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An Unlikely Seamless Combination - Future Curators Designing Museum Experiences Towards the Desires of Actual Teenagers

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Abstract

This paper describes a user-driven innovation study conducted with teenagers of Madeira Island to probe their desires for technology aided experiences inside a natural history museum. After gathering the results of the sessions with 43 teens (15-17 years old), such results were shown to 17 students of museum curatorship course at the local university (average of 26 years of age). These students enrolled in the Master in Cultural Management were required to design an experience targeting the teenage audience desires and preferences. Subsequently, a comparison between the results found in both groups was made in order to assert if the curators of tomorrow are prepared to design meaningful experiences for the teens of today, who will be the future adult audience.
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DIGICOM International Conference on Digital Design & Communication
an unlikely seamless combination
future curators designing museum
experiences towards
the desires of actual teenagers
Vanessa Cesário1; António Coelho2; Valentina Nisi3
Abstract
This paper describes a user-driven innovation study conducted with
teenagers of Madeira Island to probe their desires for technology aided
experiences inside a natural history museum. After gathering the re-
sults of the sessions with 43 teens (15-17 years old), such results were
shown to 17 students of museum curatorship course at the local univer-
sity (average of 26 years of age). These students enrolled in the Master in
Cultural Management were required to design an experience targeting
the teenage audience desires and preferences. Subsequently, a compar-
ison between the results found in both groups was made in order to as-
sert if the curators of tomorrow are prepared to design meaningful ex-
periences for the teens of today, who will be the future adult audience.
1. Introduction
Museums are described as places that materialize and visualize
knowledge (Fyfe, 2006), and their goals are to collect, preserve and
share that knowledge with the public. Museums are slowly but sure-
ly moving away from the metaphor of being just collections of ar-
tifacts to become centers where people can engage and empower
their knowledge by discovering and challenging themselves (Falk
& Dierking, 2000; Hawkey, 2004). With the use of new technologies,
visitors are turning from passive to active participants (Mancini &
Carreras, 2010; Simon, 2010). Although the museums’ spatially con-
structed narrative might be presented in a logical and consistent way,
not all visitors choose to follow, learn and engage with it (Stenglin,
2004). There are cases where the visitor’s mental model discords with
the design of the exhibition that they are interacting with (Norman,
Keywords
Museums, visitor user
experience, teenagers,
future curators,
design work
1 Faculty of Engineering of
University of Porto (FEUP),
Portugal /
Madeira Interactive
Technologies Institute (M-ITI),
Portugal,
vanessa.cesario@m-iti.org;
2 INESC, Portugal /
FEUP, Portugal,
acoelho@fe.up.pt;
3 M-ITI, Portugal,
valentina.nisi@m-iti.org
102 Portugal 2017
2013), changing the focus from the experience into the design itself,
interrupts the ow (Csikszentmihalyi, 1998); which eventually leads
to frustration and negative user experiences. According to Falk (2009),
the so-called “one-size-ts-all” experiences does not apply to most of
the museum visitors. The same can be said about the “net generation”
which is perceived differently from previous generations, particularly
regarding beliefs and behaviors (Napoli & Ewing, 2000). This genera-
tion is identied as an audience group that is often excluded from a
museum’s curatorial strategies (Tzibazi, 2013). Consequently, it is not
only museums that seem to ignore a younger audience, but this group
itself appears to be disinterested in what museums might offer. The
realities of the museum also play a role in bending and shaping the
individual’s museum visit experience.
2. Museums and Teenagers
Museums tours are seen as social events because they are most-
ly visited by school eld trips, tourism trips and even family trips.
However, not all museums are designed to offer an interesting expe-
rience to suit all demographics. We often tailor solutions around chil-
dren, adults, and even families. However, the teenage audience is left
somewhere in the middle of children and adults in the HCI research.
This specic demographics often tend to have valuable design inputs
and creativity; moreover, as found by Fitton et al. (2013), they are in
a better position of combining both child and adult perspectives. The
younger audience today are born into a world which is ooded by
technology and are overloaded by information, which comes with its
own perks and quirks.
