I consciously stayed away from my thesis for a while during the winter break. For one thing, I have been working on my portfolio website. For the other, I didn’t feel excited about the scenarios I proposed.
Both user-triggered interaction and the responsive environment are doable. I could hack some software or hardware to actually make the final prototypes, which is something I was excited about from the beginning. But I still felt something is missing. Feedback from the audience was great. They said it was cool and would like to see it work. But I also felt, it’s too predictable, isn’t it? We all know new technology is on their way to change our lives, such as Google Glass, the sensor networks, etc. Technology, no doubt, could also solve the problems in the public exhibit space, to support personalization, or further information inquiry. But, is technology the only solution? What if technology could not solve the problems–just look at the mobile apps, sometimes they work, but sometimes they are no better than the traditional placards?
Notes from the mid-term poster session panel was inspiring as well as challenging. The professors made me rethink about the assumptions of my thesis: which space I am looking into, who my target audience are, what problem I am solving, what other solutions could be, etc. To be honest, I did not have solid answers to all those questions. After all the research, the literature reviews, the blog posting, I still felt I was not informative enough to make decisions to pick the directions.
To settle the uncertainty, I did a quick Mechanical Turk survey. I tried to make it fast and short to get some random ideas from MTurk users, which has a diversified demographic to get inspiration. I asked them eight questions and received 50 responses in the end, some of them were noises which didn’t provide any information, while some answers were genuine and informative.
I also did some more literature reviews on the topic. I read articles on design for Homo Ludens, museum research reports, museum in transition, and a series of research on museum and cultural heritage. A group of researchers from Northern Europe have been working on the topic from a perspective that combines tangible and intangible interactions in the space, which is very inspiring.
Yet, still, nothing new came up. It was a visit in the Art Institute in Chicago that made me feel something different. It was a large group of visitors standing and sitting in front of the famous painting, American Gothic. A grey-haired curator was standing in the center of the crowd. She told the audience stories of how the painting was created. The crowd nodded and some whispered to each other. One man raised his hand and asked her a question about why it was named American Gothic. She answered. Then another visitor raised another question. There was no technology involved in the scene, but visitors were so engaged that new questions kept coming up as if they were in an important lecture.
That moment made me question the assumption of my thesis. As I proposed to solve the information needs of the visitors, which assumes that once this need is satisfied, the experience could be enhanced. But what if, the information has to be understood by the visitors themselves, instead of museums making every effort to use new technology to cater them? What if technology is not the solution to this problem? That’s how I stepped back and came up with the idea of 0 Information Museum.