A visitor generated exhibit

In May the Museon in The Hague will organize the annual Ecsite conference. One of the full day preconference sessions is even dedicated to the ‘power of objects’. It is therefore obvious that meSch technology should be visible during the conference days. The question was, what kind of meSch installation should we showcase there? This blog is about what we came up with after a interdisciplinary brainstorming session in Sheffield.

The Power of (Smart) Objects

Ecsite is the European network of science centres and museums. The conference covers themes like exhibits and collections to make the science and technology of global challenges more accessible to audiences, intergenerational learning and co-designing exhibits and exhibitions. By presenting meSch, we hope to reinforce not only the power of objects, but to demonstrate the potential of the use of smart objects in exhibitions.

Starting point

How can we realize a meSch installation in a short period of time? That was the focus of a small meeting in Sheffield to which a specialist in novel interfaces, an interaction designer, content specialists and some students participated. There was a number of preconditions. We want to include several real objects in the installation, not copies. The installation should enhance the visitors’ engagement with the objects and the information provided about the objects should be more than just boiler plate texts. Finally the installation should be reusable with other objects and at other locations.

Sheffield brainstorming battlefield Brainstorming battlefield at Sheffield Hallam University: sketching an intelligent showcase

Competition between museum objects

Starting point for the discussion was the Plinth prototype, that is up until now being used to add a digital layer to one object at a time, triggered by proximity sensors. For example, when a visitor approaches the Plinth the object is illuminated and information about it displayed. For the installation in the Museon we wanted to go further. What else could we do with proximity next to switching on a light or activating information? Can we use it to measure the visitors’ interest in the object on display? If a visitor looks longer at a specific object than at another we may assume that this is of special interest to him. If we would track this for all visitors during a certain period of time we might get a popularity index of the objects on display, that we could make visible to the visitors in a graphical way. But what to do with this information about the popularity of the objects? It would make not much sense to measure it and do nothing with the results. We could make a kind of competition out of it, replacing after a certain period of time the least popular object by another one. Doing so we will have our visitors determining the exhibit’s contents.. At least the Sheffield brainstorming group was enthusiastic about this idea.

Discussing the showcase's behaviour Discussing the showcase’s behaviour

Visitor generated content

Having decided that the visitors will determine the contents of the display, it makes sense to state that they should also influence the information about the objects. At this point the use of Twitter entered the discussions. Could we provoke Twitter feeds about the objects on display and could we show them as part of the object information? By asking questions related to the objects to the visitors this might be the case. It will anyhow be part of the experiment.

Design of showcase Design of showcase with projector inside and slot of proximity sensors in the base

Twitter as a metaphor

Twitter is also the metaphor for the curated information that we are going to display. Not well structured pieces of information about the objects but small chunks of information with the size of a tweet, not with a fixed and well thought out sequence but in a more or less randomized way. Will it stimulate the curiosity of the visitors and enhance their experience?

The object’s point of view

There was a final question that played an important role in the discussion. Where to display the information about the objects? We did not want to used a traditional screen dislocated from the object, since this would distract attention from it. Instead we chose a projection on the glass next to the object. This technology will even offer another opportunity. Next to information snippets from the curatorial point of view we could have text balloons like in comics, displaying information from the object’s point of view.

Heat experiment

The climate in the showcase has to meet certain conditions. To be sure that the temperature will not be too high due to the projector some experiments have been carried out.

We are curious to know how this concept will be appreciated by the conference visitors and thereafter by the actual museum visitors. Are you curious too? Join us at the Ecsite conference from 22nd – 24th of May 2014 at the Museon in Den Haag!