Tafterjournal n. 2 - gennaio 2008

I contributi dei visitatori come patrimonio culturale: il design per la partecipazioneVisitors’ contributions as cultural heritage: designing for participation

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Rubrica: Tecno-scenari

Parole chiave: , ,

Premessa

In questo articolo affronteremo il nostro approccio all’allestimento di due mostre pubbliche, nell’ambito delle quali il nostro obiettivo è stato quello di offrire gli strumenti adatti per facilitare e supportare i contributi personali dei visitatori alle mostre stesse. La filosofia alla base del nostro lavoro, considera il ruolo della tecnologia come in grado di accrescere il patrimonio delle esperienze di ogni singola persona, andando oltre la mera messa a disposizione delle informazioni, e permettendo ai fruitori di creare il contenuto di un’esposizione. Questo approccio punta ad incoraggiare la riflessione attiva, la discussione e l’appropriazione, secondo la tradizione “human-centred” dell’Interaction Design. In questo articolo vengono presentate due mostre, rispettivamente dal titolo “Re-Tracing the Past” e “The Shannon Portal”. La prima ha lo scopo di stimolare l’esperienza di visita dei fruitori di una collezione museale; la seconda ha l’obiettivo di incoraggiare i visitatori e i viaggiatori a condividere le proprie esperienze, vissute in Irlanda. Sarà discusso l’impatto di questa strategia di progettazione, e sarà analizzato il ruolo dei contributi dei fruitori a ciascuna mostra, e le particolari interazioni tra i partecipanti, i contenuti da essi prodotti e i contributi delle altre persone che hanno preso parte alle due mostre.

1. Introduzione: l’Interaction Design per i musei e le mostre

In questo articolo si discute dell’importanza del progettare mostre interattive che consentono la partecipazione diretta e la collaborazione attiva dei fruitori, a partire dalla prospettiva “human-centred”, propria dell’Interaction Design. Si presenta una panoramica del nostro lavoro di ricerca, mettendo in risalto un approccio partecipativo all’exhibition design ed evidenziando i principali risultati che sono stati conseguiti in questo campo, e si forniscono due esempi di mostre interattive, che noi abbiamo progettato con l’esplicito intento di stimolare la partecipazione dei visitatori. Infine si riportano i risultati positivi che attraverso un orientamento al design è stato possibile osservare in entrambi i casi.
I campi della “Human-Computer Interaction”, del “Computer-Supported Cooperative Work” e più recentemente dell’ “Interaction Design”, hanno mostrato un’attenzione crescente nei confronti dei risultati collegati all’introduzione della tecnologia all’interno dei musei e delle sedi espositive. Effetti che hanno incrementato l’usabilità, l’utilità e il valore educativo degli interventi tecnologici nei musei, sia per quanto concerne il design e la realizzazione di questi strumenti, che la valutazione del loro utilizzo da parte dei visitatori dei musei (Marti, 2001; Grinter et al., 2002).
Inoltre per accertarsi che un dato intervento tecnologico sia conforme a specifiche linee guida di progettazione, sia in termini fisici che di interfaccia virtuale, è necessario riflettere anche su come impatta la tecnologia sull’esperienza museale, considerata nella sua globalità. Le mostre interattive ed i supporti informativi interrativi per le mostre, sono passati dal formato standard di terminali dotati di touch-screen, che ponevano una certa distanza tra i fruitori e gli oggetti mostrati sullo schermo, a performance orchestrate in maniera molto complessa, in grado di rilevare la presenza e lo sguardo dei visitatori, le loro azioni e preferenze (Sparacino et al., 2000; Barrass, 2001).
Perciò, proprio come per gli sviluppi tecnologici, le discipline dell’Interaction Design si sono dedicate a significative riflessioni volte alla concettualizzazione dei risultati di più alto livello, quando si osserva il ruolo svolto dalla tecnologia nella visita di un museo. Rilevanti esempi sono dati dalle considerazioni di vom Lehn et al. (2001), inerenti il ruolo della partecipazione dei fruitori alle mostre, quale supporto alla natura sociale della visita, e dallo studio di Chalmers e Galani (2002) sull’esperienza di visita a vari livelli: l’esplorazione del complesso interscambio con l’oggetto, della tecnologia e delle differenti voci che entrano in gioco nel processo interpretativo.
La maggior parte di queste ricerche, comunque, riguarda la tecnologia e la sua funzione ultima di fornire informazioni ai visitatori, anche se in maniera sofisticata. Un più recente sviluppo nel campo dell’Interaction Design per i musei e le esposizioni riguarda l’uso del design per stimolare la partecipazione ed il coinvolgimento diretto dei visitatori, nel dare forma ed anche nel creare il contenuto ed il messaggio delle mostre stesse.

2. La partecipazione dei visitatori alle mostre museali: un risultato aperto

L’approccio al design applicato alle tecnologie museali, incentrato sul rendere possibile e sul facilitare la partecipazione attiva dei visitatori, per plasmare e creare il contenuto, e per collaborare ad una mostra, è stato solitamente meno applicato all’interno dei musei più tradizionali. Infatti, molte installazioni tecnologicamente in voga (cfr. Sparacino et al., 2000), sebbene utilizzino nuovi input e meccanismi di output che permettono alcuni gradi di interazione innovativa, si basano ancora sull’assunto che i fruitori richiedono e desiderano ricevere più informazioni. In ogni caso, numerosi esempi di installazioni che risultano essere aperte alla partecipazione attiva dei visitatori sono stati adottati con successo.
Heath ed altri (2002), e Hindmarsh ed altri (2002), hanno trattato in maniera approfondita le ecologie della partecipazione che circondano le esibizioni a basso contenuto tecnologico, in cui i visitatori possono visivamente divenire parte del contesto in cui si muovono, come le mostre “Deus Oculi” e “Ghost Ship”. Il principale obiettivo di queste mostre è quello di incoraggiare e suscitare episodi di socializzazione interattiva e di comunicazione durante una mostra, rendendo i visitatori parte integrante della mostra stessa, e di attrarre l’interesse degli accompagnatori e di coloro che osservano.
Altri esempi mettono in evidenza la possibilità per i visitatori di modellare la mostra in altri modi. I visitatori del Memory Exhibition, all’interno dell’Exploratorium di San Francisco, possono contribuire tramite le loro storie al corpo delle informazioni associate alla mostra (www.exploratorium.edu/memory/index.html). Su un tema simile, Lane e Parry (2003) descrivono una installazione per supportare la rievocazione e l’esternazione dei ricordi personali dei fruitori del British Museum. Quale parte di un’altra mostra scientifica e tecnologica presso il centro culturale “The Ark” di Dublino, l’esposizione “Ternaria” (Vaucelle et al., 2005) fu progettata per incoraggiare i visitatori a creare un loro proprio contenuto, immortalando le proprie performance durante lo svolgimento di un gioco. Più comunemente, alcune esposizioni rendono possibili diversi gradi di attività dei visitatori e la creazione di ricordi personalizzati della loro visita, ma non consentono di contribuire in maniera esplicita al contenuto della mostra stessa (Mullen e Tuohy, 2002).
Emerge, da questi esempi, che un approccio che sia aperto alla partecipazione dei visitatori è sovente adottato quando si realizzano mostre all’interno di musei interattivi, come gli exploratoria e i centri scientifici, mentre viene utilizzato con meno frequenza all’interno delle gallerie “tradizionali”, che espongono artefatti artistici e oggetti antichi. La discussione principale sorta intorno all’introduzione di questo tipo di approccio nei contesti più tradizionali riguarda la nozione della paternità dei contenuti: i musei tendono ad assumere una veste di autorità – un ruolo di fonte ufficiale – quando veicolano informazioni sul loro patrimonio. L’interpretazione del significato di un dato oggetto, mostrata, ad esempio, su uno schermo, è decisa a priori dal team curatoriale, e quindi la narrazione che viene presentata ai visitatori non è effettivamente aperta né alla messa in discussione né a contributi esterni. L’arte interattiva ha prodotto interessanti riflessioni sulle pratiche collaborative nella progettazione di mostre e sulla questione della paternità dei contenuti (Diamond, 2005), riflessioni rappresentate da oggetti che sono esplicitamente progettati per creare il coinvolgimento attivo dei visitatori (Giaccardi, 2005). Questo approccio, in ogni caso, lo si trova più raramente all’interno dei musei d’arte tradizionali.
Noi riteniamo che questo tipo di approccio sia efficace in quanto fa affidamento sulla curiosità e sull’interesse per un argomento da parte dei visitatori, e allo stesso tempo ripaga il loro coinvolgimento attivo e la loro riflessione. Avere la possibilità di esprimere le proprie idee ed i propri sentimenti, rende i visitatori molto più partecipi dell’esperienza che stanno vivendo, piuttosto che limitarsi ad essere degli osservatori passivi di qualcosa che è distante e immutabile. Alcune strategie di coinvolgimento sono state applicate per molti anni dagli operatori didattici museali e dai docenti, e questo rafforza la nostra convinzione che l’uso di tecnologie appropriate possa incarnare un simile approccio e possa funzionare con successo, in unione con la presenza di una guida fisica durante la visita – qualora fosse necessario.
Nel nostro lavoro di ricerca, abbiamo voluto stimolare il coinvolgimento dei visitatori, la riflessione e l’apprezzamento della mostra, fornendo un supporto alla loro partecipazione attiva, contribuendo alla definizione del contenuto della mostra, sia nei contesti prestabiliti dei musei d’arte, sia all’interno di spazi espositivi più informali. Nel paragrafo seguente saranno presentati due esempi: una mostra interattiva ospitata all’interno di una collezione d’oggetti d’arte e d’antichità, e una installazione interattiva sul tema del patrimonio irlandese, che è stata esposta all’interno di un aeroporto internazionale.

3. Il design per la partecipazione: l’approccio dello “user-centred” design

Il nostro lavoro riguarda la progettazione di due mostre, guidata da un approccio “user” e “activity-centred” (Bannon, 2005): lo sviluppo degli scenari d’uso e delle professioni tecnologiche è costantemente supportato da studi approfonditi su gli utilizzatori finali, le loro attività e il più vasto contesto nel quale essi sono inseriti. Per sviluppare una più accurata comprensione di questi temi, abbiamo adottato delle metodologie finalizzate non solo alla raccolta di informazioni sul modo in cui i visitatori si muovono attraverso lo spazio espositivo, su quali oggetti preferiscono tra quegli esposti, e su che tipo di informazioni ricercano su quegli stessi oggetti; ma abbiamo anche indagato in che modo i visitatori comunicano tra loro durante la visita alla mostra, e su come attribuiscono un senso a ciò che vedono. Crediamo che dare un significato a ciò che si vede sia strettamente correlato al luogo, o al modo in cui l’ambiente fisico è vissuto ed esperito dalla gente: la qualità del layout fisico di una mostra diviene una componente importante del modo in cui le persone associano determinati significati alla mostra stessa (Ciolfi e Bannon, 2007). La gamma dei metodi utilizzati comprende: osservazioni, interviste, sessioni con materiali creativi e percorsi attraverso le mostre (Ciolfi, 2007b).
I dati raccolti durante questa fase iniziale del processo di design sono stati analizzati al fine di estrapolare quegli aspetti rilevanti che riguardano l’esperienza del fruitore, che possono essere stimolati ed amplificati attraverso il design stesso. Oltre a mettere in evidenza come la tecnologia possa contribuire alla trasmissione del particolare significato di un museo ai suoi visitatori, abbiamo considerato anche come i punti di vista ed i pensieri dei fruitori possano essere rappresentati, e come la tecnologia possa agire da facilitatore in questo caso. Abbiamo adottato metodi di “Participatory Design”, coinvolgendo esperti museali, operatori didattici, volontari e semplici visitatori nelle discussioni e nella valutazione dei prototipi, per integrare le loro visioni e i loro interessi nel processo di progettazione. Il Participatory Design è stato recentemente applicato nella progettazione di una serie di installazioni interattive, al fine di includere un ampio gruppo di stakeholder nella progettazione stessa (cfr. Taxén, 2004).
Questo approccio è stato applicato in entrambi i casi presentati in questo articolo: nella mostra “Re-Tracing the Past”, e nell’installazione “The Shannon Portal”.

