgrounds. The outcome of this project â€“ a proposal for an interactive exhibit which aims to facilitate social experiences in the context of art galleries, was developed by combining the findings from contextual investigations and observations, as well as through the application of generative user research methods. The proposal was further validated with the input from users and its significance evaluated. 3
Figure 1 Dominique Gonzalez, Séance de Shadow II; an example installation which engages users as participants in a social context; the work is affected by the numbers and behaviours of people in the room.
“Research suggests that successful interactive experiences embrace the visitor as part of his/her social group and that the interactive experience facilitates social learning. This is a relatively foreign concept to art museums.” (Adams & Moussouri, 2002) 5
Literature Review Scholars have expressed their concerns with the lack of structure in classifying interactive installations. One of the main challenges they are faced with, is creating evaluation methods of the successfulness of an interactive installation. Notably, Morrison et al. (2007) take the concept of ludic (or playful) engagement (Gaver 2002) to build a practical method of evaluating participation in interactive installations, arguing that such an artefact shouldn’t be judged by the number of interactions performed with it, but rather by taking into account the extent to which it catalyses joy and creativity in its users. This viewpoint touches upon the concept of perceived affordance (Norman 1988) – the inherent ability to understand the purpose of an object just by observing its visual features. Morrison mentions that interactive installations come with no instructions and it’s up to the visitors to build their own scenarios around them, therefore making their engagements even more valuable. This opinion is opposed by Pekarik (2004), who states that museums should make more efforts in creating ways of presenting exhibits, to make the educational experiences more valuable to a larger audience. On the other hand, upon claiming that designers have no understanding of the mechanics of audience engagement, Edmonds (2006) identifies three key attributes of interactive visual installations: attractors, sustainers and relaters. He further follows by posing an open question to the reader – what makes interaction meaningful and how does that influence our understandings of ourselves? The concept of meaningful experiences has been widely adopted within discussions on interactive art. Nonetheless, its definition is itself a subject of investigation. Pekarik et al. (1999) have conducted comprehensive user research, trying to establish what factors contribute to creating satisfying experiences for museum visitors. They distinguish four categories of experiences: object, cognitive, introspective and social. They further propose how the taxonomy can be used in exhibition curation and design, pointing out inherent antagonistic natures of object and cognitive experiences – the way an exhibit is presented versus its didactical value, as well as between introspective and social ones – does engaging in social interactions minimise the opportunities for personal reflection? 6
Literature Review Graham (1997) argues that there lies the biggest issue of interactive installations. Even though they are usually placed in social environments, art installations tend to be designed for one person, causing isolation, long queues or intimidation, all of which contribute to the experience becoming less enjoyable. Pekarik claims that the understanding of the profile of visitors an institution aims to attract, should guide the type of experiences they provide. Such an understanding can be developed with the aid of the sociological model developed by Hanquinet (2013) (Figure 2). She identifies six cultural profiles among visitors of contemporary art museums â€“ classically cultured, passive cultured, cultured progressists, the hedonists, the distants and the art lovers. Pekarikâ€™s classification can be supported by researchers, such as Falk (1992) (Figure 3) and his Interactive Experience Model, which distinguishes interactive experiences within three contexts: personal, social and physical. Falkâ€™s model forms an important base for understanding the nature of meaningful experiences. All studies mentioned this far, place the definition of meaningful experiences within museums or galleries. This comes as no surprise, when considering the contextual values added by such environments. Brieber et al. (2015) conducted user research to test the impact of context by comparing the responses of viewers to art in a museum versus in laboratory conditions. Their study proves that art is experienced and remembered within a context, and that even with increasing access to online resources, cultural institutions will not lose their significance as creators of meaningful experiences. Researchers also take active steps towards a better understanding of the social dynamics of collaboration and engagement. A study presented by vom Lehn et al. (2001) followed patterns of interactions of people with museum exhibits. It showed that visitors have a high awareness of other people within the same space. In opposition to previous assumptions, vom Lehn proves that humans naturally build context with strangers in simple 7
Figure 2 Clusters of visitors, Hanquinet (2013).
ways, such as moving down to different parts of an exhibit in a systematic manner. This occurs subconsciously, without the visitorsâ€™ realisation, but proves that people are, in fact, aware of the social context they find themselves in, they just need to be made to realise it. Vom Lehn et al. (2001) also mention their concern about the fact that not enough research is done into exploring the social aspects of gallery visits. This opens a door for exploration of the possibilities of encouraging collaborations between strangers through interactive installations. Meanwhile, there emerges a trend of using collaboration as an art research methodology. Edmonds et al. (2005), Eriksson et al. (2006) and Muller et al. (2006) have all presented concepts of Living Laboratories for interactive art. These are spaces which bring together artists, scholars and visitors to enable cooperation on the creation of interactive artworks. This is an interesting progression from the classical archetype of the artist as someone who is distant and unreachable to the general public. The identification of this trend is supported by the findings of the study by Heath et al. (2005), who conclude that an increasing number of institutions and experts appreciate that social interaction and collaboration are critical to our experience of museums and galleries.
summary of conclusions
Brieber et al. (2015)
Importance of museum context in experiencing art.
