Tangible Computing, Human-centered computing, Human computer interaction (HCI), Interaction paradigms

Designed Public Hybrid Educational Objects

Interactive museums have reached a “saturation point” in most first world countries.  But, Millennials are bored, the exhibits that excited the Baby Boomers are seen as boring to millennials and younger.   Most millennials feel that their smart phone or computer can provide more interesting content and social connections than any museum.  Unless museums adopt they will continue their current decline.  A total “rethink” is needed to make interactive museums relevant to younger generations.

Exhibition Design is part of the field and Industrial Design and may be the most powerful form of design communication, able to educate, excite and have a significant impact of visitors.  My research is the “rethink” of public educational facilities.  Part of the rethinking is a rethink of exhibits, most often exhibits are considered to be a box containing the “guts” of an interactive exhibit, a graphic, a label and maybe interruption by floor staff.  Let’s start with rethinking “exhibit” instead of exhibit, what if we considered exhibits “objects”, these objects exist in two worlds, first the physical world and secondly the virtual world.  As these objects exist in the virtual world they are now available to everyone as part of the world wide web.  The objects no longer only exist in one location but in all locations with internet access.  People that have access to an exhibit at a “bricks and mortar” location can now share their experience in-person at the museum with anyone with a smartphone and anyone at any location with internet access.

Museum are considered to be part of GLAMs (Galleries, Libraries, Archives and Museums) (considered science centers, children’s museums, natural history museums all to be part of “museums”).  With the popularity of smart phones, the use of libraries has changed, many millennials and younger no longer see libraries as an educational need, more of a place for group study and as a shared educational resource.  Few millennials and younger see “book stacks” as the resource, instead they see the power of two or more people with smart phones as the resource and a sort of joint online research.

If research content is no longer limited to library stacks the purpose of a library changes to one of co-learning.  The same could be said for Galleries and Archives, if the past researchers went to the physical location of an object for their research, now that many galleries and archives have digital collections, reach can happen on-line and if needed an in-person visit can follow.

Galleries, Libraries, Archives and Museums are still vital to civil society, but the access has changed dramatically. GLAMs now consist of shared access via smart phone, in-person hybrid (virtual and physical) objects (exhibits) and social connections between the in-person shared experience and the virtual shared experience.  As this new modality develops there is a greater need to design of the physical objects, design of the in-person and virtual experiences.

The work of Hiroshi Ishii and Brygg Ullmer of the MIT Media Laboratories Tangible Media Group is the foundation of the future of “museum” interactions.  I am placing museum in quotation marks as the typical understanding of museum is one or several physical locations.  In the same way that “work” no longer only happens in an office environment, museums are no longer only limited to a physical location.  Many museums now participate in “pop up” museums or temporary satellite museums.  The new modality of museum will remain collections protected and displayed in a physical location, but the research, interpretation and experience of the collection is now un-tethered from one location.  The objects of the collection can be 3D printed in your home, viewed as holographic objects on your smart phone, and researched at a customized method specific to the user of the smart phone.  The collection object and it’s meaning is now freely available everywhere.

This greatly changes the relationship between museum and visitor, now museum visitors customize how they will “digest” the content with limitless possibilities.  My research is how this new modality may or may not progress.  Several options will be examined and determined the likelihood of their maturation.

  • Full Body Interaction with Collection Objects
  • Hybrid In-person / virtual social interactions of museum content
  • The increased importance of the visitor to determining the “museums” direction
  • The new collaboration between Galleries, Libraries, Archives and Museums in the new modality
  • The possible tools, devices and HCI of the new modality
  • Beyond the “Internet of Things” to Hybrid Objects

If you would like to discuss possibilities for working together, please contact me.

– Mark Walhimer