The Heart of an Object – Testing and Refining Prototypes of Smart Objects

On 27th and 28th of November several meSch teams of the different partner institutions involved in the project met in Amsterdam to showcase and test the developed prototypes of smart objects. On the second day, museum and heritage professionals from inside and outside the consortium were invited to join and to test and think about these smart objects for their own exhibits and museums. In this blog post Dick van Dijk of the Waag Society reflects on this co-creation and brainstorming session hosted by the same institution.


Giraffe by Waag Society (CC BY 3.0)

How do you bring an object in a museum to life, and how do you experience it with your whole body? During two days the Waag Society revolved around smart prototypes that help curators easily create interactive exhibitions themselves. Which technique turns an object into a real experience for the museum visitor? This is what we examine in the European meSch project. Dutch curators, from the Dordrecht Museum, Museon, Allard Pierson Museum, the Maritime Museum among others, came together on one day, to link content of their choice to the interaction possibilities of meSch prototypes. And to test and refine this combination.

Helmet by Waag Society (CC BY 3.0)

Interactions with Hellas, whales, a Roman, cake & Tibet

One of the teams leads us through the life of a Roman soldier on the basis of an egg-shaped object that embodies the heart of the soldier. You go along on campaign, rest on a sheepskin and march. The palpitations strengthen ties with the objects you see – you’ve got the helmet on, suddenly. Imagination and reality intermingle – very dramatic. The same principle is followed by a pie mould as a symbol of social relations in households in the 19th century. The egg-shaped object represents a clock now, including the ticking. Less dramatic but informative and interactive: a wooden magnifying glass makes a Hellenistic oil lamp “burn” again and lets the illustrations speak when you shake and turn the magnifying glass. The magnifying glass is also used with the oldest object in the room: a Greek vase from 550 AD, painted with exquisite details. You zoom in and find out that it was a grave gift, probably burned and damaged at the funeral. Zooming in on a detail reveals the myth of Athena who helps Herakles on his 12th labour. Beautiful is the pedestal that tells all kinds of stories, and can even contain a game element for multiple visitors. As you approach, you get to see themes and animations, in this case about sperm whale teeth and whaling. Easy to program for the conservator but, because of the open nature, difficult to choose what you really want to say. Also nice is the Buddhist bell that you must pick up and touch before the informative animation starts.

Results and next steps

For the development teams from the universities of Stuttgart, Sheffield Hallam, Limerick and that of Waag Society it was valuable to see how you work with a specific heritage object and what interaction elements you can connect with the story behind it, adding substance and sense to the object. The next step is real interaction in the museum: we will test the most viable prototypes in 2014 and evaluate with visitors in several Dutch museums.

More information

This blog post was published earlier on Check out all the pictures of the session here.


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