Digital Museum and User Experience: The Case of Google Art & Culture
Jin Woo Lee1, Yikyung Kim2, and Soo Hee Lee3
1 Kyung Hee University, Korea, firstname.lastname@example.org
2 Seoul National University of Science and Technology, Korea, email@example.com
3 Corresponding author, University of Kent, UK, firstname.lastname@example.org
Museum websites have evolved from offering information
on the collections of institutions over the virtual space to
providing the richer user experience. However, previous re-
search in museology has mainly focused on the causal rela-
tionship between online users and actual visitors of physical
museums, neglecting users’ behaviour within the digital
platform or human-computer interaction (HCI). This study
aims to explore the way in which online users are affected
by the interface tools of digital museums with a case study
of the Google Art & Culture. Drawing on the concept of re-
mediation , our analysis reinforces the interactivity based
on its interface tools such as “Zoom-in” and “Museum View”
for delivering information (transparency) and “User Gal-
lery”, “Share”, and “Details” for compelling experience (re-
flectivity). The outcome of this research suggests ways in
which museum professionals can develop and manage user
interface of their institutions.
Human-computer Interaction; Remediation; User experi-
ence; Digital Museum; Google Art & Culture
The development of technology has changed the way we
create, provide, and possess arts. Particularly, the growth
of using internet has had a significant impact on all levels
of visual arts . In particular, the websites of museum
have been evolved from giving information of current and
upcoming events in the institutions to affording richer vir-
tual experiences of appreciating works of art . However,
few works have explored online users’ engagement with
the digital museum. We presume that users interact auton-
omously with the virtual museum provides “a genuine
online visitor experience” . This study has aimed to un-
derstand the extent to which the interactivity has been af-
fected by the interface tools of digital museum. In this pa-
per, we explore Google Art & Culture (previous known as
Google Art Project, and henceforth GAC) as a case study
with not focusing on the technical issues of our case, but
emphasising upon the conceptual argument. We mainly
argue that interactivity between online users and the GAC
within the quality of remediation , which is accom-
plished by analysing interface tools of the GAC.
There are several approaches to explain “user experience”.
According to Forlizzi and Battarbee (2004), user experi-
ence is caused by interaction between commodity and us-
ers . According to the degree of interactivity, Pine and
Gilmore (1998) analyse the experience in two dimensions:
participation and connection . Customers divide into
active and passive groups, according to the degree of par-
ticipation. Passive participation means that users do not
affect the event. In contrast, with active participation, peo-
ple are in a position to affect the performance significantly.
Another approach is connection, in which users absorb or
are immersed in the environment of the performance. Pine
and Gilmore (1998) place the experience in four realms
according to the previous two dimensions  (Figure 1).
Figure 1: The four realms of an experience 
We examine the related theories of the digitalisation of
artworks closely. In the digital age, artworks represent in
the new environment; computer. Indeed, interface is an
important definition to represent the culture in the comput-
er environment. The interface is expressed as a layer, posi-
tioned between user and system . Interface design is
explained in relation to the effect of remediation.
The new media theory of “remediation” was introduced
by Bolter and Grusin (2000), as “formal logic by which
new media refashion prior media forms” . Remediation
is one of the three characteristics of new media: remedia-
tion, immediacy and hypermediacy . The term remedia-
tion means that new media fashion differently from older
media. Immediacy and hypermediacy explain the process
of remediation. Immediacy is visual depiction with the
purpose of enabling viewers to forget the existence of the
medium. Bolter and Grusin  offered virtual reality (VR),
where the purpose of the media is to disappear, as an ex-
ample to clarify immediacy. Approaching the term VR
from human experience, the term of “presence” is similar
with the immediacy; “it refers not to one’s surroundings as
they exist in the physical world, but to the perception of
those surroundings as mediated by both automatic and con-
trolled mental processes” .
Hypermediacy aims to reveal the viewer in the medium.
Hypermediacy is characterised by multiplicity, in which all
of the media are juxtaposed, overlap and interact. The var-
ious reactions by multimedia result in reconstructing the
viewer’s experience. The multiple windows on a computer
screen are the representative instance. These two character-
istics, immediacy and hypermediacy, are not independent,
Bolter and Gromala (2003) suggested two strategies to
design an interface: transparency (immediacy) and reflec-
tivity (hypermediacy)  (see Table 1). They refer to the
transparency strategy as “Window”, which enables viewers
to ignore the presence of media. On the other hand, they
make reflectivity metaphoric as “Mirror”, which aims to
give users a unique experience. With the strategy reflec-
tivity, it is explained that viewers constitute the experience
when surrounded with various forms of media. They noted
that “each design is a combination of these two strategies”
. In other words, neither transparency nor reflectivity
constructs interface design alone.
interface as window
interface as mirror
look through inter-
look at interface
Table 1. Interface design .