3. Research question
Museums are not always designed to serve the teenage audience. We
mostly verify in local museums programs for children and guided
tours for adults. Regardless, what about the teens? Where do they t in
both programs? Where are the future museum audiences going if the
curators are not able to grasp the attention of this specic audience?
For this study, we used the venue of the Natural History Museum
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DIGICOM International Conference on Digital Design & Communication
of Funchal (NHMF) as an example to foster creativity in teens and
young museum curatorship students. We perceived the local teens
(15-17) as a challengeable target at the NHMF. They mostly visit the
museum as the part of school eld trips without being keen to repeat
the tour, due to their lack of interest and focus towards the exhibits.
In addition, the NHMF is one museum of those many which excludes
teenagers from the curatorial strategies. With the current problem
statement, we envisage to answer, or have at least a glimpse, to the
following research question: How young student curators perceive the
actual desires of the teenage audience regarding a natural history mu-
seum experience? We envision improving the message that Natural
History Museums convey through the eyes of teenagers and young
curators, separately. Do we have a seamless match between the both
possible strategies to enhance these museums experiences targeted
at today’s teenagers?
4. Study
For both groups (teenagers and young future curators), the NHMF was
introduced through a series of photos of their collection (marine and
mammal animals, geological and reptiles). Researchers stated that
it is a venue with a plethora of Funchal’s fauna and rich in content;
however, the museum building itself is quite old-fashioned, lacking
the technology to engage the visitors to interact with the exhibits in
an enjoyable manner. In light of the above, the researchers made a
concluding remark regarding guidelines on how to design mobile ex-
periences for museums (research, ideation, low-delity prototypes,
usability feedback, high-delity prototypes, development, user test-
ing). Windows, icons, menus and transitions/gestures were also
highlighted as important elements when sketching a mobile app. At
the very end, students and future curators were approached regarding
several technologies that they could think of, such as NFC, RFID, QR
Code, Augmented Reality, Mobile Virtual Reality, and Beacons. All of
these technologies were explained elaborately along with examples
of their usages.
Finally, the teenagers were involved in a 45-minute co-design ses-
sion. For this co-design process, the students were divided into groups,
and then they received two sheets. The sheet A contained three spaces
to fulll regarding the whole experience: 1) Narrative What is the
104 Portugal 2017
story of the experience? 2) Species/Artifacts How do they interact
with the visitor? Also, 3) Mechanics/TutorialWhich steps do we have
to take to complete the experience? The sheet B contained the wire-
frame of a smartphone and teens were asked to draw some screens
for the mobile application that they had previously thought of. During
the co-design process, the researcher conducting the study was relo-
cating each group, taking notes on the students’ behavior while dis-
cussing the ideation and design process. The researcher made sure
that the participants were thinking about experiences that teenagers
could enjoy and get involved. The researcher told them to think about
an experience that they wanted to try out at the selected museum,
asking them to think of something engaging for them rather than for
other target groups.
After obtaining the results from the sessions of the teenagers, they
were communicated in the session with the future young curators in
order to prompt them to design an interactive experience targeted to
this young audience. This design session was conducted in the same
manner as the one that teenagers performed in 45 minutes with the
sheets A and B.
4.1. Sample & Analysis
The researchers approached 43 teens aged between 15-17 years old
through a local secondary school in Madeira Island. The students, en-
rolled in a professional course on multimedia, participated in one of
the two sessions conducted during two days. The sample gathered,
containing 30 males and 13 females with an average age of 17.12, was
divided into 13 groups. Then, researchers approached 17 students from
the Master in Cultural Management at the University of Madeira,
studying to be museum curators. These master students participated
in one session. The sample gathered, containing 9 males and 8 fe-
males with an average age of 26, was divided into 4 groups.
A detailed analysis of sheets A and B was conducted to evaluate the
ideas of the groups and drawings. All the sheets of both groups (teen-
agers and future curators) were analyzed in detail. The relevant words
and phrases that each group wrote on sheet A and drawn on sheet B,
were transcribed and then categorized in themes containing similar
words emphasized by the participants. The purpose of this qualitative
analysis was to nd patterns of words; which correlates to the desire
for interactive experiences.