3.1 Caso 1: “Re-Tracing the Past”

“Re-Tracing the Past” è stata progettata e sviluppata per l’ “Hunt Museum” di Limerick in Irlanda: una collezione privata ed eclettica, l’Hunt Museum raccoglie una grande varietà di manufatti, inclusi numerosi oggetti, il cui significato non è mai stato completamente interpretato. L’approccio del Museo per ciò che concerne la comunicazione della collezione è quello di promuovere un dibattito ed una discussione tra i visitatori, e di facilitare questo aspetto attraverso l’aiuto volontario ed informale, fornito dai docenti dell’Hunt Museum. L’obiettivo del nostro lavoro con l’Hunt Museum è stato quello di accrescere l’ethos ed il messaggio veicolato dal Museo attraverso un’esperienza interattiva, in cui le opinioni personali dei visitatori potessero divenire parte della mostra (Bannon et al., 2005).
“Re-Tracing the Past” supporta l’esplorazione di quattro degli oggetti “misteriosi” presenti nel Museo, attraverso due ambienti interamente interattivi, una “Study Room” ed una “Room of Opinion”, entrambe dotate di numerose componenti interattive. La mostra è ospitata all’interno della galleria dell’Hunt Museum dedicata alle mostre temporanee, accessibile dalle altre gallerie principali (Ferris et al., 2004). “The Study Room” è l’ambiente in cui è possibile scoprire le informazioni già note sugli oggetti: l’Interactive Desk fornisce informazioni sulla provenienza geografica dei manufatti; l’Interactive Trunk mostra ai visitatori il luogo in cui ogni singolo oggetto è stato ritrovato; l’Interactive Painting proietta informazioni visive e sonore sulle qualità dei materiali con cui i manufatti sono stati realizzati. Nella “Room of Opinion”, i visitatori possono creare una registrazione sonora delle proprie opinioni riguardo gli oggetti e conservarla per i visitatori futuri, contribuendo così in maniera attiva alla mostra e allo sviluppo di un corpo di informazioni, che sono state prodotte dal vivo all’interno del contesto di “Re-Tracing the Past”, e non precedentemente pre-confezionate. L’insieme delle opinioni è una rappresentazione tangibile della discussione e del dibattito che circonda gli oggetti del museo, ed è messo a disposizione dei visitatori attraverso una Interactive Radio, dove la gente può navigare tra tutte le registrazioni audio e ascoltare le esperienze ed i pensieri degli altri partecipanti. Ogni installazione interattiva può essere esplorata con delle RFID-enabled keycards, che rappresentano gli oggetti misteriosi. Lo staff del Museo e i volontari sono invitati a loro volta a registrare le proprie opinioni riguardo gli oggetti, e in questo modo l’Interactive Radio diviene una rappresentazione delle differenti voci che sono presenti all’interno del Museo: visitatori, staff, docenti e curatori.
I due spazi sono dotati di caratteristiche progettuali molto diverse che suggeriscono differenti attività: la Study Room è il luogo in cui le informazioni possono essere recuperate e messe insieme, mentre la Room of Opinion è il luogo in cui avviene la riflessione. Tutte le installazioni sono progettate per supportare una interazione collettiva e una scoperta collaborativa.
Le registrazioni sono apprezzate dalla gente come ricordi della loro visita, come tracce della loro presenza e delle loro azioni nello spazio. Le persone desiderano registrare le proprie opinioni, come segno dei loro sforzi per ricercare e capire gli oggetti misteriosi. Le registrazioni sono trattate come nuove fonti di informazioni per arricchire l’indagine di qualcun’altro sugli oggetti, diventando così importanti tasselli per le nuove esplorazioni: la gente è interessata ad ascoltare i commenti degli altri visitatori e i propri, con lo scopo di trarne altre idee e suggestioni per innescare ulteriori riflessioni sugli oggetti. Allo stesso modo, le opinioni registrate divengono per i partecipanti la prova tangibile del loro lavoro di investigazione, e non semplicemente della loro presenza. Essi apprezzano il fatto che il loro contributo possa essere utile agli altri, sia perché ben fondato e plausibile, sia perché divertente e fantasioso.
Le registrazioni funzionano anche come potenti stimoli per l’interazione sociale e la collaborazione all’interno di “Re-Trancing the Past”: sia gli accompagnatori che gli estranei potrebbero intrattenere delle discussioni mentre ascoltano le registrazioni già presenti o ne realizzano delle nuove. L’attività di rivelare i propri pensieri personali e le proprie idee, sembra stimolare l’interazione sociale molto più che l’attività di recuperare informazioni pre-confezionate sugli oggetti, utilizzando le altre componenti interattive di “Re-Tracing the Past”. Collaborazione e discussione hanno luogo sia tra i visitatori, che tra i visitatori e i membri del personale del museo, che frequentano regolarmente la mostra.
Complessivamente la possibilità di contribuire all’esposizione, e più in generale al museo, permette alti livelli di coinvolgimento e connessione tra i visitatori e l’Hunt Museum, senza sostituire il ruolo del museo stesso, quale “voce esperta” in riferimento agli oggetti esposti.

3.2 Caso 2: “The Shannon Portal”

La seconda mostra, “The Shannon Portal”, è stata progettata per l’aeroporto internazionale Shannon, nella County Clare in Irlanda. L’obiettivo dell’installazione è quello di ampliare il ruolo dell’aeroporto quale fulcro di connessioni, dando la possibilità ai fruitori di creare il contenuto di ciò che dovrebbe essere una testimonianza dei loro viaggi e delle loro esperienze, compiuti nella zona occidentale dell’Irlanda. “The Portal” offre la possibilità ai partecipanti di realizzare delle “e-cards” – delle cartoline elettroniche – utilizzando le proprie fotografie delle località e dei monumenti dell’area, di commentarle con la scrittura di un messaggio personale e di inviarle gratuitamente per email in tutto il mondo.
I partecipanti possono anche decidere di “donare” le foto con i loro messaggi ad una galleria d’immagini pubblica, esposta nella sala d’aspetto dell’aeroporto, che costituisce così un ricordo visivo dei loro viaggi e del patrimonio paesaggistico che hanno visitato. La galleria pubblica di immagini viene mostrata su di un “Image Wall”, che i visitatori possono esplorare, guidati dai movimenti del corpo: un sistema visivo computerizzato rileva la presenza della gente di fronte ad una determinata sezione dell’Image Wall, e successivamente invia un segnale (un input) ad una lente d’ingrandimento virtuale e digitale, che si sposta in corrispondenza della posizione della persona, così da selezionare le immagini che possono essere viste più chiaramente.
Il progetto di “The Shannon Portal” prende spunto dagli studi sulle attività della gente all’interno degli aeroporti, e in particolare dai racconti di viaggio che i passeggeri si scambiano mentre sono in questi luoghi: l’aeroporto è il luogo in cui i viaggi e le visite ad interessanti aree del paese, sono raccontati a parenti, amici, e qualche volte ad estranei. Il nostro obiettivo è stato progettare un’installazione interattiva che potesse intrattenere e coinvolgere i passeggeri che aspettano. Il tema del patrimonio irlandese è sembrato appropriato al particolare contesto della mostra. Il design fisico di “The Portal”, che rappresenta l’ingresso di un dolmen, riflette questo tema: i dolmen sono monumenti neolitici molto diffusi nell’Irlanda occidentale, che rappresentano il fulcro e la memoria delle comunità delle ere preistoriche (Ciolfi et al., 2007).
Come per “Re-Tracing the Past”, i contenuti personalizzati sono visti dai visitatori come un ricordo della loro presenza e del loro viaggio. I partecipanti caricano le fotografie dei posti che hanno visitato, delle persone con cui hanno viaggiato ed anche degli aeroporti che hanno attraversato durante il tragitto. Li diverte la possibilità di rendere visibile agli altri le loro esperienze. Come all’interno del museo, i contenuti personalizzati diventano uno stimolo all’interazione sociale, e un punto di partenza per delle conversazioni sia tra compagni di viaggio, sia tra persone che non si conoscono, riguardo i luoghi e i monumenti visti e le esperienze di viaggio vissute in Irlanda. In modo interessante, i partecipanti hanno spiegato come le foto commentate hanno fornito loro altre prospettive degli stessi luoghi, o altri punti di riferimento, e altre visioni dell’aeroporto, come per esempio quelle espresse attraverso le foto caricate dai membri dello staff dell’aeroporto.
La creazione collettiva dei contenuti è anche un fenomeno ricorrente nell’ambito di “The Portal”: le famiglie e i gruppi creano in maniera collettiva messaggi e disegni sia da inviare via email ad amici, sia come contributo alla collezione di immagini che compongo l’Image Wall. L’aspetto partecipativo dell’interazione stimola, in particolare, un uso corale del sistema, nella forma di gruppi di fruitori che si divertono ad inventare messaggi divertenti e vignette, e a comporre insieme bigliettini per i loro cari.

4. Discussione

Entrambi i casi analizzati mostrano come la partecipazione dei visitatori alla creazione del contenuto di una mostra abbia ripercussioni non solo sull’aspetto e sul risultato finale di ogni singola mostra, ma anche sui pattern di interazione che occorre attivare.
L’interazione sociale, in particolare, è notevolmente influenzata dalla capacità delle persone di fornire contributi diretti: ciò accade allo stesso modo sia in “Re-Tracing the Past” sia in “The Shannon Portal”, sebbene i due scenari – quello del museo e quello dell’aeroporto – forniscano spunti per differenti temi di discussione.
Nel caso di “Re-Tracing the Past”, le opinioni dei visitatori sono dei veri e propri input per riflessioni sulla natura delle esposizioni museali in generale: i visitatori che sono coinvolti nell’elaborazione delle proprie teorie, si appassionano agli argomenti di discussione legati al modo in cui le esposizioni museali sono create ed allestite. Riguardo a ciò, progettare per interagire non significa semplicemente soddisfare il bisogno di innovazione tecnologica per il patrimonio culturale, ma rispondere anche alla necessità che i musei o altri siti hanno, di rendere possibile un ruolo sempre più attivo da parte dei loro fruitori. I visitatori possono vedere i musei e le mostre come luoghi che presentano una molteplicità di voci, di punti di vista.
Un importante aspetto che è stato necessario considerare durante lo sviluppo del design per entrambe le mostre, è stato il rischio che alcuni visitatori potessero produrre dei contenuti non appropriati. Al fine di minimizzare il rischio che ciò potesse realizzarsi, abbiamo posizionato nello spazio un sistema di monitor che permettesse al personale del museo e dell’aeroporto di monitorare con facilità ciò che veniva mostrato nel corso delle mostre, e di eliminare i contributi inappropriati. In ogni caso, questo tipo di contenuti sono apparsi molto raramente, ed è stato possibile intervenire senza nessun ulteriore sforzo da parte del personale. L’ambientazione pubblica delle mostre comporta che a partire da un contributo reputato non pertinente, si possa facilmente risalire alla persona che l’ha creato, e questa dimensione di visibilità funziona da deterrente.