Our paper provides a case study of a recent digital museum
source, Google Art & Culture. The GAC provides “an ev-
er-growing digital archive of the world’s greatest arts” .
We mainly collected data from reviewing various second-
ary sources including a journal articles, magazines, news-
papers and books. Material was also gleaned from the In-
ternet; published documents such as the official description
and instruction manual by Google, related information and
interview script from the online newspapers and articles, as
well as blogger project reviews, the script of recorded vid-
eo of instruction the GAC by Amit Sood who is director of
the GAC and transcriptions of interviewing with Sood by
media. Moreover, one of the authors explored the interface
of the GAC and provided information about the website
Google Art & Culture
Google introduced a new digital interface in 2011, the
Google Art Project, which allows online users to experi-
ence virtual artworks. This project prepared for 18 months
before launching to the public with the purpose of optimis-
ing the accessibility of museum’s artefacts . Google
started the project in cooperation with 17 museums. More
institutions have become involved with the project and 151
institutions joined the project . Two years after the
launch, the project had expanded the territory, so that 287
museums have now participated in the project . The
project has changed its name to the GAC with also featur-
ing historical artefacts. Moreover, the GAC is the hub of
Google Cultural Institution, along with World Wonders
Project and Archive exhibitions .
The interface provides more than 7.2 million digital im-
ages, which is offered by large and small museums in 60
countries . The artworks provided fall into classic and
modern genres, without limitation of figure (e.g. canvas,
sculpture and furniture). The GAC has introduced several
features on the official page: (1) the project presents high-
resolution digital images of museum artefacts; (2)
Google’s technology, “Street View”, enables users to expe-
rience the interior of the museums virtually; (3) users facil-
itate the creation of their own gallery, using project re-
sources; (4) users can share their collection or a particular
work with others through social networks .
Discussion and Analysis
The interface elements of the GAC are analysed below in
terms of the effect of remediation.
The GAC as “Window”
“Zoom-In” and “Museum View” are interface components
to make the GAC ‘Window’. In general, as we already
noticed, transparent remediation (‘Window’) aims to seek
information and enable the user to ignore the presence of
the current medium .
Firstly, users are captivated by the interface whilst they
zoom in to a particular painting. At that time, they lose
sight of the fact that they are viewing it on a computer
screen as they seek the details of the artwork. The interface
of the GAC is immediate, by facilitating “Zoom-in” tools.
Then, we pay attention on the tool behind this: high-
resolution digital images. Users might be disturbed to re-
mediate transparently when facilitating the “Zoom-in” tool
with low-quality images. That is because they would face
a defective screen when zooming in on an image with low
The GAC, then, provides immediacy with “Museum
View”, using panoramic pictures. In other words, the me-
dium becomes invisible in the viewers’ perception .
Therefore, the interface tool, “Museum View”, becomes
the representative example of “Window”, which aims to
convey information. In this context, users seek the infor-
mation of an artwork’s position in an institution, whilst
they navigate the institution with the interface tool. More-
over, this interface leads users to discover more detail of
paintings through the practice of clicking the paintings
during the virtual tour. The behaviour allows users to be-
come absorbed into the project.
However, “Museum View” has an issue that operates
against the maintenance of transparency: copyright re-
striction. Although Google tries to solve the problem ,
“Museum View” has blurred images. Alternatively, Google
scans the inside of the institution avoiding a particular ob-
ject with copyright limitation . For instance, a user
wants to find a painting in room A, which consists of
blurred images. Users ignore the medium when they are in
the hallway of the museum, but recognise the presence of
the medium when they reach room A. This disturbs inter-
activity between users and the interface.
The GAC as “Mirror”
On the GAC, “User gallery”, “Compare”, “Share” and
“Details” contribute to make a compelling experience from
reflecting the user in the interface.
Based on the “Save” function, the “User gallery”, “Com-
pare” and “Share” tools help viewers to reflect themselves
in the GAC. The interface tool, “Compare”, enables view-
ers to construct their experience. Viewers appreciate that
this is not simply a digital image, but that they are achiev-
ing their own goal by customising the computer screen.
