[Design Thesis] 2-2 Interview Synthesis – Information

What information they would like to know?

One of the questions in the interview is to let the interviewee rank some information that they wish the museum could provide. Here are the eight types of information:

– the life of the painting (how it was created, sold and ended up in the museum);

– how one painting relates to all the other paintings in the same gallery;

– how one artist relates to other artists;

– the personality of the artist;

– what the artist was thinking about when creating this piece;

– how other visitors think about this piece;

– how one piece of artwork affects daily life(fashion, interior design, education, etc.)

– other, please write down_________


Here’s a general ranking.


It does not show a very clear pattern of what they like or don’t like, which is fine because it’s not the goal of these interviews. I am not trying to make lists of what visitors like and don’t like. It’s more important to understand priority and connections between the visitor and the information.

Some clusters could be observed. Relatively speaking, more people are interested in “what the artist was thinking about when creating this piece”(row 2), and “how one painting relates to all the other paintings in the same gallery”(row 3). People are less excited about “the life of the painting (how it was created, sold and ended up in the museum)”(row 5).

I also did some comparisons among the three types of visitors. The difference is not obvious. Each person has a different ranking. Even people in the same category had  polarized opinion on the same information.

Main insight: In general, people could be interested in any type of information based on previous knowledge, personal experiences and the piece they are looking at. Yet, people seem to be curious about the meaning of the works, intention behind the piece and some backstage stories. The connection of the human behind the artworks intrigue visitors to continue further interaction. Also, the ranking also indicates that the context where the artwork lives is also important to some extent. It’s the core of the curation process but sometimes it’s also invisible to visitors in the space.

[Design Thesis] 2-1 Interview Synthesis – Personas

I started interviewing people the week before last. For me, that meant a new stage. I got in touch with real people instead of demographics from previous surveys or defined personas. I talked to eight people, most were young museum-goers from different backgrounds, artists, engineers, designers, etc. Each interview took 30 minutes or less. The questions can refer to previous post.

The conversations with different people are quite interesting. Most replies were not surprising, as might be covered in large-scale surveys done by big museums, but making connections among all the questions generated certain kind of information interaction patterns, which is exactly what I want to know from these interviews.


John Falk developed five types of visitors based on interviews with hundreds of visitors to California Science Center. They are explorer, facilitator, experience seeker, professional/hobbyists, rechargers.

– Explorers: visit museums because it interests them and appeals to their curiosity.

– Facilitators: visit museums in order to satisfy the needs and desires of someone they care about rather than just themselves.

– Experience Seekers: are ‘collecting’ experiences. They want to feel like they’ve ‘been there’ and they’ve ‘done that’ – they want to see the destination, building or what’s iconic on display.

– Professional/Hobbyists: Represent the smallest category of visitors but they are very influential. Could be museum professionals, art and antique collectors, teachers, artists, etc.

– Rechargers: visit in order to reflect, rejuvenate or just bask in the wonder of a place. Artmuseums, botanical gardens, aquariums have lots of these visitors. [1]

(For further explanation, could refer to this brief introduction. )

The model has a strong focus on motivations–why people come to the museum, and it highlights “visitor as an actor with personal interests, knowledge, and preferences” [2] in the exhibit space, instead of one of the general demographics.


From my interviews, I found out people could be playing different roles along the journey. They might start as an experience seeker, such as going with friends on a weekend. Then they become explorers because they feel like they should look for fun stuff or famous pieces that they haven’t seen before (according to John Falk, a large number of visitors fall in this category). In the end, they might just be rechargers, walking around and response to artworks emotionally.

That is to say, during the journey, visitors’  behaviors are not mainly decided by the motivation with which they arrive the museum, but could be influenced by other elements. One way to understand this is situational interest and personal interest.

According to Csikszentmihalyi & Hermanson(1995) , they distinguished between the situational interest, which occurs when we come across things of interest,  and the personal interest, which relates to our “enduring preference”. Csikszentmihalyi & Hermanson thus indicated that if visitors gain personal interest in a particular part of the exhibition, this opens the possibility of further involvement and development of the individual.[2] Edmond (2006) continued the discussion, suggesting that various attributes of artifacts in the exhibit spaces could play different roles: “attractors” stimulate situational interest, and “sustainers” help sustain the interest. [2]

If looking at visitors’ information interaction from this perspective, it can be concluded that situational interests and personal interests are two main factors deciding visitors’ actions, and thus it would be make more sense to categorize personas based on their situational or personal interest or both.

One thing I learned from my interviews is that people have different levels of appreciation. Some might value visual appeals more than any other information. They like looking at things that they find visually intriguing, cool, or amazing. They might reach for more information, especially stories and anecdotes, but they really don’t like labels and are unlikely to take more actions after the visit.