5. Conclusioni

In questo articolo abbiamo discusso dell’approccio “user e activity-centred”, applicato al design di mostre interattive, che si focalizza sulla possibilità data ai partecipanti di contribuire attivamente alle mostre attraverso la produzione di contenuti personali. Riteniamo che le nuove tecnologie possano effettivamente essere usate per supportare una partecipazione più attiva dei visitatori, andando oltre le installazioni che – sebbene in modi tecnologicamente sofisticati – offrono semplicemente informazioni pre-confezionate.
Abbiamo descritto l’impatto principale che il contributo dei visitatori ha non solo sul layout e sul design delle mostre, ma anche – ed in maniera più rivelante – sulle modalità di interazione che si verificano in questi ambiti: i contributi sono potenti mezzi per coinvolgere i visitatori nella mostra e per sviluppare un senso di appartenenza e attaccamento. E l’interazione sociale e la produzione collettiva di contenuti sono, a loro volta, influenzati dalla capacità dei visitatori di contribuire alla mostra stessa.

Ringraziamenti

“The Shannon Portal” è stata sviluppata come parte del progetto di ricerca “Shared Worlds”, finanziato dalla Science Foundation Irland. “Re-Tracing the Past” è stato sviluppato all’interno del EU FET “SHAPE” Project, in collaborazione con il Royal Institute of Technology (Stoccolma, Svezia), il King’s College London e l’University of Nottingham (UK). Un ringraziamento particolare va al personale e ai visitatori dell’Hunt Museum e dell’International Airport di Shannon, e a tutti i colleghi dell’IDC che hanno partecipato al progetto.

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Diamond, S. (2005), “Participation, Flow, and the Redistribution of Authorship:The Challenges of Collaborative Exchange and New Media Curatorial Practice”, Proceedings of Museums and the Web2005, Archives and Museums Informatics.
Ferris, K., Bannon, L., Ciolfi, L., Gallagher, P., Hall, T. and Lennon, M. (2004), “Shaping Experiences in the Hunt Museum: A Design Case Study”, Proceedings of DIS04, Boston, August 2004.
Giaccardi, E. (2005), “Mediators in Visual Interaction: An Analysis of the “Poietic Generator” and “Open Studio””, Journal of Visual Languages and Computing, Vol. 17, Issue 5 October 2006, Pages 398-429
Grinter, R. E., Aoki, P.M., Hurst, A., Szymanski, M.H., Thornton, J.D. and Woodruff, A. (2002), “Revisiting the Visit: Understanding How Technology Can Shape the Museum Visit”, in Proceedings of the ACM Conf. on Computer Supported Cooperative Work. New Orleans, LA, Nov. 2002, 146-155.
Hall, T. and Bannon, L. (2006), “Designing ubiquitous computing to enhance children’s learning in museums”, Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 22 (4), pp. 231-243.
Heath, C., Luff, P., vom Lehn, D., Hindmarsh, J. and Cleverly, J. (2002), “Crafting participation: designing ecologies, configuring experience”, Visual Communication, Vol. 1, No. 1, 9-33 (2002), SAGE Publications
Hindmarsh, J., Heath, H., vom Lehn, D. and Cleverly, J. (2002), “Creating assemblies:: aboard the Ghost Ship”, Proceedings of the 2002 ACM conference on Computer supported cooperative work, New Orleans, Louisiana, USA, Pages: 156 – 165
Lane, C. and Parry, N. (2003), “The Memory Machine: Sound and Memory at the British Museum”, Proceedings of ICHIM03, Archives and Museums Informatics
Marti, P. (2001), “Design for Art and Leisure”, in Procedings of ICHIM01, International Cultural Heritage Informatics Meeting, Bearman, D. and F. Garzotto (Eds.). Philadelphia: Archives and Museums Informatics. Mullen, E., and Tuohy, P. (2002), “Exhibiting Communications: Digital Narratives at the National Library of Medicine”, Proceedings of Museums and the Web 2002, Archives and Museums Informatics
Sparacino, F., Davenport, G. and Pentland, A. (2000), “Media in performance: Interactive spaces for dance, theater, circus, and museum exhibits”. IBM Systems Journal, Vol 39, Nos. 3&4. P. 479-510
Taxén, G. (2004), “Introducing participatory design in museums”, Proceedings of the eighth conference on Participatory design: Artful integration: interweaving media, materials and practices, Volume 1, Toronto, Ontario, Canada, Pages: 204 – 213
Vaucelle, C., Gorman, M.J., Clancy, A., Tangney, B. (2005), “Re-thinking real time video making for the museum exhibition space”, Proceedings of ACM SIGGRAPH 2005
Vom Lehn, D., Heath, C. and Hindmarsh, J. (2001), “Exhibiting Interaction: Conduct and Collaboration in Museums and Galleries”, Symbolic Interaction, Vol. 24, No. 2, Pages 189-216




Abstract
In this paper we discuss our approach to designing two public exhibitions, where our goal has been that of facilitating and supporting visitors’ own contributions to the exhibits. The approach behind our work sees the role of technology that is supporting people’s experiences of heritage as moving away from delivery of information, and towards enabling visitors to create the content of the exhibit. This approach is aimed at encouraging active reflection, discussion and appropriation, in the tradition of human-centred interaction design. In the paper we present two installations, “Re-Tracing the Past” and the “Shannon Portal”. The former was aimed at supporting visitors’ experiences of a museum collection; the latter had the goal of encouraging visitors and travelers to share their experiences of Ireland. We then discuss the impact of this design strategy, and analyse the role of visitors’ contributions to each exhibit, and the particular interactions between participants, the content they produced and other people’s contributions that took place around the two exhibits.
Keywords: interaction design, participation, visitor contributions,

1. Introduction: Interaction Design for Museums and Exhibitions
This paper discusses the importance of designing interactive exhibits that allow for visitors’ direct participation and contribution, from the perspective of human-centred interaction design. We present an overview of research featuring a participative approach to exhibition design, highlighting the relevant issues that have emerged in the field, and we present two examples of interactive exhibitions that we have designed with an explicit concern for visitors’ participation. Finally, we discuss the positive outcomes that such a design approach has led to regarding both examples.
The fields of Human-Computer Interaction, Computer-Supported Cooperative Work and more recently, Interaction Design, have paid considerable attention to issues related to the introduction of technology within museums and exhibition spaces. Concerns regarding the usability, usefulness and educational value of technological museum interventions have been raised, both regarding the design and production of these tools and the evaluation of their use by museum visitors (Marti, 2001; Grinter et al., 2002). Examples of interventions that have been developed in the past number of years include interactive information points, mobile digital visitors guides and interactive exhibitions. As well as reflecting on the qualities that such installations should feature from the point of view of their design, several issues surrounding the problematic nature of overlaying digital content over museum artifacts have also been discussed, including the impact on the social nature of the museum visit (vom Lehn et al., 2001), the educational value of the installations (Hall and Bannon, 2006), and their potential to support engagement and flow (Giaccardi, 2005). In other words, besides ensuring that a certain technological intervention responds to specific design guidelines both in terms of physical and of interface design, it is also necessary to reflect on how technology impacts on the museum experience as a whole.
For example, electronic museum guides have evolved from inflexible and isolating single user tools, into adaptive presentation devices, that can take into account social aspects of the visit as well as the visitor’s personal preferences and physical path (Woodfruff et al., 2002)
Interactive exhibits and interactive informational support to exhibits have changed from the format of a standard touch-screen terminal, which might distance visitors from the objects on display, to complex orchestrated performances, that can be aware of visitors’ presence and gaze, their actions and preferences (Sparacino et al., 2000; Barrass, 2001).
Therefore, as well as technical developments, Interaction Design disciplines have devoted significant reflections into conceptualizing higher-level issues when looking at the role of technology in the museum visit. Notable examples include vom Lehn at al.’s (2001) discussion of the role that visitors’ participation in the exhibit can have in supporting the social nature of the visit, and Chalmers and Galani (2002) study of visiting experience at different levels: exploring the complex interplay of the object, the technology and the different voices that come into play in the interpretation process.
The vast majority of this research, however has dealt extensively with technology that has the ultimate function of delivering information to visitors, albeit in sophisticated ways. A more recent development in interaction design for museums and exhibitions is that of designing for visitors’ participation and direct involvement in shaping, and even creating, the content and message of exhibits. In the following section, we will discuss some relevant examples.
2. Visitors’ Participation in Museum Exhibitions: Open Issues
The approach to design museum technologies that focuses on enabling and facilitating visitors to actively participate in shaping or creating the content, and in contributing to an exhibit, has been less commonly applied in traditional museums. In fact, many technologically cutting-edge installations (see for example Sparacino et al., 2000), although employing novel input and output mechanisms that allow for some degree of innovative interaction, still work on the assumption of the visitors requesting and being delivered more information. However, several examples of installations that are open to visitors’ active participation have been successfully deployed.
Heath et al. (2002) and Hindmarsh et al. (2002) have discussed in detail the ecologies of participation surrounding low-tech exhibits that visitors can visually become part of, such as “Deus Oculi” and “Ghost Ship”. The main goal of these exhibits is to encourage and engender episodes of social interaction and communication around an exhibit, making the visitors part of the exhibit itself, and thus drawing the interest of companions and onlookers.
Other examples feature the possibility for visitors to shape the exhibit in other ways. Visitors to the Memory Exhibition at the Exploratorium in San Francisco, can contribute with their own stories to the body of information associated with the exhibition (http://www.exploratorium.edu/memory/index.html). On a similar theme, Lane and Parry (2003) describe an installation to support the re-evocation and expression of personal memories of visitors at the British Museum. As part of another science and technology exhibition at “The Ark” cultural centre in Dublin, “Terraria” (Vaucelle et al., 2005) was designed to encourage visitors to create their own content by creating captures of their performance while playing a game.
More commonly, such exhibitions allow for some degree of visitors’ activity and for the creation of personalized “mementoes” of their visit, but not for an explicit contribution of content to the exhibition itself. For example, at the National Library of Medicine’s exhibit on female surgeons, visitors could create morse code message that could be sent to friends, but not be used as a direct contribution to exhibitions (Mullen and Tuohy, 2002).
From these examples, it emerges that an approach that is open to visitors’ contribution is more often adopted when designing exhibits in the context of hands-on museums, such as exploratoria and science centres, and it is less commonly found in “traditional” galleries exhibiting artistic artefacts and antiquities. The main issue surrounding the introduction of such an approach in this context is one of authorship: museums tend to assume a role of authority when it comes to providing information about their holdings. The interpretation of a certain object on display is decided a priori by the curatorial team, thus the narrative that is presented to visitors is not really open to challenges or external contributions. Interactive art has produced interesting reflections on collaborative practices in designing exhibitions, and on authorship issues ((Diamond, 2005), embodied by pieces that are explicitly designed to create active visitor engagement (Giaccardi, 2005). This approach however is more seldom found in more traditional art museums.
We believe this approach is effective because it relies on visitors’ curiosity and interest on a topic, and rewards their active engagement and reflection. Having the possibility of expressing their own ideas and feelings makes visitors connect strongly to what they experience, rather than just being passive observers of something that is detached and unchangeable. Such involvement strategies have been applied for many years by museum educators and docents, we feel that appropriate technologies can embody a similar approach and work successfully, also –if necessary- in conjunction with human facilitation and guidance during the visit.
In our research, we aim at supporting visitors’ engagement, reflection and appreciation of the exhibit by supporting their active participation in contributing to the content of the exhibition, both in the context of established art museums and of more informal exhibition spaces. In the following section we present two examples: an interactive exhibit for a museum housing a collection of art and antiquities, and an interactive installation on the theme of Irish heritage that was exhibited at an international airport.
3. Designing for Participation: User-Centred Design Approach
The work leading to the design of both exhibitions has been driven by a user and activity-centred approach (Bannon, 2005): the development of usage scenarios and technology demonstrators is constantly informed by in-depth studies of the end users, their activities and the broader context where they take place. In order to develop a thorough understanding of these issues, we adopt methodologies aimed at gathering information not only on how visitors physically move through the exhibition space, which exhibits they prefer, and what kind of information about them they seek; we also investigate how visitors communicate to each other around the exhibits and how they make sense of what they see. We believe that sense making is also tightly coupled with place, or how the physical environment is lived and experienced by people: the qualities of the physical layout of an exhibit become a factor of how the exhibits themselves are associated with meaning by people (Ciolfi and Bannon, 2007). The range of methods we employ include observations, interviews, inspirational materials sessions and walkthroughs (Ciolfi, 2007b).
The data gathered during this initial phase of the design process is analysed in order to extract relevant dimensions regarding the visitor experience, that design could support and augment. As well as pointing out how technology could aid the delivery of the museum’s own message to people, we also consider how visitors’ views and thoughts could be represented, and how technology could act as facilitator in this case.
Based on such findings, we conduct design sessions, where a number of emergent themes are discussed and developed into scenarios. We also adopt Participatory Design methods, involving museum experts, educators, volunteers and sample visitors in the discussions and evaluations of prototypes, in order to incorporate their views and concerns into the design process. PD has recently been applied to the design of a number of interactive installations in order to include a larger group of stakeholders into the process (see for example Taxén, 2004).
This approach was applied to both the cases we present in this paper: “Re-Tracing the Past” and the “Shannon Portal”.
3.1 Case 1: “Re-Tracing the Past”
“Re-Tracing the Past” was designed and developed for the Hunt Museum in Limerick, Ireland: a personal and eclectic collection, the Hunt Museum includes a great variety of artifacts, including a number of objects that have never been fully interpreted. The Museum’s approach to communicating the collection is that of fostering debate and discussion among visitors, and of facilitating this through informal volunteer help provided by the Hunt Museum Docents. The goal of our work with the Hunt Museum was to extend the Museum’s ethos and message through an interactive experience where visitors’ own opinions would become part of the exhibit (Bannon et al., 2005).