Thus, this tool elicits a unique experience from users. Sec-
ondly, “User gallery” is the component resulting in partici-
pation. Through selecting and saving their favourite art-
works, the user reflects their sense of identity in the inter-
In addition to this, the users share their galley by com-
menting on the artworks. This behaviour allows users to
have a new experience that it would not be possible to have
in another digital museum. Lastly, through the “Share” tool,
the resources remediate reflectively. Previous work has
reported that the use of bloggers’ social media relates to
reflective remediation . On the GAC, users share an
entire user gallery or a particular painting in order to dis-
cuss this with others. Therefore, a shared image in social
media is the channel by which the users interact with oth-
Previously, Bolter and Gromala (2003) have noted that
the characteristic of reflective remediation is multiplicity
. The “Detail” tool is to draw a multiplicity. The “Detail”
tool in practice enables the user to view information relat-
ing to a certain object. The information consists of various
kinds of media: text, videos, pictures and hyperlink. For
example, the users appreciate a digital image simultaneous-
ly with reading text or playing a video. Moreover, the
computer screen is overlapped with the museum’s website
when users click the hyperlink of painting’s owner detail.
In this way, diverse media surround viewers and these me-
dia comprise the users’ experience.
Indeed, the elements are not clearly divided into trans-
parency and reflectivity. That is because transparent and
reflective remediation is complementary . The GAC
elements that have been mentioned stand between “Win-
dow” and “Mirror”. For example, the media become trans-
parent during a virtual tour and users reflects themselves in
the media when they click a discrete painting.
Interactive digital museum.
Pine and Gilmore (1998) notes that visiting museum is
“Esthetic” experience in their classification . While the
visitors of gallery are usually passive, they are immersed in
museum by surround environment. In the case of digital
museum, we argue that the experience of users is “Educa-
tional” users are active; although users navigate around
digital museum, their surrounded environment, computer,
is not enough to make them immerse in digital museum. In
this paper, the GAC is categorised as “Escapist” (Figure 1)
and we insist that designing effective interface tools in the
platform enhances the quality of remediation, which con-
tributes to encouraging users to be active and immersed in
the GAC. As such, the digital interfaces, “Zoon-in” and
“Museum View”, enable media to be invisible, which al-
lows users to be immersed by the GAC. Moreover, the
reflective elements, “User gallery”, “Share”, and “Com-
pare”, lead users to actively reflect their identity in the
GAC, thereby users immerse themselves in the interface.
Previous research on museum limits their research scope
within exploring the relationship between the physical mu-
seum and their website. However, this paper begins with
considering the digital museum as users’ independent ac-
tivities. Therefore, this paper describes that the digital mu-
seum becomes an interactive platform by examining the
GAC. We analyse the findings of a case study from the
conceptual lens of remediation. Two tools, “Zoom-in” and
“Museum view” play roles in terms of transparent remedia-
tion, whereas reflective remediation arises through the
practice of “User gallery”, “Compare”, “Share” and “De-
tails”. From elements with stimulating transparency, active
users become absorbed in the interface and reflective fea-
tures on the interface enable them to immerse themselves
in the GAC.
The outcome of analysing the GAC makes the implication
for curators engaging with the digitalisation of museum.
Indeed, the role of curators evolved from placing artworks
in historical context on the wall of museum to structuring
the aesthetic experience of art and communicating to audi-
ences in the 1960s . In other words, curators began to
encourage the active and direct engagement with works of
art by offering interactive spaces to visitors . To pro-
vide interactive space in digital museum, curators should
consider following aspects. Firstly, the latest technologies
on the interface are essential resources to enhance remedia-
tion quality, which contributes to positive users’ experi-
ence. Secondly, digital museum needs elements that allow
users to reflect themselves into the interface, which designs
unique experience for users.
With exploring the GAC from a different angle, lastly,
new research agendas can be aroused: it is an interesting
point why Google proceeds with this project. Google has
stressed that the department of leading the project is non-
for-profit sector. Despite the announcement by the head of
the project and the fact that the GAC is freeware ,
Google is still able to earn potential profits. For example,
although there are no advertisements during usage of the
GAC, the website operation gives opportunity for Google
to use their search engine or expose their advertisements,
potentially. In the point of intangible aspects, the invest-
ment in the non-profit sector helps Google improve their
brand status. In this way, we will explore the relationship
between museums and Google or discuss how the GAC
impacts changes in audience perception about Google.
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