Edmonds et al. (2005)
Creating spaces for active collaboration on interactive installations.
collaboration, interactive installations
A system of evaluation Morrison et al. (2007) of participation with interactive installations.
interactive installations, meaningful experiences
Pekarik et al. (1999)
Four categories of satisfying experiences: object, cognitive, introspective, social.
Vom Lehn et al. (2001)
Visitors naturally build context with strangers.
collaboration, interactive installations
Figure 3 Interactive Experience Model, Falk (1992).
Table 1 Summary of notable papers reviewed in the contextual investigation.
User Research Upon identifying the project opportunity through contextual investigation, observations and benchmarking, a user research was conducted. In order to facilitate a valuable and meaningful design, a set of in-depth qualitative data had to be collected. This would allow for a better understanding of the nature and context of art gallery visits. 10
Methodology In an attempt to reach the latent (hidden, existing but not accessible) knowledge layer, as well as to get a better understanding of what gallery visitors know, feel and dream; a user research session was designed using generative techniques. 11
Figure 4 Example response to the generative user testing collage task – notable use of personal imagery.
A contextmapping session was developed to engage users in the design process. A small group of participants was chosen (8 people), which allowed for a more detailed investigation. The users were assigned a task of completing a photo collage relating to their art gallery experience. After they completed that assignment, they were encouraged to explain the reasoning behind their choice of pictures, symbols and layouts, and to further elaborate on their meanings. To get a better understanding of the user’s motivations and feelings, individual interviews with each participant were conducted consequent to the analysis of their responses. These were later reviewed and condensed into three main insights which guided the development of the final design concept. The session was originally planned to be conducted in person, however due to the unexpectedly fast development of the COVID-19 outbreak, which coincided with the project timeline, the research methods had to be adapted to an online scenario. Albeit a limitation to the task, it also allowed users to apply a wider variety of media to their collages, sparking more creativity and possibly generating more valuable results. The users were each provided with a slide deck, which included the instructions, a set of a variety of photographs, images representing emotions (using the PrEmo toolkit (Laurans & Desmet, 2012)), and an array of words. Following, were two empty slides – one for their collage and one for its description (Appendix 1). The users were encouraged to reach out beyond the provided materials by including other elements that they found applicable. Most of the participants followed that suggestion by attaching the likes of personal photographs from their own gallery visits (Figure 5), gifs and videos (Figure 6), and even a music playlist dedicated to their collage. By asking the participants to recreate their last (or most memorable) art gallery visit, and by guiding them to focus on the aspects of that visit relating to their reflections and social interactions, an attempt was made at answering the following questions:
what are the motivations behind art gallery visits? what makes those visits unique and meaningful? how do visitors interact with the surrounding environment and other people in the space? 12
Figure 5 Example response to the generative user testing collage task – representing transformations.
Figure 6 Example response to the generative user testing collage task – use of own prompts, a set of gif images.
Insights The analysis of the outcomes of the collage exercise, together with the descriptions and user interviews, led to the identification of three key insights, which were later used in the development of the final design concept. 14
art galleries extist for their own sake
While most of the research participants spoke about visiting art galleries as an experience in itself, not many mentioned specific objects, artefacts or exhibitions that they have seen during their visits. This signifies the importance of the gallery environment in shaping the visitor experiences – the place itself, its atmosphere, the people in it, and the feelings, are what stays with the users for longer, while information about specific exhibits seems to be of lesser importance.
“best things are the ones you don’t need to explain” This way of thinking builds on the conflict touched upon in the literature review (p.6) – playful engagement vs. creating valuable educational experiences (Morrison et al. (2007) vs. Pekarik (2004)). At the same time, this concept of art galleries as institutions is a common point of criticism, especially within the art community – the critique of the institutionalisation of art has been an important fundament of 20th century art (see: Marcel Duchamp, Michael Asher) – that same art which is now exhibited in most of those galleries. We are faced with a paradox which cannot be resolved. Equally, as explained by Fraser (2005) “the institution of art is not something external to any work of art but the irreducible condition of its existence as art”– art is inherently contextual, and to the public, it exists within the context of art galleries. 15
gallery visits are transformative
One of the visual trends that emerged in many of the collages, was the use of a divisive line as an indicator of a dual nature of gallery visits (Figure 5). Some used the line to indicate the change of perspective from “before” to “after” the experience. In that case, the participants mentioned how their emotional response was affected:
“art galleries are a place of oblivion; a place where you can be someone else,” indicating that gallery visits have a therapeutic value to them, they can be a place where people go to clear their minds and forget about their problems. In another case, the division line was used to indicate the boundary between social and introspective experiences. The participant described their past gallery visits as being focused mostly on social interactions: meeting with friends and engaging in discussions. However, they also noted that they enjoy the moments when they can wander off away from their group of friends to find some time to engage in their own thoughts. This realisation generates internal tension within the participant: is it possible to be a part of a social setting while still being able to benefit from personal reflections? Art galleries possess the power to take their visitors on a transformative journey. All of the research participants acknowledged gallery visits as positive experiences, ones which helped them overcome “confusion and uncertainty”, also mentioning a feeling of a “changed state upon reaching an end destination”. This is seemingly appropriate, when the nature of galleries themselves is considered. As buildings and cultural institutions alike, they have to adapt to a multitude of scenarios: be able to house a variety of exhibitions, serve as public spaces, educational sites, offices or libraries. All things considered, art galleries are transformative spaces within themselves and they serve to catalyse transformations within their viewers. 16
interactions are selfcentered
When commenting on their engagement with interactive exhibits, participants talked about their own feelings and reflections. They mentioned the experiences being very personal to them – this was reflected in some of the collages by the use of photographs they have taken themselves in the past. Gallery-goers often disregard the social context they find themselves in, even though they still remain subconsciously aware of it (vom Lehn & Heath, 2001). Research participants mentioned “visiting galleries in search for personal affirmation”, proving how important self-development is in its context, but simultaneously acknowledging that
“the experience is very personal and emotional, however shared with other people” Here again, we find ourselves exploring the tension within engaging in personal development while remaining a part of a wider social context. 17
how might we provoke gallery visitors to shape experiences for others rather than just for themselves?
how might we reverse the focus of interactive exhibits from personal to social, while not compromising self-reflection?
Intervention Design Presented is a design intervention concept, which aims to catalyse social interactions in art gallery settings, by depriving the users of direct feedback when engaging with the installation. 20
Figure 7 Concept render depicting the external design of the intervention.
As mentioned in the previous section, interactions are self-centered by nature. People like to engage with interactive objects, as they believe they might benefit from a learning experience, an opportunity for personal reflection or self-enjoyment. This causes a conflict when trying to establish a way in which we can encourage individuals to interact with the people around them. This design intervention is based on the concept of reversing interactions. We are used to receiving direct feedback when interacting with objects. This is a natural human response, which has been widely adapted in the field of Human-Computer Interactions (HCI). When we touch, move or speak while in the presence of an interactive exhibit, we except something to happen. Direct feedback is a proof that the object is working properly and is a validation of the interactive experience. This intervention aims to examine what would happen if users were deprived of that direct validation – receiving no feedback for themselves, while all their interactions are being projected onto others. The design is a small construction to be put up in an art gallery setting. Personal observations prove that people’s attention is often captured by exhibits which can be “entered” (such as video screenings, or other displays which require a blackout room). This set up aims to build a feeling of curiosity and intrigue within the users. When seen from the outside, the design is rather simple. This aims to create a sense of familiarity with the participants, encouraging them to engage in the interaction. While observing the exhibit from the outside, people can notice the changing colours of the LED panels embedded in the walls. At the same time, the room is filled with distorted sounds and ambient noise. These elements are meant to cause the users to wonder how the device works, and encourage them to try and participate in the interactions. If they decide to enter the exhibit, they will notice its inside is white, bright and silent, and the only unusual thing about it is a big white sphere hanging from the ceiling. The texture on the sphere is meant to encourage the participants to want to interact with it by touching and moving it. As the participants try to explore the exhibit, they will start to notice that their actions don’t generate any visible results. The installation transforms the typical elements of interaction and projects them onto the people on the outside. Touch, movement, speech become colour, intensity and noise. The participants are not aware of the experiences they’re creating for others. 22
Figure 8 Diagrams showing the scale of the construction.