<insert ciolfiFig1.jpg here>
Fig. 1 Overview of “Re-Tracing the Past”: the Study Room (right) and the Room of Opinion (left)

“Re-Tracing the Past” supported the exploration of four of the Museum’s “mysterious” objects through two fully interactive environments, a “Study Room” and a “Room of Opinion”, both including several hands-on interactive components, and housed in the temporary exhibition gallery of the Hunt Museum, which is accessible from the main galleries (Ferris et al., 2004). “The Study Room” is where known information about the objects could be discovered: the Interactive Desk provided information on the geographical provenance of the artifacts; the Interactive Trunk showed visitors were each object was found; the Interactive Painting displayed visual and auditory information on the material qualities of the artifacts. In the “Room of Opinion”, the participants could record in voice their own theories and opinions regarding the objects and store them for future visitors, thus actively contributing to the exhibit and to the development of a body of information that was produced “live” in the context of “Re-Tracing the Past”, and not previously pre-packaged. The body of opinions was a perceivable representation of the discussion and debate that surrounded the museums objects, and it was made available to visitors through an Interactive Radio, where people could browse through the body of audio recordings and hear other participants’ experiences and thoughts. Each interactive installation could be explored thanks to RFID-enabled keycards representing the mysterious objects. The Museum staff and volunteers were also invited to record their opinions of the objects, so that the Interactive Radio became a representation of the different voices that are present in the Museum: visitors, staff, docents and curators
The design rationale for “Re-Tracing the Past” emerged from studies of the Hunt Museum exhibition policy and from the history of the collection, as well as from observations of visitors’ explorations in the museum. The museum encourages discussion and reflection around the objects. The information regarding the collection is kept intentionally minimal also in order to encourage the Docents’ personal support of visitors.
The two spaces had very different design qualities to suggest different activities: the Study Room is where information can be retrieved and pieced together, whilst the Room of Opinion is where reflection occurs (Fig. 1). All the installations were designed to support group interaction and collaborative discovery.
Visitors’ reactions to “Re-Tracing the Past” have been discussed elsewhere (Ferris et al, 2004); it is important however to point out the very important role that the creation of   recordings, visitors’ own contributions to the exhibition, have played in the overall experience of “Re-Tracing the Past”.
The recordings were appreciated by people as mementoes of their visit, as traces left of their presence and activities in the space. People were keen to make recordings of their opinions as a mark of their efforts in researching and understanding the mysterious objects.
The recordings were treated as new sources of information to inform one’s investigation of the objects, thus becoming important elements in new explorations: people were as interested in hearing other visitors’ comments as well as their own, in order to glean more ideas and suggestions to fuel further reflection on a object. Similarly, the recorded opinions become for participants perceivable representation of their investigation work, and not simply of their presence. They appreciated the fact that their contribution would be useful to others, whether because well-informed and plausible, or humorous and imaginative.
The recordings also worked as powerful triggers for social interaction and collaboration within “Re-Tracing the Past”: both companions and strangers would initiate discussions while listening to previous recordings or making new ones (Fig. 2). The activity of bringing forth personal thoughts and ideas seemed to stimulate social interaction more than the activity of retrieving pre-prepared information about the objects from the other interactive components of “Re-Tracing the past”. Collaboration and discussion took place both among visitors and between visitors and members of the museum staff who regularly attended the exhibition.

<insert ciolfiFig2.jpg here>
Fig. 2 Discussion among visitors while listening to recordings on the Interactive Radio

Overall the possibility of contributing to the exhibition, and more generally to the museum, led to high levels of engagement and connection between visitors and the Hunt Museum, without replacing the role of the museum as the “expert voice” regarding the objects.
3.2 Case 2: “The Shannon Portal”
The second exhibit, the “Shannon Portal”, was designed for Shannon International Airport in County Clare, Ireland. The goal of the installation was to extend the airport’s role as a connection hub, allowing users to create content that would document their travels and experiences in the West of Ireland. The “Portal” made it possible for participants to create “e-cards” of their own photographs of locations and monuments in the area, to annotate them with a personal hand-written message and email them for free around the world (Fig. 3).
<insert ciolfiFig3.jpg here>
Fig. 3 The Shannon Portal

Participants could also “donate” annotated photos to a public image gallery that was displayed in the airport’s transit lounge, which constituted a visual record of their journeys and of the heritage sites they had visited.
The public gallery of images was displayed on a “Image Wall” that visitors could browse, navigating by body movement: a computer vision system detected the presence of people in front of a particular portion of the Wall, and subsequently triggered a virtual digital magnifying glass to move in correspondence of the person’s position, so that annotated images could be viewed more clearly (see fig. 4).

<insert ciolfiFig4.jpg here>
Fig. 4 The Image Wall

The design of the Shannon Portal was informed by studies of people’s activities in the airport, and particularly by the travel stories that passengers exchange while in the space: the airport is where travels and visits to interesting parts of the country are recounted for family, friends and sometimes strangers. Our goal was to design an interactive installation that would entertain and engage waiting passengers. The theme of Irish heritage appeared appropriate to the particular context of the exhibit. The physical design of the Portal, in the shape of a portal dolmen, reflected this theme: dolmens are Neolithic monuments that can be found in high numbers in the West of Ireland, and that represented the focal point and memento of a community in prehistoric times (Ciolfi et al, 2007).
The Portal supported both private interactions (writing a message on a photo and emailing it privately) and public ones (adding one’s image to the Image Wall and exploring the Image Wall by moving in front of it) around content that the participants themselves had produced and personalized (Ciolfi, 2007a).
Similarly to “Re-Tracing the Past”, personalised content was viewed by visitors as a memento of their presence and of their journey. Participants uploaded photographs of the places they had visited, the people they traveled with and also of the airport they were going through at the time. They enjoyed the possibility of making their experience visible to others. As well as in the museum, personalised content was a trigger for social interaction, and a starting point for conversations among both traveling companions and strangers regarding the places and monuments visited and the experience of traveling around Ireland. Interestingly, participants commented on how the annotated photos provided them with other perspectives on the same places, or landmarks, and other views of the airport, such as for example those expressed in photos uploaded by airport staff members (Fig. 5).

<insert ciolfiFig5.jpg here>
Fig. 5 Discussion among staff and passengers while creating e-cards

Collaborative creation of content was also a recurrent phenomenon around the “Portal”: families and groups collaboratively created messages and drawings both for emailing to friends and for contributing to the image wall. The participative aspect of the interaction particularly encouraged collaborative use of the system, as groups of users enjoyed creating humorous messages and sketches, and composing notes for their loved ones together.