Some might invest time in things they find interesting. They are not driven mainly by visual appearance, instead, by things that are beyond their personal experience. They read labels and are more likely to use the audio guides and apps for more information. They usually engage in discussions with companions.

Some might be more specific about what they are looking at because they are either trained or self-taught as professionals in art or curation. They are attracted by things they find visually appealing, interesting or strange. They spend long time standing in front of one piece to look at every detail of the piece, from the brushstrokes, depths of paints, cracks; they examine the piece from every angle, standing at a distance, stepping closer to an alarming distance (which attracts security guards), the first visit, the second visit, their own perspective and other visitors’ perspectives. They might do more search or make more notes after the visit.

Based on the above introduction, three types of visitors could be concluded: visual visitors, motivated learners and expert visitors. The three types of personas are not real categories, but more like a spectrum, most people might be in-between two types of personas. Also, according to my research, they differentiate from each other but also share some similarities, which would be further described in future posts.



[2] Dindler, C. & Iversen O.S.,  Motivation in the museum-mediating between everyday engagement and cultural heritage, 2009,  http://www.nodem.org/admin/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/motivationinthemuseum.pdf

[Design Thesis] 1-9 Retrospection

At some point, I started to look back on my thesis topic again. I did research on the museum, technology, information, visitor studies, label studies and case studies. What exactly am I looking at? What is the question that I want to answer?

It’s not just about the art museums. I found the same problem occurs in art museums, botanical gardens, expos and daily activities, such as reading a book. They all involve certain type of information interaction and mutual expectations. People who design the information wish the audience could understand and possibly take actions; while the audience also wish to take something away from it, though sometimes they don’t know what it is.

Every information creator has to compete for the limited attention of the audiences. Some people design for a glance, i.e. advertisement; yet some need to find a way to engage the audience for longer period to convey the meaning. I think in this sense, the curators in exhibit spaces have to solve the same problems as writers.

It’s not just about new ways to present information. After my research into the technology, I realized that technology is important in that it’s the carrier information, but what’s equally important is the information itself. The ever-advancing technology continues to surprise us: the screen is going to be bigger and thinner, projectors might become ubiquitous to provide interactive interfaces on any objects, we can retrieve information at any places. On one hand, we need to understand the “information affordance”(if there’s such as word) of different medium. Does it afford long text or short texts? Do people tend to glance or read (though nowadays, being able to understand information at a glance is almost a survival skill)?

On the other hand, how to enrich the viewing experience itself. The moment when a person looks at a work itself might be esthetically pleasing as the artwork itself. The questions, imagination, pondering, and emotions involved are as valuable but also fragile as any oil paintings by genius painters. That’s why I came up with the idea to present information on the artworks (though the idea is still debatable).

Boil down to the earth, I use a simple question to rethink through all the elements in my thesis topic. How to present information to the public? I further dissect the question into different parts:


information: I have some hard time to define what this type of information is. It is context-rich, has multi-layers and needs some time to read and process. This relates to stories/storytelling, memorable and packaged information, as well as information from the context (which I might further explain in future posts.)


the public: I roughly define this public as audience with various needs. One way to fulfill all these needs is personalization of information, then it leads to the question: how to balance personalized information with curated information? This reminds me of Google Now. It provides information when the users needs it based on user’s behavior. How can it present more in-depth information?

Another question is about the power and control of curators, writers and designers. To engage visitors, we need to understand them and design for them. So, when talking about user-centered information design, how far we can go?


how to present: when talking about present the information. It’s about how to present, which includes types of information, the medium and the style of the information. Under each part, there live several questions.

Types information: how to tailor information to the medium? how could the methods or guidelines be used in different museums?

Medium: what’s the technology I might need to learn?

Style of the information: how would the style (humor, anecdotal, entertaining, serious, etc.) affect the interaction?


It also relates to the context: when and where to present the information. Is it when the audience need it or when they are highly motivated? Is it in the museum, or is it anywhere, any time?

To go one step further, I also asked why. Why should I present this types of information? Why should I present the information in such a way that I wish they could actually engage with it?


20131001_204822So, this graph is kind of a mind map for me. It helped me position the questions that I came across in the first month and also helped me clarify my interests and focus. It makes me think in the context, but also out of the box.


[Design Thesis] 1-8 Case Study: Cleveland Museum of Art

Speaking of technology innovation in art museums, one can hardly not talk about Gallery One in Cleveland Museum of Art, which attracted extensive attention from the public and the press since this January. Gallery One rethinks about technology application in the museum exhibits, creating a new multimedia visiting experience for the visitors. It includes one 40-foot multi-touch MicroTile Collection Wall, several multi-touch screens in the whole gallery and a new iPad app, ArtLens.

