Tag Archives: digital museum

NODEM 2014: Nordic Digital Excellence in Museums Conference

In December 2014, I attended the NODEM 2014 conference in Warsaw, Poland to present a project I have been collaborating on with US and Swedish researchers at the Swedish Naval Museum (Marinmuseum) in Karlskrona. Focused on creating augmented reality panoramas for the Neptun Submarine exhibition, the project also engages us in a number of research questions about digitally-enhanced museum spaces and heritage sites. The poster (below) has more info about the project, including our basic goals and more information about my collaborators. (Or you can download a pdf version of the poster : Poster-NODEM)

Neptun Project Poster

Neptun Project Poster

The conference itself was centred on the topic of “Engaging Spaces: Interpretation, Design, and Digital Strategies” and so the participants presented a lot of very interesting work responding to the new ways that cultural heritage and museums can use digital technologies to re-imagine, redesign, and reflect on: methods for enhancing user-expereriences beyond traditional exhibition practices; developing new digital archiving and preservation practices; and exploring issues about authority and authenticity with collaborative and participatory practices that use non-experts as integral aspects of design and content production for digital heritage objects.

Be Democracy Exhibition Still

The “sphere of communication” comprised of twitter messages at the centre of the BeDemocracy exhibition, Nobel Peace Center, Norway.

I was particularly interested in a  presentation of an exhibition called “BeDemocracy” at the Nobel Peace Center in Norway that used social media both as a content-generator “outside” the exhibition space, as well as a method to influence the design of the exhibition itself and the participation of its visitors. Designed by Expology, the exhibition explored how social media can influence and engage debates about democracy through personalised digital self-expression (via twitter, and blogging for example). The exhibition encouraged an online debate and then included the messages and online content as part of the display encased within a global sphere at the exhibition center. Visitors could enter the sphere, read the messages and then, via use of Kinect, a gesture-recognition software, “like” messages using a thumbs-up hand motion that recorded their votes. I loved the iterative design principles that kept the exhibition dynamic and encouraged thoughtful, social, and physicalised participation about serious topics. I have written elsewhere, in Digital Humanities Quarterly, for example, about how social media (or ME-dia) can be used for exactly these kinds of embodied, personal cultural expressions.

Pipe Cleaner Message Gallery, BeDemocracy Exhibition, Nobel Peace centre, Norway

Pipe Cleaner Message Gallery, BeDemocracy Exhibition, Nobel Peace Center, Norway

The playful use of more “old-school” methods that allowed visitors to leave “pipe-cleaner messages” (where the materials were bent and formed to make shapes and words) was a reminder of the way that technologically produced interaction, can exist alongside other innovative more material-making and expression. It was an evocative and simple mode to show “process” and tactile responsiveness in other mediated ways. According to the presenter at NODEM, visitors would spend a long time in the gallery after the exhibition to “craft” their hand-made messages. I love the results!


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Designing Digital Heritage: A Seminar for Network Building

neptun submarine

A technician inside the torpedo tube of the Neptun Submarine (Marinmuseum, Karlskrona). I am currently working with collaborators to create an Augmented Reality experience for visitors inside the submarine to enhance their exhibition experience. But we have other ways to gain entry… (photo credit: Erling Klintefors, Marinmuseum)

I recently received funding (with my colleague Lupita Alvarez) from my university (The University of Skövde) to help establish an International network for educational programs and research about cultural heritage and game technologies. Increasingly digital technologies are incorporated within museums and cultural heritage sites to enhance visitor experiences beyond traditional exhibition design. Our goal is to explore ways that we can build resources and explore interdisciplinary pedagogical strategies and support avenues for research, from undergraduate education through senior research projects, to critically engage in the development of digitally-enhanced cultural heritage experiences.