4. Discussion
Both cases showed how visitors’ participation in contributing to the exhibition content had repercussions not only on the appearance and layout of each exhibit, but on the patterns of interaction that occurred.
Social interaction, in particular, was greatly affected by people’s ability to make direct contributions: not only in terms of collaboration while creating the content, but also regarding the role that visitors’ contribution played in engendering reflection, discussion and debate around the exhibits. This happened equally in “Re-Tracing the Past” and the “Shannon Portal”, although the two settings of the museum and the airport supported different themes for discussion.
In the case of “Re-Tracing the Past”, visitors opinions were very effective triggers for reflections on the nature of museum exhibitions in general: visitors who were engaged in developing their own theory were keen in discussing issues related to how museum exhibitions are created and shaped. In this respect, designing for participation does not simply respond to the need for technological innovation in supporting cultural heritage, but also to the need of museums and other sites to allow for a more active visitors’ role.
Visitors were able to view museums and exhibits as places that represent multiple voices. In both cases, visitor contributions were seen as perceptible mementoes of one’s presence, thus increasing engagement with the exhibit.
One important issue that we had to consider in developing our design for both exhibits was the risk that some visitors might produce inappropriate content. In order to minimize the risk of this phenomenon happening, we put in place monitoring systems that would allow the museum and airport staff to easily monitor what was being displayed in the exhibition, and to delete inappropriate contributions. However, this kind of content appeared only very seldom, and could easily be dealt with without any major effort by staff. The public setting of the exhibitions meant that inappropriate content could easily be traced back to its creator, and this dimension of openness worked as a deterrent in this regard.
5. Conclusions
In this paper we have discussed a user and activity-centred approach to the design of interactive exhibitions that focuses on the possibility of participants actively contributing by producing personal content. We feel that novel technologies could be use effectively in supporting more active visitor participation, moving away from installations that –albeit in technologically sophisticated ways -simply deliver pre-packaged information.
We have exemplified this approach to design with the description of two cases, “Re-Tracing the Past” and “The Shannon Portal”. Both exhibitions have been designed and developed on the basic of in-depth studies of the broader context of the exhibit and of the activities taking place in each setting. The two examples show how this approach to design can be effective not only in informal exhibition spaces, but also in more traditional art museums.
We have described the main impact that visitor contributions had not only on the layout and designed features of the exhibitions, but also –and more importantly- on the patterns of interaction that occurred around them: the contributions were powerful ways of engaging visitors in the exhibition and creating a sense of belonging and attachment. Social interaction and collaborative production of content was also greatly affected by visitors’ ability to contribute to the exhibit. The two cases show how a participative approach to interactive systems design can be successful at a variety of levels, not least in triggering visitors’ reflections on the role and nature of museums and exhibitions.

Acknowledgements
The “Shannon Portal” has been developed as part of the “Shared Worlds” research project funded by Science Foundation Ireland. “Re-Tracing the Past” has been developed within the EU FET “SHAPE” Project, in collaboration with the Royal Institute of Technology (Stockholm, Sweden), King’s College London and the University of Nottingham (UK). Many thanks to staff and visitors at both the Hunt Museum and at Shannon International Airport, and to the many IDC colleagues who have participated in the projects.
References
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Barrass, S. (2001), “An Immersive Interactive Experience of Contemporary Aboriginal Dance at the National Museum of Australia”, in Proceedings of ICHIM01: International Cultural Heritage Meeting, Bearman, D. and F. Garzotto (Eds.), Archives and Museum Informatics.
Chalmers, M. and Galani, A. (2002), “Can you see me? Exploring co-visiting between physical and virtual visitors”, Proceedings of Museums and the Web 2002, Archives and Museum Informatics
Ciolfi, L. (2007a), “Supporting Affective Experiences of Place Through Interaction Design”, Co-Design, Volume 3, Issue S1 2007, pages 183 – 198
Ciolfi, L. (2007b), “Taking a walk: investigating personal paths in the museum space”, in Golightly, D., Rose, T., Wong, B.L.W., Light, A., CREATE07 – Proceedings of the Conference on Creative Inventions, Innovations and Everyday Designs in HCI, London, June 2007
Ciolfi, L. and Bannon L.J. (2007), “Designing Hybrid Places: merging interaction design, ubiquitous technologies and geographies of the museum space”, to appear in Co-Design, September 2007, in press.
Ciolfi, L., Fernström, M., Bannon, L.J., Deshpande, P., Gallagher, P., McGettrick, C., Quinn, N., and Shirley, S. (2007), “The Shannon Portal Installation: An Example of Interaction Design for Public Places”, IEEE Computer, July 2007, pp 65-72.
Diamond, S. (2005), “Participation, Flow, and the Redistribution of Authorship:The Challenges of Collaborative Exchange and New Media Curatorial Practice”, Proceedings of Museums and the Web2005, Archives and Museums Informatics.
Ferris, K., Bannon, L., Ciolfi, L., Gallagher, P., Hall, T. and Lennon, M. (2004), “Shaping Experiences in the Hunt Museum: A Design Case Study”, Proceedings of DIS04, Boston, August 2004.
Giaccardi, E. (2005), “Mediators in Visual Interaction: An Analysis of the “Poietic Generator” and “Open Studio””, Journal of Visual Languages and Computing, Vol. 17, Issue 5 October 2006, Pages 398-429
Grinter, R. E., Aoki, P.M., Hurst, A., Szymanski, M.H., Thornton, J.D. and Woodruff, A. (2002), “Revisiting the Visit: Understanding How Technology Can Shape the Museum Visit”, in Proceedings of the ACM Conf. on Computer Supported Cooperative Work. New Orleans, LA, Nov. 2002, 146-155.
Hall, T. and Bannon, L. (2006), “Designing ubiquitous computing to enhance children’s learning in museums”, Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 22 (4), pp. 231-243.
Heath, C., Luff, P., vom Lehn, D., Hindmarsh, J. and Cleverly, J. (2002), “Crafting participation: designing ecologies, configuring experience”, Visual Communication, Vol. 1, No. 1, 9-33 (2002), SAGE Publications
Hindmarsh, J., Heath, H., vom Lehn, D. and Cleverly, J. (2002), “Creating assemblies:: aboard the Ghost Ship”, Proceedings of the 2002 ACM conference on Computer supported cooperative work, New Orleans, Louisiana, USA, Pages: 156 – 165
Lane, C. and Parry, N. (2003), “The Memory Machine: Sound and Memory at the British Museum”, Proceedings of ICHIM03, Archives and Museums Informatics
Marti, P. (2001), “Design for Art and Leisure”, in Procedings of ICHIM01, International Cultural Heritage Informatics Meeting, Bearman, D. and F. Garzotto (Eds.). Philadelphia: Archives and Museums Informatics.
Mullen, E., and Tuohy, P. (2002), “Exhibiting Communications: Digital Narratives at the National Library of Medicine”, Proceedings of Museums and the Web 2002, Archives and Museums Informatics
Sparacino, F., Davenport, G. and Pentland, A. (2000), “Media in performance: Interactive spaces for dance, theater, circus, and museum exhibits”. IBM Systems Journal, Vol 39, Nos. 3&4. P. 479-510
Taxén, G. (2004), “Introducing participatory design in museums”, Proceedings of the eighth conference on Participatory design: Artful integration: interweaving media, materials and practices, Volume 1, Toronto, Ontario, Canada, Pages: 204 – 213
Vaucelle, C., Gorman, M.J., Clancy, A., Tangney, B. (2005), “Re-thinking real time video making for the museum exhibition space”, Proceedings of ACM SIGGRAPH 2005
Vom Lehn, D., Heath, C. and Hindmarsh, J. (2001), “Exhibiting Interaction: Conduct and Collaboration in Museums and Galleries”, Symbolic Interaction, Vol. 24, No. 2, Pages 189-216
Woodruff, A., Aoki, P. M., Grinter, R. E., Hurst, A., Szymanski, M. H. and Thornton, J. D. (2002), “Eavesdropping on Electronic Guidebooks: Observing Learning Resources in Shared Listening Environments”, in Proceedings of the 6th International Conference on Museums and the Web, Boston, MA, Apr. 2002, 21-30.Abstract
In this paper we discuss our approach to designing two public exhibitions, where our goal has been that of facilitating and supporting visitors’ own contributions to the exhibits. The approach behind our work sees the role of technology that is supporting people’s experiences of heritage as moving away from delivery of information, and towards enabling visitors to create the content of the exhibit. This approach is aimed at encouraging active reflection, discussion and appropriation, in the tradition of human-centred interaction design. In the paper we present two installations, “Re-Tracing the Past” and the “Shannon Portal”. The former was aimed at supporting visitors’ experiences of a museum collection; the latter had the goal of encouraging visitors and travelers to share their experiences of Ireland. We then discuss the impact of this design strategy, and analyse the role of visitors’ contributions to each exhibit, and the particular interactions between participants, the content they produced and other people’s contributions that took place around the two exhibits.
Keywords: interaction design, participation, visitor contributions,

