The art of wandering

Interfaces to explore museums' online art collections

The art of wandering is a three-years project I designed and conducted during my PhD training in the Media and Arts Technologies Center between 2016 and 2019.

AIM

Improving the design of online interfaces for museums’ digital art collections 

Background

Thanks to developments in digitization and web technologies, many museums now publish their collections online, and the possibility to interact with art beyond the physical visit to a museum is now a reality. However, online interfaces are mostly designed to address the needs of existing users, mostly researchers, academics and professionals. They allow to perform highly specific searches, use domain-specific keywords and aim to reduce the time needed to retrieve information.

Instead, how can we expand the context of use and the audience of digital collections? The Art of Wandering focused on potential users among people with an interest in art that engage with physical museums but do not yet interact with museums in their digital leisure experiences. How can we design interfaces that support them in art discovery, casual explorations and engaging experiences? 

Methodology

We addressed this challenge by conducting three studies 

WikiArt • this study evaluated the experience of potential users with existing interfaces, specifically investigating their user of search and browse features. The aim was to identify engagement patterns and triggers, as well as to highlight the limitations of current designs.

ArtOfWonder • this study explored how to engage non-expert art lovers by providing additional information about the paintings. We collected and analysed the information that users “are curious about” when observing artworks during two public workshops.
ArtRooms • this study proposed a novel interface design to support engagement. A prototype was built following design principles developed in the area of design for curiosity. A user study then evaluated the UX with two versions of the interface (A/B testing).

Findings

The research produced a number of insights into the behaviours and needs of non-expert art lovers

Users navigate collections with different degree of exploratory behaviours and need for novelty. Based on their use of exploration features (search bar and menu) we identified three groups

Engagement is supported by the following factors: inspiration, personal connection, heterogeneity, novelty, information gap, self-set activities/goals; it is reduced by lack of interaction with single paintings and mismatch between expertise and vocabulary
When observing paintings, people express information curiosities. These represent the interest for information that arises from our interaction with the content and can be the base to design additional information on the interface.
The information curiosities of non-expert art lovers are centred around four main topics and eight main modes of interaction. These are influenced by both contextual and individual variables
Users that enter an engaged mode, adopt an inquisitive, proactive attitude that continues even after the engaging stimulus has ended we define this phenomenon as priming effect .
Implementing design for curiosity in the UI does increase engagement but it can change the nature of the art experience, which some users find disengaging.
Additional recommendations are needed to effectively implement principles of design for curiosity (we offer some of them).
Digital designs should support purposeful experiences that go beyond the navigation of the content. We provide a categorisation of modes of interactions to inspire future designs.

The findings of this research have broader implications for the fields of HCI, Museum Studies and Information Science, which are presented and discussed in my Ph.D thesis. I am happy to chat about my research and provide more details at any time.