Figure 9 Concept render depicting the interacting participants and people observing the behaviours from the outside. 24
Figure 10 Concept render detailing the interior of the design.
Figure 11 Concept render external detail. 26
It is after the participants have had a chance to fully explore the installation, that its effectiveness can be measured. The aim of the intervention is to encourage social interactions between people. Seeing how itâ€™s not likely for the users to be able to figure out the scheme in which the exhibit operates on their own, they will be forced to reach out to others, if they are willing to find out what is happening around them.
Figure 12 Breakdown of the elements included in the walls of the design.
By collaborating with people on the outside, the participants gain a new understanding of the mechanics in which the installation operates. Through communication they can start to notice that their movements around the room are tracked and projected to the outside by the use of alternating light intensity. Their tactile interactions â€“ touching or moving the ball, or the walls of the exhibit, cause its external colours to change. And finally, the sounds they make on the inside and the words they say are distorted and replayed as noise through the speakers in the gallery room. The idea behind the intervention, is that the personal need for the validation of interactions, will force the participants to reach out to strangers behind the wall, soon finding themselves engaging in unanticipated collaboration with others. 29
Figure 13 Concept render detailing the boundary between the interior and exterior of the installation.
To get an understanding of whether such an intervention would be successful in an art gallery setting, an online validation scheme was set up to gather in-depth qualitative data. 31
Validation Validating a concept which is completely dependent on the context in which it’s placed, and whose main objective is facilitating social interactions, while only being able to reach people via the Internet, was a challenge. However, as in the case of the user research, the validation was conducted online, with the support of user interviews. As the development of a full-size model for validation was impossible due to the lack of access to a workshop and required tools; a computer model was created in Blender 3d software and later animated, to emulate the real-life behaviours of the installation. First, an illustrative model of a “white cube” art gallery room was set up based on exemplary rooms from Tate Modern and the Royal Academy of Arts, to serve as a background to the model of the exhibit and to provide it with some additional context. Once the installation model was created, it was animated from the first person perspective of a participant and edited to represent all of the design’s most notable functions – change of colour, ambience, and distorted noise audible in the background, transitioning to a silence when entering the exhibit. On top of the computer model developed, a scaled physical model was also created to validate the ease of build, as well as the application of technology used in the design. 32
Table 2 Breakdown and analysis of key insights derived from online validation interviews.
How does it make you feel?
the exterior and design is simple which naturally makes me curious to find out more feels kinda eerie but ultimately I’m intrigued
I feel the urge to touch it and find out what material it is
makes me feel reflective and pensive makes me feel a little uncertain, it reminds me of the passing time What would be your next step after interacting with this object?
Do you know how it works?
successful attempt at using a simple design with an intense use of colour and sound to spark the feeling of curiosity among participants (Intervention Design, p. 22) as anticipated, users feel the need to interact with the installation (Intervention Design, p. 22) proof that interactive installations encourage people to engage in self-reflections (Insights, p. 17)
I’d look for sign postage to describe the meaning to me
sometimes visitors expect an explanation, especially being used to it in art galleries (Literature Review, p. 6; Insights, p. 15)
I’d instinctively try and discuss it with whoever I’m with at the gallery to seek other thoughts; I’m not sure I’d spark the conversation with someone I don’t know unless they did it first, but it does give me the need to ask other people what they think it means or represents
although showing signs of uncertainty about approaching strangers; proof that the participant would be open to engaging in social interactions (Intervention Design, p. 29)
I would probably try to figure out how it works; I would experiment to see how lighting and music changes
proving curiosity of finding out how it works, although no mention of interacting with others, it could be a potential next step (Intervention Design, p. 29)
I would then probably need to find a window or cafe to reconnect with the real world for a second
realising the boundary between the social and introspective gallery experiences (Insights, p. 16)
particularly I would like to see if the changes were influenced by the number of people in the room and to spot any patterns
acknowledging the presence of the social context in which they find this exhibit (Literature Review, p. 7)
initial guesses would be there’s some relationship between position in room and lighting/music
promising steps towards reaching out to other people (Intervention Design, p. 29)
in other positions the room lights up with warning colours seemingly enticing you into entering the room
successful use of colour to encourage interaction (Intervention Design, p. 22)
simple materials configured in a simple shaped which in a certain way is aimed at making people think ‘what’s the purpose’ or ‘why?’
again, encouraging reflection in participants (Insights, p. 17)
Figure 14 Virtual environment set up in Blender.
Figure 15 Scaled physical model built for technical validation.