1. Introduction: Interaction Design for Museums and Exhibitions
This paper discusses the importance of designing interactive exhibits that allow for visitors’ direct participation and contribution, from the perspective of human-centred interaction design. We present an overview of research featuring a participative approach to exhibition design, highlighting the relevant issues that have emerged in the field, and we present two examples of interactive exhibitions that we have designed with an explicit concern for visitors’ participation. Finally, we discuss the positive outcomes that such a design approach has led to regarding both examples.
The fields of Human-Computer Interaction, Computer-Supported Cooperative Work and more recently, Interaction Design, have paid considerable attention to issues related to the introduction of technology within museums and exhibition spaces. Concerns regarding the usability, usefulness and educational value of technological museum interventions have been raised, both regarding the design and production of these tools and the evaluation of their use by museum visitors (Marti, 2001; Grinter et al., 2002). Examples of interventions that have been developed in the past number of years include interactive information points, mobile digital visitors guides and interactive exhibitions. As well as reflecting on the qualities that such installations should feature from the point of view of their design, several issues surrounding the problematic nature of overlaying digital content over museum artifacts have also been discussed, including the impact on the social nature of the museum visit (vom Lehn et al., 2001), the educational value of the installations (Hall and Bannon, 2006), and their potential to support engagement and flow (Giaccardi, 2005). In other words, besides ensuring that a certain technological intervention responds to specific design guidelines both in terms of physical and of interface design, it is also necessary to reflect on how technology impacts on the museum experience as a whole.
For example, electronic museum guides have evolved from inflexible and isolating single user tools, into adaptive presentation devices, that can take into account social aspects of the visit as well as the visitor’s personal preferences and physical path (Woodfruff et al., 2002)
Interactive exhibits and interactive informational support to exhibits have changed from the format of a standard touch-screen terminal, which might distance visitors from the objects on display, to complex orchestrated performances, that can be aware of visitors’ presence and gaze, their actions and preferences (Sparacino et al., 2000; Barrass, 2001).
Therefore, as well as technical developments, Interaction Design disciplines have devoted significant reflections into conceptualizing higher-level issues when looking at the role of technology in the museum visit. Notable examples include vom Lehn at al.’s (2001) discussion of the role that visitors’ participation in the exhibit can have in supporting the social nature of the visit, and Chalmers and Galani (2002) study of visiting experience at different levels: exploring the complex interplay of the object, the technology and the different voices that come into play in the interpretation process.
The vast majority of this research, however has dealt extensively with technology that has the ultimate function of delivering information to visitors, albeit in sophisticated ways. A more recent development in interaction design for museums and exhibitions is that of designing for visitors’ participation and direct involvement in shaping, and even creating, the content and message of exhibits. In the following section, we will discuss some relevant examples.
2. Visitors’ Participation in Museum Exhibitions: Open Issues
The approach to design museum technologies that focuses on enabling and facilitating visitors to actively participate in shaping or creating the content, and in contributing to an exhibit, has been less commonly applied in traditional museums. In fact, many technologically cutting-edge installations (see for example Sparacino et al., 2000), although employing novel input and output mechanisms that allow for some degree of innovative interaction, still work on the assumption of the visitors requesting and being delivered more information. However, several examples of installations that are open to visitors’ active participation have been successfully deployed.
Heath et al. (2002) and Hindmarsh et al. (2002) have discussed in detail the ecologies of participation surrounding low-tech exhibits that visitors can visually become part of, such as “Deus Oculi” and “Ghost Ship”. The main goal of these exhibits is to encourage and engender episodes of social interaction and communication around an exhibit, making the visitors part of the exhibit itself, and thus drawing the interest of companions and onlookers.
Other examples feature the possibility for visitors to shape the exhibit in other ways. Visitors to the Memory Exhibition at the Exploratorium in San Francisco, can contribute with their own stories to the body of information associated with the exhibition (http://www.exploratorium.edu/memory/index.html). On a similar theme, Lane and Parry (2003) describe an installation to support the re-evocation and expression of personal memories of visitors at the British Museum. As part of another science and technology exhibition at “The Ark” cultural centre in Dublin, “Terraria” (Vaucelle et al., 2005) was designed to encourage visitors to create their own content by creating captures of their performance while playing a game.
More commonly, such exhibitions allow for some degree of visitors’ activity and for the creation of personalized “mementoes” of their visit, but not for an explicit contribution of content to the exhibition itself. For example, at the National Library of Medicine’s exhibit on female surgeons, visitors could create morse code message that could be sent to friends, but not be used as a direct contribution to exhibitions (Mullen and Tuohy, 2002).
From these examples, it emerges that an approach that is open to visitors’ contribution is more often adopted when designing exhibits in the context of hands-on museums, such as exploratoria and science centres, and it is less commonly found in “traditional” galleries exhibiting artistic artefacts and antiquities. The main issue surrounding the introduction of such an approach in this context is one of authorship: museums tend to assume a role of authority when it comes to providing information about their holdings. The interpretation of a certain object on display is decided a priori by the curatorial team, thus the narrative that is presented to visitors is not really open to challenges or external contributions. Interactive art has produced interesting reflections on collaborative practices in designing exhibitions, and on authorship issues ((Diamond, 2005), embodied by pieces that are explicitly designed to create active visitor engagement (Giaccardi, 2005). This approach however is more seldom found in more traditional art museums.
We believe this approach is effective because it relies on visitors’ curiosity and interest on a topic, and rewards their active engagement and reflection. Having the possibility of expressing their own ideas and feelings makes visitors connect strongly to what they experience, rather than just being passive observers of something that is detached and unchangeable. Such involvement strategies have been applied for many years by museum educators and docents, we feel that appropriate technologies can embody a similar approach and work successfully, also –if necessary- in conjunction with human facilitation and guidance during the visit.
In our research, we aim at supporting visitors’ engagement, reflection and appreciation of the exhibit by supporting their active participation in contributing to the content of the exhibition, both in the context of established art museums and of more informal exhibition spaces. In the following section we present two examples: an interactive exhibit for a museum housing a collection of art and antiquities, and an interactive installation on the theme of Irish heritage that was exhibited at an international airport.
3. Designing for Participation: User-Centred Design Approach
The work leading to the design of both exhibitions has been driven by a user and activity-centred approach (Bannon, 2005): the development of usage scenarios and technology demonstrators is constantly informed by in-depth studies of the end users, their activities and the broader context where they take place. In order to develop a thorough understanding of these issues, we adopt methodologies aimed at gathering information not only on how visitors physically move through the exhibition space, which exhibits they prefer, and what kind of information about them they seek; we also investigate how visitors communicate to each other around the exhibits and how they make sense of what they see. We believe that sense making is also tightly coupled with place, or how the physical environment is lived and experienced by people: the qualities of the physical layout of an exhibit become a factor of how the exhibits themselves are associated with meaning by people (Ciolfi and Bannon, 2007). The range of methods we employ include observations, interviews, inspirational materials sessions and walkthroughs (Ciolfi, 2007b).
The data gathered during this initial phase of the design process is analysed in order to extract relevant dimensions regarding the visitor experience, that design could support and augment. As well as pointing out how technology could aid the delivery of the museum’s own message to people, we also consider how visitors’ views and thoughts could be represented, and how technology could act as facilitator in this case.
Based on such findings, we conduct design sessions, where a number of emergent themes are discussed and developed into scenarios. We also adopt Participatory Design methods, involving museum experts, educators, volunteers and sample visitors in the discussions and evaluations of prototypes, in order to incorporate their views and concerns into the design process. PD has recently been applied to the design of a number of interactive installations in order to include a larger group of stakeholders into the process (see for example Taxén, 2004).
This approach was applied to both the cases we present in this paper: “Re-Tracing the Past” and the “Shannon Portal”.
3.1 Case 1: “Re-Tracing the Past”
“Re-Tracing the Past” was designed and developed for the Hunt Museum in Limerick, Ireland: a personal and eclectic collection, the Hunt Museum includes a great variety of artifacts, including a number of objects that have never been fully interpreted. The Museum’s approach to communicating the collection is that of fostering debate and discussion among visitors, and of facilitating this through informal volunteer help provided by the Hunt Museum Docents. The goal of our work with the Hunt Museum was to extend the Museum’s ethos and message through an interactive experience where visitors’ own opinions would become part of the exhibit (Bannon et al., 2005).

<insert ciolfiFig1.jpg here>
Fig. 1 Overview of “Re-Tracing the Past”: the Study Room (right) and the Room of Opinion (left)

“Re-Tracing the Past” supported the exploration of four of the Museum’s “mysterious” objects through two fully interactive environments, a “Study Room” and a “Room of Opinion”, both including several hands-on interactive components, and housed in the temporary exhibition gallery of the Hunt Museum, which is accessible from the main galleries (Ferris et al., 2004). “The Study Room” is where known information about the objects could be discovered: the Interactive Desk provided information on the geographical provenance of the artifacts; the Interactive Trunk showed visitors were each object was found; the Interactive Painting displayed visual and auditory information on the material qualities of the artifacts. In the “Room of Opinion”, the participants could record in voice their own theories and opinions regarding the objects and store them for future visitors, thus actively contributing to the exhibit and to the development of a body of information that was produced “live” in the context of “Re-Tracing the Past”, and not previously pre-packaged. The body of opinions was a perceivable representation of the discussion and debate that surrounded the museums objects, and it was made available to visitors through an Interactive Radio, where people could browse through the body of audio recordings and hear other participants’ experiences and thoughts. Each interactive installation could be explored thanks to RFID-enabled keycards representing the mysterious objects. The Museum staff and volunteers were also invited to record their opinions of the objects, so that the Interactive Radio became a representation of the different voices that are present in the Museum: visitors, staff, docents and curators
The design rationale for “Re-Tracing the Past” emerged from studies of the Hunt Museum exhibition policy and from the history of the collection, as well as from observations of visitors’ explorations in the museum. The museum encourages discussion and reflection around the objects. The information regarding the collection is kept intentionally minimal also in order to encourage the Docents’ personal support of visitors.
The two spaces had very different design qualities to suggest different activities: the Study Room is where information can be retrieved and pieced together, whilst the Room of Opinion is where reflection occurs (Fig. 1). All the installations were designed to support group interaction and collaborative discovery.
Visitors’ reactions to “Re-Tracing the Past” have been discussed elsewhere (Ferris et al, 2004); it is important however to point out the very important role that the creation of   recordings, visitors’ own contributions to the exhibition, have played in the overall experience of “Re-Tracing the Past”.
The recordings were appreciated by people as mementoes of their visit, as traces left of their presence and activities in the space. People were keen to make recordings of their opinions as a mark of their efforts in researching and understanding the mysterious objects.
The recordings were treated as new sources of information to inform one’s investigation of the objects, thus becoming important elements in new explorations: people were as interested in hearing other visitors’ comments as well as their own, in order to glean more ideas and suggestions to fuel further reflection on a object. Similarly, the recorded opinions become for participants perceivable representation of their investigation work, and not simply of their presence. They appreciated the fact that their contribution would be useful to others, whether because well-informed and plausible, or humorous and imaginative.
The recordings also worked as powerful triggers for social interaction and collaboration within “Re-Tracing the Past”: both companions and strangers would initiate discussions while listening to previous recordings or making new ones (Fig. 2). The activity of bringing forth personal thoughts and ideas seemed to stimulate social interaction more than the activity of retrieving pre-prepared information about the objects from the other interactive components of “Re-Tracing the past”. Collaboration and discussion took place both among visitors and between visitors and members of the museum staff who regularly attended the exhibition.

<insert ciolfiFig2.jpg here>
Fig. 2 Discussion among visitors while listening to recordings on the Interactive Radio

Overall the possibility of contributing to the exhibition, and more generally to the museum, led to high levels of engagement and connection between visitors and the Hunt Museum, without replacing the role of the museum as the “expert voice” regarding the objects.
3.2 Case 2: “The Shannon Portal”
The second exhibit, the “Shannon Portal”, was designed for Shannon International Airport in County Clare, Ireland. The goal of the installation was to extend the airport’s role as a connection hub, allowing users to create content that would document their travels and experiences in the West of Ireland. The “Portal” made it possible for participants to create “e-cards” of their own photographs of locations and monuments in the area, to annotate them with a personal hand-written message and email them for free around the world (Fig. 3).
<insert ciolfiFig3.jpg here>
Fig. 3 The Shannon Portal

Participants could also “donate” annotated photos to a public image gallery that was displayed in the airport’s transit lounge, which constituted a visual record of their journeys and of the heritage sites they had visited.
The public gallery of images was displayed on a “Image Wall” that visitors could browse, navigating by body movement: a computer vision system detected the presence of people in front of a particular portion of the Wall, and subsequently triggered a virtual digital magnifying glass to move in correspondence of the person’s position, so that annotated images could be viewed more clearly (see fig. 4).

<insert ciolfiFig4.jpg here>
Fig. 4 The Image Wall

The design of the Shannon Portal was informed by studies of people’s activities in the airport, and particularly by the travel stories that passengers exchange while in the space: the airport is where travels and visits to interesting parts of the country are recounted for family, friends and sometimes strangers. Our goal was to design an interactive installation that would entertain and engage waiting passengers. The theme of Irish heritage appeared appropriate to the particular context of the exhibit. The physical design of the Portal, in the shape of a portal dolmen, reflected this theme: dolmens are Neolithic monuments that can be found in high numbers in the West of Ireland, and that represented the focal point and memento of a community in prehistoric times (Ciolfi et al, 2007).
The Portal supported both private interactions (writing a message on a photo and emailing it privately) and public ones (adding one’s image to the Image Wall and exploring the Image Wall by moving in front of it) around content that the participants themselves had produced and personalized (Ciolfi, 2007a).
Similarly to “Re-Tracing the Past”, personalised content was viewed by visitors as a memento of their presence and of their journey. Participants uploaded photographs of the places they had visited, the people they traveled with and also of the airport they were going through at the time. They enjoyed the possibility of making their experience visible to others. As well as in the museum, personalised content was a trigger for social interaction, and a starting point for conversations among both traveling companions and strangers regarding the places and monuments visited and the experience of traveling around Ireland. Interestingly, participants commented on how the annotated photos provided them with other perspectives on the same places, or landmarks, and other views of the airport, such as for example those expressed in photos uploaded by airport staff members (Fig. 5).

