The art of wandering

Explore and engage with online art collections

The Art of Wandering is my long and involved Doctoral project, which owned me a Ph.D at Queen Mary University of London. It is a user-focused investigation of design concepts and solutions to inform the design of engaging explorations with online art collections. This is a summary of the background research, the main studies I have conducted, and the most relevant findings.


Thanks to the developments in digitization and web technologies, many museums publish their collections online, and the possibility to interact with art beyond the physical visit to a museum is now a reality. However, museums’ online interfaces mostly address the needs of existing users: researchers, academics and professionals. They allow to perform highly specific searches, use domain-specific keywords and focus on reducing the time needed to retrieve information. Instead, how can we expand the audience of digital collections? The Art of Wandering focused on art lovers that engage with physical museums but do not yet interact with online collections. How can we design interfaces that support these potential users in art discovery, casual explorations and engaging experiences?
How can we design online art collections to engage art lovers?


I addressed the challenge through three projects, informed by academic literature I was reading at the time, as well as following a loose design process based on discovery, ideation and evaluation.
WikiArt • The project explored current interface designs, to investigate their limitations in engaging lay users.
In a laboratory setting, I evaluated the experience of 10 potential users with the interface of WikiArt. The experience was evaluated through the combined analysis of interviews, questionnaires and interaction logs.
ArtOfWonder • The project explored the needs of users as they focus on a single painting of the collection.
During two public events, I analysed the interest in the paintings of a small art collection. Interest was collected on (~130) post-its and analysed with thematic analysis.
ArtRooms • The study evaluated the potential of designing interfaces that increase users’ curiosity.
I created the prototype for the Art Rooms, an interface that implements principles of Design for Curiosity. I conducted ~25 user studies in a laboratory setting, and I compared the user experience with the novel interface to the experience with a control one.


The research helped to understand the behaviours and needs of non-expert art lovers during casual explorations. Here, I synthesise the most interesting insights.
Insights & design considerations

Art explorations are engaging when the interface provides inspiration, personal connection, heterogeneity, novelty, and when it enables the user to create and pursue self-set goals. Conversely, users are disengaged if the interface does not support interaction with single paintings, or if it uses a vocabulary that does not match their level of expertise.


Users’ expectations and preferences regarding the art experience differ. Some are engaged by contemplative intimate interactions with the artworks, others prefer quick and gamified activities. Despite this difference, both groups seek to have an active role in the exploration, interpreting, reflecting, playing, exploring, rather than passively observing or navigating.


Although casual users of online collections have long been described as being information needless, this does not mean that information is irrelevant for the user engagement. During explorations, paintings trigger curiosity and the desire to know more about the art. We call this element of the user experience, information curiosity. Non-expert art-lovers express interest in four main topics and refer to four types of elements (see pictures on the right).


People exhibit three ways of navigating a collection. The mono-maniac, the multi-thematic, and the jumper. Each style explores the collection with a different level of breath and depth. Interfaces could be tailored to meet the needs of one or more exploratory styles.


Novel interfaces should support engagement with single paintings by enabling three or modes of interaction: understand, communicate and add to the art experience. Each activity is further exemplified by specific activities.

* The Inquiry Technique can be used as a method to collect users’ needs and the information curiosities beyond the context of online art.


Implementing principles of Design for Curiosity can increase users’ engagement and satisfaction. It can also increase the diversity of content users engage with. If not implemented correctly, it can disengage users looking for contemplative experiences and it can reduce the engagement time (see picture on the left).

Recommendations on how to implement Design for Curiosity effectively include, avoiding repetitions, avoiding distracting the user from their main activity, design information gaps that need further actions to be resolved.

The findings of this research have broader implications for the fields of HCI, Museum Studies and Information Science. This research led to the definition of Information Curiosities, Priming Effect and led to a better understanding of casual leisure explorations. These aspects are presented and discussed in my Ph.D thesis. I am happy to chat about my research and provide more details at any time.


Some design ideas that stemmed from the results of the research: