Moving from “Me” to “We”

In Nina Simon’s The Participatory Museum she discusses the varying levels of social interactivity and participation. These levels are interconnected, and must be traveled in succession (no jumping the stairs!), they allow organizations to understand visitor interaction and move from individual to group participation.

Beginning with the most “me” form of interaction…

  1. The individual consumes content
  2. The individual interacts with content
  3. The individual’s interactions are networked in aggregate
  4. The individual has networked social interactions
  5. Collective social interaction

… and ending with the most “we” form of interaction.

Through this model we can easily see how technology can help to build the network of social interactions that allow visitors to gain more knowledge about the general public while still maintaining a personal or individual experience, or enabling them to have a fully social interaction with a space. Simon argues that the steps in this process cannot be skipped, and must be followed succinctly, but that any interaction can begin at any of these levels.

These varying forms of interaction allow museums to cater their experiences to different learning styles. We are innately social creatures, but some are not as social as others. It is important for museums to offer a wide array of interactive systems to give all visitors a chance to learn within their comfort zones, encourage participatory culture and have FUN(!).

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Nurturing Engagement

With any interactive, first a foremost, it is important to understand your audience (we’ve discussed this before). It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to include only collective social interactions in a museum for introverts… Know your demographics, understand how your visitors want to interact, and give them options.

Shelley Bernstein’s paper Crowdsourcing in Brooklyn discusses the Brooklyn Museum’s commitment to community involvement, and how they’ve used that as a tool to influence their exhibits and the interaction that goes along with them. Their organization understands that a majority of their visitors come from the Brooklyn area, but they wanted to find a way to network community interests within the curation of their exhibits; some being more localized (Click!) than others (Split Second, seen below).

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By using an online platform for voting on or choosing between pieces of art, users were able to influence the curation of the show and view responses from other people in their community. By showcasing the community response to the pieces, and explaining the voting process within the show when it was displayed they created an expectation for interactivity within the space, and, hopefully, this helped to nurture future interaction. If I had seen the show it probably would have caused me to want to keep an eye on the museum’s website or email list so that I could participate the next time that it happened. The interaction isn’t mandatory to enjoy the show (giving people an option to include themselves), but doesn’t detract from the show by including the crowdsourced information.

A participatory culture is also one in which members believe their contributions matter, and feel some degree of social connection with one another.

(Henry Jenkins, 2006)

In Robert Stein and Bruce Wyman’s article Nurturing Engagement: How Technology and Business Model Alignment can Transform Visitor Participation in the Museum they discuss the overarching issues that come with interactive exhibits.

“Empirical data supports the view that visitors spend little time at individual exhibit components (often a matter of a few seconds and seldom as much as one minute); seldom read labels; usually stop at less than half the components at an exhibit; are more likely to use trial-and-error methods at interactive exhibits than to read instructions; that children are more likely to engage with interactive exhibits than adults, and that attention to exhibits declines sharply after about half an hour.” (George E. Hein, 1998)

Even though Professor Hein’s data and observations are almost 20 years old, I would say that not much has changed when it comes to visitor interaction. Knowing this, how can we shift our perspectives on interactive design? Is it possible to incorporate trial and error into the programming, knowing that this is going to happen anyway? Is there a way to design intuitive interactives that don’t need a written explanation?

Again, I think this all comes back to knowing your audience, knowing their expectations, and understanding what is desired.

Personal Observations

I am an avid museum goer, but had never paid much attention to interactive design before this class. (at least in terms of thinking about its usability, desirability, and necessity) I have definitely experienced examples of it working really well, and falling flat completely, and it has been so interesting to contemplate the purpose of each tool.

Ultimately, I have found that using technology for the sake of using technology doesn’t really serve a purpose. Sure, it looks fancy, but if isn’t conveying valuable information or providing an engaging environment it is a hefty waste of money. If you’re going to use it, keep it simple! Do a thing, and do it well. When things are too complex people lose interest, remember that most visitors have a 2-3 minute time limit. If they haven’t been able to figure out how it works in that amount of time, then they aren’t going to use it.

To me, the most important thing to remember is that social interaction has the potential to happen whether you create space for it or not (unless you are putting your visitors in an isolation chamber…). The ability to network through the internet creates more space for this to happen within a museum’s walls or extending beyond locally or globally, while also giving space for solitude and contemplation. People have an innate interest in talking about their experiences, so even if you are separating your visitors out and giving them each a different experience, at some point they will come back together and want to discuss that; creating a more full picture, creating a very social environment, creating an engaging atmosphere.

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