<insert ciolfiFig5.jpg here>
Fig. 5 Discussion among staff and passengers while creating e-cards

Collaborative creation of content was also a recurrent phenomenon around the “Portal”: families and groups collaboratively created messages and drawings both for emailing to friends and for contributing to the image wall. The participative aspect of the interaction particularly encouraged collaborative use of the system, as groups of users enjoyed creating humorous messages and sketches, and composing notes for their loved ones together.

4. Discussion
Both cases showed how visitors’ participation in contributing to the exhibition content had repercussions not only on the appearance and layout of each exhibit, but on the patterns of interaction that occurred.
Social interaction, in particular, was greatly affected by people’s ability to make direct contributions: not only in terms of collaboration while creating the content, but also regarding the role that visitors’ contribution played in engendering reflection, discussion and debate around the exhibits. This happened equally in “Re-Tracing the Past” and the “Shannon Portal”, although the two settings of the museum and the airport supported different themes for discussion.
In the case of “Re-Tracing the Past”, visitors opinions were very effective triggers for reflections on the nature of museum exhibitions in general: visitors who were engaged in developing their own theory were keen in discussing issues related to how museum exhibitions are created and shaped. In this respect, designing for participation does not simply respond to the need for technological innovation in supporting cultural heritage, but also to the need of museums and other sites to allow for a more active visitors’ role.
Visitors were able to view museums and exhibits as places that represent multiple voices. In both cases, visitor contributions were seen as perceptible mementoes of one’s presence, thus increasing engagement with the exhibit.
One important issue that we had to consider in developing our design for both exhibits was the risk that some visitors might produce inappropriate content. In order to minimize the risk of this phenomenon happening, we put in place monitoring systems that would allow the museum and airport staff to easily monitor what was being displayed in the exhibition, and to delete inappropriate contributions. However, this kind of content appeared only very seldom, and could easily be dealt with without any major effort by staff. The public setting of the exhibitions meant that inappropriate content could easily be traced back to its creator, and this dimension of openness worked as a deterrent in this regard.
5. Conclusions
In this paper we have discussed a user and activity-centred approach to the design of interactive exhibitions that focuses on the possibility of participants actively contributing by producing personal content. We feel that novel technologies could be use effectively in supporting more active visitor participation, moving away from installations that –albeit in technologically sophisticated ways -simply deliver pre-packaged information.
We have exemplified this approach to design with the description of two cases, “Re-Tracing the Past” and “The Shannon Portal”. Both exhibitions have been designed and developed on the basic of in-depth studies of the broader context of the exhibit and of the activities taking place in each setting. The two examples show how this approach to design can be effective not only in informal exhibition spaces, but also in more traditional art museums.
We have described the main impact that visitor contributions had not only on the layout and designed features of the exhibitions, but also –and more importantly- on the patterns of interaction that occurred around them: the contributions were powerful ways of engaging visitors in the exhibition and creating a sense of belonging and attachment. Social interaction and collaborative production of content was also greatly affected by visitors’ ability to contribute to the exhibit. The two cases show how a participative approach to interactive systems design can be successful at a variety of levels, not least in triggering visitors’ reflections on the role and nature of museums and exhibitions.

Acknowledgements
The “Shannon Portal” has been developed as part of the “Shared Worlds” research project funded by Science Foundation Ireland. “Re-Tracing the Past” has been developed within the EU FET “SHAPE” Project, in collaboration with the Royal Institute of Technology (Stockholm, Sweden), King’s College London and the University of Nottingham (UK). Many thanks to staff and visitors at both the Hunt Museum and at Shannon International Airport, and to the many IDC colleagues who have participated in the projects.
References
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Abstract
In this paper we discuss our approach to designing two public exhibitions, where our goal has been that of facilitating and supporting visitors’ own contributions to the exhibits. The approach behind our work sees the role of technology that is supporting people’s experiences of heritage as moving away from delivery of information, and towards enabling visitors to create the content of the exhibit. This approach is aimed at encouraging active reflection, discussion and appropriation, in the tradition of human-centred interaction design. In the paper we present two installations, “Re-Tracing the Past” and the “Shannon Portal”. The former was aimed at supporting visitors’ experiences of a museum collection; the latter had the goal of encouraging visitors and travelers to share their experiences of Ireland. We then discuss the impact of this design strategy, and analyse the role of visitors’ contributions to each exhibit, and the particular interactions between participants, the content they produced and other people’s contributions that took place around the two exhibits.
Keywords: interaction design, participation, visitor contributions,

1. Introduction: Interaction Design for Museums and Exhibitions
This paper discusses the importance of designing interactive exhibits that allow for visitors’ direct participation and contribution, from the perspective of human-centred interaction design. We present an overview of research featuring a participative approach to exhibition design, highlighting the relevant issues that have emerged in the field, and we present two examples of interactive exhibitions that we have designed with an explicit concern for visitors’ participation. Finally, we discuss the positive outcomes that such a design approach has led to regarding both examples.
The fields of Human-Computer Interaction, Computer-Supported Cooperative Work and more recently, Interaction Design, have paid considerable attention to issues related to the introduction of technology within museums and exhibition spaces. Concerns regarding the usability, usefulness and educational value of technological museum interventions have been raised, both regarding the design and production of these tools and the evaluation of their use by museum visitors (Marti, 2001; Grinter et al., 2002). Examples of interventions that have been developed in the past number of years include interactive information points, mobile digital visitors guides and interactive exhibitions. As well as reflecting on the qualities that such installations should feature from the point of view of their design, several issues surrounding the problematic nature of overlaying digital content over museum artifacts have also been discussed, including the impact on the social nature of the museum visit (vom Lehn et al., 2001), the educational value of the installations (Hall and Bannon, 2006), and their potential to support engagement and flow (Giaccardi, 2005). In other words, besides ensuring that a certain technological intervention responds to specific design guidelines both in terms of physical and of interface design, it is also necessary to reflect on how technology impacts on the museum experience as a whole.
For example, electronic museum guides have evolved from inflexible and isolating single user tools, into adaptive presentation devices, that can take into account social aspects of the visit as well as the visitor’s personal preferences and physical path (Woodfruff et al., 2002)
Interactive exhibits and interactive informational support to exhibits have changed from the format of a standard touch-screen terminal, which might distance visitors from the objects on display, to complex orchestrated performances, that can be aware of visitors’ presence and gaze, their actions and preferences (Sparacino et al., 2000; Barrass, 2001).
Therefore, as well as technical developments, Interaction Design disciplines have devoted significant reflections into conceptualizing higher-level issues when looking at the role of technology in the museum visit. Notable examples include vom Lehn at al.’s (2001) discussion of the role that visitors’ participation in the exhibit can have in supporting the social nature of the visit, and Chalmers and Galani (2002) study of visiting experience at different levels: exploring the complex interplay of the object, the technology and the different voices that come into play in the interpretation process.
The vast majority of this research, however has dealt extensively with technology that has the ultimate function of delivering information to visitors, albeit in sophisticated ways. A more recent development in interaction design for museums and exhibitions is that of designing for visitors’ participation and direct involvement in shaping, and even creating, the content and message of exhibits. In the following section, we will discuss some relevant examples.
2. Visitors’ Participation in Museum Exhibitions: Open Issues
The approach to design museum technologies that focuses on enabling and facilitating visitors to actively participate in shaping or creating the content, and in contributing to an exhibit, has been less commonly applied in traditional museums. In fact, many technologically cutting-edge installations (see for example Sparacino et al., 2000), although employing novel input and output mechanisms that allow for some degree of innovative interaction, still work on the assumption of the visitors requesting and being delivered more information. However, several examples of installations that are open to visitors’ active participation have been successfully deployed.
Heath et al. (2002) and Hindmarsh et al. (2002) have discussed in detail the ecologies of participation surrounding low-tech exhibits that visitors can visually become part of, such as “Deus Oculi” and “Ghost Ship”. The main goal of these exhibits is to encourage and engender episodes of social interaction and communication around an exhibit, making the visitors part of the exhibit itself, and thus drawing the interest of companions and onlookers.
Other examples feature the possibility for visitors to shape the exhibit in other ways. Visitors to the Memory Exhibition at the Exploratorium in San Francisco, can contribute with their own stories to the body of information associated with the exhibition (http://www.exploratorium.edu/memory/index.html). On a similar theme, Lane and Parry (2003) describe an installation to support the re-evocation and expression of personal memories of visitors at the British Museum. As part of another science and technology exhibition at “The Ark” cultural centre in Dublin, “Terraria” (Vaucelle et al., 2005) was designed to encourage visitors to create their own content by creating captures of their performance while playing a game.
More commonly, such exhibitions allow for some degree of visitors’ activity and for the creation of personalized “mementoes” of their visit, but not for an explicit contribution of content to the exhibition itself. For example, at the National Library of Medicine’s exhibit on female surgeons, visitors could create morse code message that could be sent to friends, but not be used as a direct contribution to exhibitions (Mullen and Tuohy, 2002).
From these examples, it emerges that an approach that is open to visitors’ contribution is more often adopted when designing exhibits in the context of hands-on museums, such as exploratoria and science centres, and it is less commonly found in “traditional” galleries exhibiting artistic artefacts and antiquities. The main issue surrounding the introduction of such an approach in this context is one of authorship: museums tend to assume a role of authority when it comes to providing information about their holdings. The interpretation of a certain object on display is decided a priori by the curatorial team, thus the narrative that is presented to visitors is not really open to challenges or external contributions. Interactive art has produced interesting reflections on collaborative practices in designing exhibitions, and on authorship issues ((Diamond, 2005), embodied by pieces that are explicitly designed to create active visitor engagement (Giaccardi, 2005). This approach however is more seldom found in more traditional art museums.
We believe this approach is effective because it relies on visitors’ curiosity and interest on a topic, and rewards their active engagement and reflection. Having the possibility of expressing their own ideas and feelings makes visitors connect strongly to what they experience, rather than just being passive observers of something that is detached and unchangeable. Such involvement strategies have been applied for many years by museum educators and docents, we feel that appropriate technologies can embody a similar approach and work successfully, also –if necessary- in conjunction with human facilitation and guidance during the visit.
In our research, we aim at supporting visitors’ engagement, reflection and appreciation of the exhibit by supporting their active participation in contributing to the content of the exhibition, both in the context of established art museums and of more informal exhibition spaces. In the following section we present two examples: an interactive exhibit for a museum housing a collection of art and antiquities, and an interactive installation on the theme of Irish heritage that was exhibited at an international airport.
3. Designing for Participation: User-Centred Design Approach
The work leading to the design of both exhibitions has been driven by a user and activity-centred approach (Bannon, 2005): the development of usage scenarios and technology demonstrators is constantly informed by in-depth studies of the end users, their activities and the broader context where they take place. In order to develop a thorough understanding of these issues, we adopt methodologies aimed at gathering information not only on how visitors physically move through the exhibition space, which exhibits they prefer, and what kind of information about them they seek; we also investigate how visitors communicate to each other around the exhibits and how they make sense of what they see. We believe that sense making is also tightly coupled with place, or how the physical environment is lived and experienced by people: the qualities of the physical layout of an exhibit become a factor of how the exhibits themselves are associated with meaning by people (Ciolfi and Bannon, 2007). The range of methods we employ include observations, interviews, inspirational materials sessions and walkthroughs (Ciolfi, 2007b).
The data gathered during this initial phase of the design process is analysed in order to extract relevant dimensions regarding the visitor experience, that design could support and augment. As well as pointing out how technology could aid the delivery of the museum’s own message to people, we also consider how visitors’ views and thoughts could be represented, and how technology could act as facilitator in this case.
Based on such findings, we conduct design sessions, where a number of emergent themes are discussed and developed into scenarios. We also adopt Participatory Design methods, involving museum experts, educators, volunteers and sample visitors in the discussions and evaluations of prototypes, in order to incorporate their views and concerns into the design process. PD has recently been applied to the design of a number of interactive installations in order to include a larger group of stakeholders into the process (see for example Taxén, 2004).
This approach was applied to both the cases we present in this paper: “Re-Tracing the Past” and the “Shannon Portal”.
3.1 Case 1: “Re-Tracing the Past”
“Re-Tracing the Past” was designed and developed for the Hunt Museum in Limerick, Ireland: a personal and eclectic collection, the Hunt Museum includes a great variety of artifacts, including a number of objects that have never been fully interpreted. The Museum’s approach to communicating the collection is that of fostering debate and discussion among visitors, and of facilitating this through informal volunteer help provided by the Hunt Museum Docents. The goal of our work with the Hunt Museum was to extend the Museum’s ethos and message through an interactive experience where visitors’ own opinions would become part of the exhibit (Bannon et al., 2005).