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DIGICOM International Conference on Digital Design & Communication
5. Results
5.1. Design work – Teenagers
A total of 310 transcripts were obtained. These transcripts were then
grouped into similar words, derived into ve categories, namely
Gaming (156); Interaction (92); Localization (31); and, Social Media (31).
The Gaming category encompasses the following words tran-
script: “rewards” (25), “quiz” (21), “clues” (17), “game” (15), “treas-
ure-hunt” (15), “points” (11), “riddles” (8), “challenge” (7), “collect” (6),
“unlock” (6), “levels” (5), “progression” (5), “ranking” (5), “score” (4),
“player” (3), “shop” (2), and “achievements” (1). The Gaming category
is related to the desire of adding game elements to the digital expe-
riences inside the museum.
The Interaction category recalls the desire of the teenagers to
have some interaction within the artifacts inside the museum.
This kind of interaction could happen in three ways: by receiving
information about the exhibits, by the user taking a role inside the
museum instead of being a regular visitor, and also with the kind
of technology that they are desiring to have those interactions. We
grouped this category into three sections regarding the type of in-
teraction and information delivery styles that the students would
like to experience in the museum. Sub-category A) the user’s in-
teraction with the artifacts (68 transcripts) where the participants
recalled words regarding having “information in several types” (51)
such as textual, sound, video and image. Also to have the power to
select options in form of “categories” (15) in order to choose which
kind of content they want to consume as well as “different nar-
ratives” (2) they could follow. Sub-category B) User take the role of
an artifact (6 transcripts), where the participants had the desire
to “see the museum through the eyes of an exhibit” (6) such as a
shark, who its views would be different from the eyes of another
animal such as a little turtle. Sub-Category C) Technology (18 tran-
scripts) encompassed the technology that the participants thought
to have an interaction with such as “beacons” (13), “QR Codes” (3)
and “Augment Reality” (2).
The Localization category relates to the desire of the teenagers to
localize themselves inside the museum building and included words
relating to movements within the museum as well as the discovery
106 Portugal 2017
of artifacts. It encompassed words such as “localization” (10), “search”
(9), “discover” (7) and, “map” (5).
The Social Media category is related with the desire of sharing the
experiences on social media channels within a mobile application.
The transcripts were grouped into the words: “social networks” (14),
“photos” (11), “news” (4) and “friends” (2).
5.2. Design work – Future Curators
The future curators had access to the categories derived from the
sessions with the teens. Moreover, they were required to sketch an
experience grounded on those categories which were considered the
desires of teenagers for interactive experiences inside museums.
A total of 76 transcripts were obtained from the design work of
the future curators. These transcripts were then grouped into sim-
ilar words, derived into ve categories which were the same as the
ones of the teenagers, namely Gaming (32 transcripts); Interaction (31);
Localization (8); and, Social Media (5).
The Gaming category encompassed the following words: “chal-
lenge” (7), “game” (6), “quiz” (3), “clues” (3), “points” (3), “levels” (3),
“ranking” (2), “collect” (2), “unlock” (2) and “riddles” (1). The Interaction
category was this time grouped into two subcategories. Category A)
User’s interaction with the artifacts (29 transcripts) containing the fol-
lowing word groups: “information” (12), “categories” (11) and “narra-
tives” (6). Category B) Technology (2 transcripts) contained “QR codes”
(1) and “augmented reality” (1). The Localization category (8 transcripts)
englobed words regarding “search” (4), “discover” (2), “map” (1), “local-
ization” (1). Finally, the Social Media category (5 transcripts) encom-
passed words about “photos” (3) and, “social networks” (2).
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DIGICOM International Conference on Digital Design & Communication
6. Discussion and concluding remarks
Teenagers faithfully approach and adapt to new technologies, while
the curators attach their importance to the story that the museum
wants to convey (Kelly, 2007). Curators nd it difcult to put them-
selves in the shoes of the teenagers, which is an undeniably noticea-
ble fact; since they grew up and educated in a completely different era
with different sets of technologies.