It does a lot cool stuff (I wish I could go there and see by myself)

– The 40-foot MicroTile Collection Wall displays the 3,800 pieces of works in the museum. Visitors can drag the pictures of works into their iPad and plan their own visit.

– The multi-touch screens in the museum provide different types of interaction, such as “Strike a Pose” game, and “Make a Face” interactive. They invite the visitors to imitate the pose of facial expressions of the artworks.

– With ArtLens, the new iPad app, visitors can plan their own visits, get pop-up information of the work they are interested in by a simple scan.

From the photos, people seem had a really good time with the installations because art museum is no longer just about viewing, but it involves movement, thinking, touching and drawing. It’s not only inspiration to other art museums, but also to the interaction design industry. 

If you want to know more the project, please refer to:

1) Transforming the Art Museum Experience: Gallery One: a complete and detailed introduction of Gallery One published on Museums and the Web 2013. One of the authors is Jane, Alexander, Director of Information Management and Technology Services at Cleveland Museum of Art.

2) MWatCMA on Storify: a complete page of Museums and the Web’s Deep Dive into CMA on Sep.18-19th, 2013, including some introduction articles, and a few slides from the gathering. (I hope there could be videos or audios to go with the slides though.)

3) Review on the experience in CMA: a thorough review report on the whole experiences. The author, Ed Rodley provides a lot insights on what the technology provides as well as what’s missing in the exhibits.

4) Reviews on Tripadvisor: would be interesting to look into to see how visitors like Gallery One and what could be improved.

I am looking forward to the incoming visitor studies in CMA.


[Design Thesis] 1-7 Interview Questions for Visitors

The visitor research by Denver Museum of Art made me think a lot. The things visitors mentioned about–such as how they imagine the personality in and behind the work, how they feel about education in the space, how they emotionally response to the works–are all fascinating. It made me ask more questions as

– is it necessary to design different solutions for novice and expert visitors?

– what’s the essence in the experience as well as the education? (for me, the judgements they make, the protective sense of their individual experiences, the emotional response, the imagination to build connections or make up stories and the spontaneous discussion among visitors are something that is so unique to be recreated in digital world, all of which relate closely with the artworks instead of informational labels or devices.)

– how to solve/think further about the interesting paradox between the willingness/intent to learn something in the museum with the uncertainty of what to learn and the protection of their own judgements, feelings and personal connections?

– am I design for the experience or the education? Or could it be both, people learn in the experience?


Based on these previous research and discussion with my advisor (who felt it was time for me to start talking to people instead of endless readings), I designed the interview questions for visitors in the museum.


1. Can you think of the  last time you went to an art museum, what triggered you go to the museum?

[Questions about the labels]

2. What’s your favorite piece or what is the most impressive piece to you?

3. Can you think of any artworks that made you step closer to look at? When did you get closer? Why did you get closer?

4. When looking at the piece that attracts you, what did you do?

– What type of label do you pay attention to, individual labels or the large labels?

5. Do you remember anything you read from the label? What did you pay attention to when reading the label?

6. Think about your favorite piece in the museum, can you rank the following information that you wish the museum could provide (card sorting)

– the life of the painting (how it was created, sold and ended up in the museum);

– how one painting relates to all the other paintings in the same gallery;

– how one artist relates to other artists;

– the personality of the artist;

– what the artist was thinking about when creating this piece;

– how other visitors think about this piece;

– how one piece of artwork affects daily life(fashion, interior design, education, etc.)

– other, please write down_________

follow-up question: why do you rank ___ the first thing you want to know?

7. Think about your previous museum visit experiences, what else do you want to know? What do you feel is missing when reading the labels, the audio guides or apps?

[Experience with Art]

8. Do you find something interesting during your visit, such as artworks, labels, or discussion?

9. Would you like to get information about art in your daily life? What are the other resources for you to get information about artworks or artists (books, magazines, friends, social network, Internet, etc.)?


The main focus of the interview is the information interaction among visitors and informational labels or devices. What do they pay attention to? What are they interested in? The interviews will take place in the museum and I will try to make the questions as specific to one painting or one experience instead of asking for general answers that might not get real answers from visitors. The goal of the interview is not to provide a list of information that visitors are interested in, but to get insights of what else could be done. As my thesis goes along, I found design opportunities in the exhibit space that are supported by various researches, which means I would build my project on results from some official researches, and spend more time in developing the experience that I am trying to create.