<insert ciolfiFig1.jpg here>
Fig. 1 Overview of “Re-Tracing the Past”: the Study Room (right) and the Room of Opinion (left)

“Re-Tracing the Past” supported the exploration of four of the Museum’s “mysterious” objects through two fully interactive environments, a “Study Room” and a “Room of Opinion”, both including several hands-on interactive components, and housed in the temporary exhibition gallery of the Hunt Museum, which is accessible from the main galleries (Ferris et al., 2004). “The Study Room” is where known information about the objects could be discovered: the Interactive Desk provided information on the geographical provenance of the artifacts; the Interactive Trunk showed visitors were each object was found; the Interactive Painting displayed visual and auditory information on the material qualities of the artifacts. In the “Room of Opinion”, the participants could record in voice their own theories and opinions regarding the objects and store them for future visitors, thus actively contributing to the exhibit and to the development of a body of information that was produced “live” in the context of “Re-Tracing the Past”, and not previously pre-packaged. The body of opinions was a perceivable representation of the discussion and debate that surrounded the museums objects, and it was made available to visitors through an Interactive Radio, where people could browse through the body of audio recordings and hear other participants’ experiences and thoughts. Each interactive installation could be explored thanks to RFID-enabled keycards representing the mysterious objects. The Museum staff and volunteers were also invited to record their opinions of the objects, so that the Interactive Radio became a representation of the different voices that are present in the Museum: visitors, staff, docents and curators
The design rationale for “Re-Tracing the Past” emerged from studies of the Hunt Museum exhibition policy and from the history of the collection, as well as from observations of visitors’ explorations in the museum. The museum encourages discussion and reflection around the objects. The information regarding the collection is kept intentionally minimal also in order to encourage the Docents’ personal support of visitors.
The two spaces had very different design qualities to suggest different activities: the Study Room is where information can be retrieved and pieced together, whilst the Room of Opinion is where reflection occurs (Fig. 1). All the installations were designed to support group interaction and collaborative discovery.
Visitors’ reactions to “Re-Tracing the Past” have been discussed elsewhere (Ferris et al, 2004); it is important however to point out the very important role that the creation of   recordings, visitors’ own contributions to the exhibition, have played in the overall experience of “Re-Tracing the Past”.
The recordings were appreciated by people as mementoes of their visit, as traces left of their presence and activities in the space. People were keen to make recordings of their opinions as a mark of their efforts in researching and understanding the mysterious objects.
The recordings were treated as new sources of information to inform one’s investigation of the objects, thus becoming important elements in new explorations: people were as interested in hearing other visitors’ comments as well as their own, in order to glean more ideas and suggestions to fuel further reflection on a object. Similarly, the recorded opinions become for participants perceivable representation of their investigation work, and not simply of their presence. They appreciated the fact that their contribution would be useful to others, whether because well-informed and plausible, or humorous and imaginative.
The recordings also worked as powerful triggers for social interaction and collaboration within “Re-Tracing the Past”: both companions and strangers would initiate discussions while listening to previous recordings or making new ones (Fig. 2). The activity of bringing forth personal thoughts and ideas seemed to stimulate social interaction more than the activity of retrieving pre-prepared information about the objects from the other interactive components of “Re-Tracing the past”. Collaboration and discussion took place both among visitors and between visitors and members of the museum staff who regularly attended the exhibition.

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Fig. 2 Discussion among visitors while listening to recordings on the Interactive Radio

Overall the possibility of contributing to the exhibition, and more generally to the museum, led to high levels of engagement and connection between visitors and the Hunt Museum, without replacing the role of the museum as the “expert voice” regarding the objects.
3.2 Case 2: “The Shannon Portal”
The second exhibit, the “Shannon Portal”, was designed for Shannon International Airport in County Clare, Ireland. The goal of the installation was to extend the airport’s role as a connection hub, allowing users to create content that would document their travels and experiences in the West of Ireland. The “Portal” made it possible for participants to create “e-cards” of their own photographs of locations and monuments in the area, to annotate them with a personal hand-written message and email them for free around the world (Fig. 3).
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Fig. 3 The Shannon Portal

Participants could also “donate” annotated photos to a public image gallery that was displayed in the airport’s transit lounge, which constituted a visual record of their journeys and of the heritage sites they had visited.
The public gallery of images was displayed on a “Image Wall” that visitors could browse, navigating by body movement: a computer vision system detected the presence of people in front of a particular portion of the Wall, and subsequently triggered a virtual digital magnifying glass to move in correspondence of the person’s position, so that annotated images could be viewed more clearly (see fig. 4).

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Fig. 4 The Image Wall

The design of the Shannon Portal was informed by studies of people’s activities in the airport, and particularly by the travel stories that passengers exchange while in the space: the airport is where travels and visits to interesting parts of the country are recounted for family, friends and sometimes strangers. Our goal was to design an interactive installation that would entertain and engage waiting passengers. The theme of Irish heritage appeared appropriate to the particular context of the exhibit. The physical design of the Portal, in the shape of a portal dolmen, reflected this theme: dolmens are Neolithic monuments that can be found in high numbers in the West of Ireland, and that represented the focal point and memento of a community in prehistoric times (Ciolfi et al, 2007).
The Portal supported both private interactions (writing a message on a photo and emailing it privately) and public ones (adding one’s image to the Image Wall and exploring the Image Wall by moving in front of it) around content that the participants themselves had produced and personalized (Ciolfi, 2007a).
Similarly to “Re-Tracing the Past”, personalised content was viewed by visitors as a memento of their presence and of their journey. Participants uploaded photographs of the places they had visited, the people they traveled with and also of the airport they were going through at the time. They enjoyed the possibility of making their experience visible to others. As well as in the museum, personalised content was a trigger for social interaction, and a starting point for conversations among both traveling companions and strangers regarding the places and monuments visited and the experience of traveling around Ireland. Interestingly, participants commented on how the annotated photos provided them with other perspectives on the same places, or landmarks, and other views of the airport, such as for example those expressed in photos uploaded by airport staff members (Fig. 5).

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Fig. 5 Discussion among staff and passengers while creating e-cards

Collaborative creation of content was also a recurrent phenomenon around the “Portal”: families and groups collaboratively created messages and drawings both for emailing to friends and for contributing to the image wall. The participative aspect of the interaction particularly encouraged collaborative use of the system, as groups of users enjoyed creating humorous messages and sketches, and composing notes for their loved ones together.

4. Discussion
Both cases showed how visitors’ participation in contributing to the exhibition content had repercussions not only on the appearance and layout of each exhibit, but on the patterns of interaction that occurred.
Social interaction, in particular, was greatly affected by people’s ability to make direct contributions: not only in terms of collaboration while creating the content, but also regarding the role that visitors’ contribution played in engendering reflection, discussion and debate around the exhibits. This happened equally in “Re-Tracing the Past” and the “Shannon Portal”, although the two settings of the museum and the airport supported different themes for discussion.
In the case of “Re-Tracing the Past”, visitors opinions were very effective triggers for reflections on the nature of museum exhibitions in general: visitors who were engaged in developing their own theory were keen in discussing issues related to how museum exhibitions are created and shaped. In this respect, designing for participation does not simply respond to the need for technological innovation in supporting cultural heritage, but also to the need of museums and other sites to allow for a more active visitors’ role.
Visitors were able to view museums and exhibits as places that represent multiple voices. In both cases, visitor contributions were seen as perceptible mementoes of one’s presence, thus increasing engagement with the exhibit.
One important issue that we had to consider in developing our design for both exhibits was the risk that some visitors might produce inappropriate content. In order to minimize the risk of this phenomenon happening, we put in place monitoring systems that would allow the museum and airport staff to easily monitor what was being displayed in the exhibition, and to delete inappropriate contributions. However, this kind of content appeared only very seldom, and could easily be dealt with without any major effort by staff. The public setting of the exhibitions meant that inappropriate content could easily be traced back to its creator, and this dimension of openness worked as a deterrent in this regard.
5. Conclusions
In this paper we have discussed a user and activity-centred approach to the design of interactive exhibitions that focuses on the possibility of participants actively contributing by producing personal content. We feel that novel technologies could be use effectively in supporting more active visitor participation, moving away from installations that –albeit in technologically sophisticated ways -simply deliver pre-packaged information.
We have exemplified this approach to design with the description of two cases, “Re-Tracing the Past” and “The Shannon Portal”. Both exhibitions have been designed and developed on the basic of in-depth studies of the broader context of the exhibit and of the activities taking place in each setting. The two examples show how this approach to design can be effective not only in informal exhibition spaces, but also in more traditional art museums.
We have described the main impact that visitor contributions had not only on the layout and designed features of the exhibitions, but also –and more importantly- on the patterns of interaction that occurred around them: the contributions were powerful ways of engaging visitors in the exhibition and creating a sense of belonging and attachment. Social interaction and collaborative production of content was also greatly affected by visitors’ ability to contribute to the exhibit. The two cases show how a participative approach to interactive systems design can be successful at a variety of levels, not least in triggering visitors’ reflections on the role and nature of museums and exhibitions.

Acknowledgements
The “Shannon Portal” has been developed as part of the “Shared Worlds” research project funded by Science Foundation Ireland. “Re-Tracing the Past” has been developed within the EU FET “SHAPE” Project, in collaboration with the Royal Institute of Technology (Stockholm, Sweden), King’s College London and the University of Nottingham (UK). Many thanks to staff and visitors at both the Hunt Museum and at Shannon International Airport, and to the many IDC colleagues who have participated in the projects.
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