Figure 16 Scaled physical model working demonstration.
Discussion Although the scenario in which the project was validated could benefit from real-life interactions, the findings outlined in the previous section show promising results in supporting the design concept. 36
Discussion Overall, some trends in the participants’ responses to the design can be extracted. When it comes to the emotional response in the users, the validation proves that the design serves its role well. All participants have mentioned being “intrigued” or “curious” about exploring the installation. The use of colour and sound was noted as an effective factor in sparking those feelings. The validation process also further supported the insights derived from user research – people treat interactions in a self-centered way. “Reflective,” “pensive” indicate an introspective experience (as classified by Pekarik et al. (1999)), meaning the installation does not compromise the opportunity for personal reflection. Finally, the use of materials and textures encouraged participants to feel like they want to interact with the exhibit by touch (even though they could only view it on their screens). The question about next steps generated some interesting feedback. The dilemma of whether to explain an interactive installation or not to explain it arises once again. This has already been explored in the literature review when mentioning the conflict between the views of Morrison et al. (2007) and Pekarik (2004), as well as touched upon in the user research insights. These opposing feedback points highlight that there is a valid discussion to be continued on this matter. Although there has been a limited amount of responses concerning the interaction with strangers upon the exploration of the exhibit, the fact that some of the participants were inclined to think about it and mention it in their interviews is a promising sign. Bearing in mind that viewing such an object in a virtual environment can facilitate completely different reflections, than seeing it in real life would, it proves there is scope for further exploration once there is an opportunity to conduct participatory validations in a gallery context. Finally, even though participating in hands-on social interactions was not always mentioned, most of the participants identified the fact that they would be viewing this installation in a social context. The point about observing the movement of people to figure out the dependencies that guide the mechanics of the exhibit, indicates that the users have been forced to realise the wider social situation they are finding themselves in when visiting art galleries. This proves that the design has been successful to an extent, at taking away the focus of interactions from oneself to others around them. As already mentioned, the execution of this project coincided with the COVID-19 outbreak, which limited the possibilities of development of a full-scale working prototype for validation. With that in mind, there seems to be enough qualitative feedback that was gathered through online interviews with the aid of 3d animation, as well as a proof of technological concept in the form of a scaled working model, to prove that the designed intervention has the potential of facilitating social interactions in art gallery settings. However, there is still a need for more tests that would have to be conducted in the appropriate context in order to fully validate the proposed design. 37
Conclusion This report outlined the process and development of a design intervention aimed at facilitating social interactions in art gallery scenarios. 38
Conclusion As mentioned throughout the report (and notably in vom Lehn & Heath (2001) and Adams & Moussouri (2002)), there is a lot of work to be done in the exploration of the significance and dynamics of social interactions in museum settings. The situation is particularly difficult in the case of art galleries, which are attended by a high percentage of lone visitors, and also have different preconceptions assigned to the conduct within them (such as the touch/no touch problem). This project attempted to address that area for development. Three key insights were derived from the user research conducted as part of the project, with support from the findings suggested previously by the contextual investigation: art galleries exist for their own sake – visitors often appreciate the gallery as a space more than the actual artefacts displayed there; gallery visits are transformative – art galleries are transformative spaces, both towards their visitors, and in their own development; interactions are self-centered – when engaging in interactivities, users tend to be focused on themselves and their personal benefits. The application of generative design research techniques proved very successful in the specific case of this project, giving a lot of in-depth insight into the motivations and habits of gallery-goers. These insights were then used to guide the development of a design intervention. The intervention is based on two main concepts: reversing interactions from oneself to others; and facilitating unanticipated collaboration with people in the art gallery context. The online validation showed promising results in the potential of this intervention to fulfil its purpose. However, there are many future improvements that could be introduced before such an intervention is introduced into a real-life scenario: Real contextual validation on a working full-scale prototype needs to be conducted in order to ensure that the desired effect can be achieved. As mentioned in this report, interactive exhibits exist in their particular context and cannot be abstracted from it, therefore not taking the opportunity to test this intervention in its desired context would be against its own ideology. A question that wasn’t explored in this report is how the setting of different particular art galleries affect the social interactions taking place within them. While this intervention was designed for a generic gallery setting, it would be worthwile exploring the shifts in human behaviour between different galleries and applying that knowledge to the final design. 39
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Appendix 1 â€“ user research participant slide deck
Appendix 1 â€“ user research participant slide deck
Facilitating Social Experiences in Art Galleries. Design Engineering MEng Master's Project. 2020.