Digital Heritage Seminar Poster

Seminar Poster

To this end, we begin in the fall 2014 with a seminar called “Designing Digital Heritage” hosted by my university and organised by Lupita and I. We have invited professionals in a variety of related fields who will come together to consider how we can strategically align existing curricula at our institutions, find venues for exploration, and develop methods and modes, tools and technologies, and user-experiences to enrich our connections to history and culture.  The aim of this seminar is to provide a first-stage platform for developing an network comprised of cultural heritage and museum specialists, curators, exhibition designers, technology application designers, digital media and game design researchers, and others in related culture media industries to explore opportunities for interdisciplinary collaboration. It’s an exciting line-up, with keynote speaker Prof. Jay David Bolter from Georgia Institute of Technology and others from academia and industry, and I look forward to presentations and discussions and brainstorming workshops. More information is available on the seminar website and more activities will be forthcoming. (Download seminar poster as a pdf: Digital Heritage Seminar Poster)

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museum pong

Naval Museum Figurehead Hall

Naval Museum, Figurehead Hall: the most beautiful room in Karlskrona

This past week I was invited to lead a seminar/workshop on digital media and the impact on museum culture at the Marinmuseum (Naval Museum). The seminar was for museum staff from three of the Swedish National Maritime Museums, the Marinmuseum here in Karlskrona, and the Vasamuseet (Vasa Museum) and Sjöhistoriska Museet (Maritime Museum), both in Stockholm. They were holding annual staff meetings and the seminar was one among many to discuss relevant issues in the field over the course of two days. My seminar, and the following workshop, was particularly intended to address issues of interactivity and communication with museum visitors via digital channels. I had been invited to lecture, in part, because of my continued relationship with local curators, historians and exhibition designers at the Marinmuseum whom I have met while collaborating on student research projects. Within our program study of changing cultural institutions and material practices, we have often discussed how museums are particularly influenced by digital culture and technology “revolutions,” and thus we have staged some experimental projects over the last few years. We made hand-held history narratives for tourists prototyped for digital phones, and staged social media interventions and performances to explore how history could be redistributed in new ways, for example. This last one we called the re-history: archive yourself project and it was an interesting semester long-project for students, culminating in a socially mediated, live-stream performance and seminar at the museum in spring 2010–lots of fun and a great commitment by students.
Through such interactions, I have discussed with my students, the ways that museums, like libraries, have been directly impacted by new digital methods and tools that change the way users engage both them and their contents. From microfiche to metadata, from combing the stacks to data mining and data visualization, our relationship to information, to reading, and to (re-) searching history, culture, and the attendant artifacts are deeply transformed w/in digital culture. Digital Humanities work, although expanding its frontiers, still focuses largely on the ways that digital tools can change concepts of archiving and preservation, but also, of course, exhibition techniques, material use, and representational practices. All such revisions are largely about changing conversations with users, conversations with/about/ through differently mediated cultural expressions embedded in new contexts. Digital media allows a number of ways to augment and to enhance user experiences—through online archives, interactive websites, and follow-up experiences for the visitors. The Marinmuseum has recently opened its archives online in a digital database, and the Blekinge Museum, with whom I also work, has created a wonderful open archive experience for visitors. It is  entirely non-digital, for now, but nonetheless, it  is a reflection of the ways the walls and the boundaries for the museum are being transgressed and trespassed. No longer imposing institutional monuments, more fluid (media) exchanges challenge traditional museum spaces that have served as historical fortifications, and they now help drop the barricades.


augmented dinosaur

Augmented Dino, National Museum of Nature and Science, Tokyo

On-site digital media can also engage users in more hands-on experiences and allow for more personalized contact with history and its objects (QR codes, interactive media kiosks, video and audio interventions, for example).  Actual augmented reality tools in fact are currently among the most used and discussed technologies within museums, along with hand-held devices. Combining the two (hand-held + AR) is a design opportunity for truly deep material change. Mobile AR uses are for me  some of the most compelling, but only when used strategically. Too often, it seems, we just want information to “pop-up” for us, for information tags to float before our eyes when our phones are held up before an artifact. Or, we want to see a superimposed image of what was “once there” over what is “now there.” But I think these experience need to go much  deeper, become more embodied, more influenced by affective interface experience. If we only use our phones as screens through which we view information, then we miss the greater tactile power we have when we touch information, make it, hold it, really stroke, and then feel its response.