Although the order of the categories discussed was the same in
both groups, we noticed some discrepancies in the number of words
within the categories. Young people value games and interactions
more in the museum than the curators, as noted by number of tran-
scripts in the Gaming category by young people (156) and by curators
(32). The teenagers signicantly emphasized on more game me-
chanics than the curators themselves. These youths were born and
brought up in the generation interactive technological bloom and are
more prone to embrace them than the previous generations (Napoli
& Ewing, 2000). These youngsters have the desire to have a reward at
the end of accomplishing a task; which is something that was not
mentioned by the curators. The desire of rewards leads us to think to
what extent do these youths yearn for achievements in the form of
rewards? Alternatively, what kind of rewards for their achievement
can be awarded in order to make a museum experience sustainable?
Although the curators had access to the list of teenagers’ desires, they
did not think about rewarding their experience. What differs in the
Interaction category is that teenagers have thought of interacting
with the museum through a role of selected species exhibited in the
museum. With these types of interaction, they could have numerous
experiences in the museums; simply by selecting which specie’s role
that they would like to take. Both groups stated they want to have
the power to choose between a list of categories of exhibits. Since the
museum is vast and rich in content, it may become difcult to seg-
ment all the content without having different guided visiting routes.
Another aspect to accentuate are the narratives. Although the group
of teenagers only spoke once in narratives (actual stories of the mu-
seum), the group of future curators, despite being small, gave more
prominence to narration. We can also verify that the use of technol-
ogy was signicantly mentioned by the teenagers (18 transcripts),
in comparison to the curators who barely mentioned it twice. The
Location category was the only one that did not have many discrep-
ancies between the two groups. Nevertheless, the word location has
108 Portugal 2017
been detected more often among the group of teenagers than in the
group of future curators. The teenagers have managed to wrap their
heads around the aspect of having to relocate themselves within the
premises in order to encounter the exhibits (species). We can conclude
that these teenagers value the mechanics of interacting with species
more than the future curators. Teenagers strongly referred the Social
Media section as highly relevant by using terms such as social net-
works, newsfeeds about the museum and sharing the experience with
their friends. Although curators had access to this picture about social
media and teens at the begin of their co-design session, this has not
prevented them from using it, because they effectively did not use it
a lot. The quintessential discussion echoed in this work is: the new
technologies and the ability of future curators to implement them in
museums in order to enhance the museum’s experience for teenag-
ers. However, not all technological options will be thoroughly explored
by the curators. Teenagers have a desire to speak, share and actually
be part of the new technologies. On the other hand, the curators prefer
to think of an experience as a whole without much attention to the
type of technology that can be used.
We noticed an unlikely seamless pair between the views of future
curators and actual teenagers regarding enjoyable museum’s expe-
riences: future curators believe that the most prominent method to
provide enjoyable museum experience for youths is via story based
narratives and the youths themselves believe that the most appealing
aspect would be the implementation of game mechanics within the
museum experience. We agree that merging those perspectives, the
narratives and the game mechanics, would combine in to derive a
better relationship between the teenage visitors and the contents in
order to create an enjoyable visiting experience. In order to achieve
this, we suggest and accentuate that future curators should be in-
structed to segment the audiences (Falk, 2009) at an early stage of
their careers and also have access to design guidelines for the teen-
age audiences who would be the future adult audience of tomorrow.
We argue that the reward that teens are desiring could be the expe-
rience itself; nevertheless, marketing communications should take
meticulous care on the type of experiences that the teenagers aim to
take. Moreover, we also argue the target audiences are the nal users;
hence, it is crucial to study their interests and desires, in order to de-
ploy a high quality and enjoyable product.
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DIGICOM International Conference on Digital Design & Communication
Acknowledgments
ARDITI (Agência Regional para o Desenvolvimento
da Investigação, Tecnologia
e Inovação), under the PhD scholarship number
M14-20-09-5369-FSE-000001.
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