[Design Thesis] 1-6 Visitor Study by Denver Art Museum Interpretive Project (Part 2)

The second part of insights I got from Denver Art Museum Interpretive Project.

This thorough exploration of visitor experiences in the museum showed differences in novices and expert visitors, yet the commonality is of the same importance. The commonalities can be summarized in three categories: experience and education.


– In general, visitors are looking for appealing, soothing and pleasing experiences, which provides them a moment “for the world to go away for a while.”

– Novices enjoy visiting with companions, while expert visitors prefer individual time. For those who have companions, it’s a social experience and they value the discussion and inspiration. Expert visitors enjoy the pondering, and viewing experiences uninterrupted.

– Most visitors have emotional responses to the exhibits and these intrinsic feelings are important to both novices and experts.

– Visitors make judgments on the paintings.  Over half of novices recommend that people should be open-minded and try new things when looking at art. But ultimately, what really matters to many novices is finding a piece they like. For a few of the interviewees, knowing that a work is considered a masterpiece, or at least of high quality, is somewhat intimidating. Experts enjoy look at a wok that is interesting even if they don’t like it.

– They try to make human connections with the “human elements” in and behind a work. They think about the personality of the artists, the past generations or derive some personal meanings about the nature of being human. They build stories around characters in a work and rely no their imagination to understand a certain civilization or the historical periods. Both novices and expert visitors are interested in the intent or inspiration when artists created their works.

– Novices look for and build personal connection with exhibits; while expert visitors find personal connection enhance their understanding.

– Most visitors are protective of the experiences, and are not interested in anything that might diminish their pleasure. They know there are more to explore, and to learn, but tend to protect what they already have, such as their own judgements, or personal connection with certain artworks.



– Most visitors expect to learn something in the museum, individually or with companions, but the definition of learning is quite broad. It can mean seeing new things, acquiring new knowledge or both. Expert visitors plan their visits beforehand or utilize the information in the museum, such as information desk, bookshop, etc.

– Here are some quotes from visitors that I found rather representative.

“[learning in museum] is not information-related. It’s more the art itself. The sense of wonderment of how a person could think to create. It has something to do with creativity of people, of human beings.”

“It’s hard to look at things and not take something away.”

– As about labels, novices constantly want labels, tours, and other learning opportunities of the sort that would help them see more or give them about a “very basic idea about … what you are looking at”, but right now the design of labels are rather distracting to some people. Some expert visitors find objective labels are enough, while some would like to read more information.

– Though visitors want to learn in the museum, they also suggests “the educational opportunities should be strictly optional.”

– The viewing and learning process is an implicit esthetic experience.

“several indications show that they try to pursue something that catches their eye. In some cases, details or aspects of a work intrigue them enough to ask themselves a question.”

“I just let art hit me.”

– Often, problems or questions arise as the interviewee is perusing a work, and spark new explorations or discoveries. Many advanced amateurs(expert visitors) talk about “just looking at details”, and are pleased when they stumble upon “surprises”, “little treasures”, or something they “didn’t notice before”.

– Frequently comparisons play an important role in these explorations. Roughly half of the interviewees mention that explicit groupings of objects help them see more.

[Design Thesis] 1-5 Visitor Study by Denver Art Museum Interpretive Project (Part 1)

Museums and education institutions in the U.S. did a lot research on visitor studies, which provide me a solid foundation to understand visitors. One of the research I looked into is the Denver Art Museum Interpretive Project because it focused on label study. It’s a two-and-a-half-year project involving a 1000-participant survey, 16 individual interviews and four group interviews. The results are profound: they not only developed a conceptual framework to create interpretive materials (that is, labels) to different types of visitors, but also experiment with 13 different types of labels to create different experiences.

To me, the research provides in-depth insights of visitor behavior, visitor expectations and general information interaction. Here are some of the insights I gained:

1. DAM developed their research around an “expert model”: by comparing novice and expert visitors’ experience in the same museum, to identify the uniqueness of each group in behaviors, attitudes and expectations. This model created two personas in the art museum, which is also supported by John Falk’s five visitor identity: explorer, experience seeker, recharger, professional/hobbyist, and facilitator.

People come to the museum with different motivation, ability to make meaning from the exhibits and interests in the artworks. So they behave differently, if relating to my thesis topic, the information needs of different groups are different: the expert visitors might want to see different kinds of information to deepen their understanding, while novices might prefer novel experiences than informational exhibits.

One thing to keep in mind when Designing for the public institutions is that the public have various needs. What’s more important to understand is how the needs differ from each other, what’s the priority of these differences. For me, what interests me most the information needs. How to achieve personalization of information in public spaces?