(Sensual expression is not an accidental outcome when we stroke our devices, let them respond to our fingers, hold them to our mouths, to our ears, and let them speak to us. What an intimate experience it can be to put those ear buds inside our ears and let the information come so close and speak so directly, privately, only to us.) 

It was interesting actually to reflect on a way to discuss these ideas with a large number of people outside my discipline and outside an academic context. I was speaking to technical people, designers, curators, and others who held positions in the museum, but who were not necessarily familiar with digital media trends and most certainly not with theoretical positions on digital media. Many held very traditional views of museums as places to preserve history and as sites where expert, not amateur, expertise should dominate. One of the critiques of interactivity in cultural spaces, esp. where user-generated digital content is explored, is fear of the great unwashed and uninformed masses messing up the space, facts, and artifacts through their barbaric Wikipedia (un-)principled actions. Anyone can annotate an artifact, right? Who needs an historian when an 8 year-old with a digital recorder and pod-casting technology can tell us instead what the 19th century diving bell is for: “It’s for talking to magic dolphins, looking for mermaids and chasing sea turtles. Also, I can put my little brother in it when he is bad.” It’s just uncivilized.


pong interface

simple is good

So I called my talk “Communicating Museum Culture: digital media, performance, and interActivities,” but I also gave the alternate title “The Simple Power of Pong.” Influenced by the opening examples in Salen and Zimmerman’s Rules of Play: Game Design Fundamentals, a text I used to use a few years ago in a game theory course, I recalled their discussion of Pong. I had always found it an evocative example for illustrating effective design. In short they said Pong worked because of the simplicity of its design, its unique game-play possibilities (many outcomes, same context) and its fun and cool factors (engaging the user at visceral and emotional levels). I opened then with Pong and shared these factors as a framing reference for my discussion of designing affective user experiences. I also pointed out

pong arcage game

performative pong

that one of its best original features was that Pong was an arcade game, and therefore the possibilities for shared experience and embodied user-performance was key. Watching people play was also a part of the Pong experience. Real bodies together in a space, actively enjoying the game illustrates how effective (and affective) design goes beyond the circle of what we might consider a more narrow game-play experience, that of turning the paddle-control and trying not to miss the ball.
I won’t share the whole talk here, but I did reiterate, to myself at least, (and I’m a good listener, to myself)  while preparing the seminar, that performance is once again of central interest to me when considering the ways emerging digital media can engage affective user experiences. It’s so important to displace users from the perspective of viewer and to probe what interactivity really means in the body. So, I chose to express and explain “interaction” as “performative interActvites,” to highlight the need to be both precise and diverse when considering embodied user-centered experiences. I referenced Nina Simon’s The Participatory Museum often, as I find it such a smart and readable review of participatory practices. Her Museum 2.0 blog is also very clever and informative, and I wish I could have spent more time on that. Ultimately, I offered the three A’s for designing performative interActivities, as I have outlined them in my own research:

Performative InterActivites: the 3 A’s, ftw

  • Access (increased opportunities for sharing with and produsing materials—not merely viewing them)
  • Augmentation (increased opportunities for enhancing virtual experiences within physical spaces, extending experiences)
  • Affect (increased opportunities for engaging emotional connections or embodied responses)

[+feedback loops]

Exploring these principles with examples from museums and with discussion of strategies for considering media options was quite interesting. Ultimately I found it quite satisfying to note that in the brief workshop that followed my lecture (which was, in truth, due to time constraints, more of an extended group discussion) that my strongest messages seemed to be received about 1) creating sustainable practices through media and 2) considering the value of affective feedback loops. The ways in which a physical space can be repurposed by changing the media and context, rather than the exhibition itself, was the basis for some good conversations. Also, my focus on audience-centered design where the visitor is performatively recast as an active agent/actor within an exhibition was a trigger for some interesting discussion. I look forward to follow up meetings. I have been invited, along with my students, to consult with them about their new submarine-focused extension, currently under construction. They seem eager to discuss digital media’s potential place and role within their new space, and I’m eager to entice them.

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