TOPIC: Digital Media in Museum and Playful Experience

In this article, I am trying to explain my personal experience and field notes about my observation in museum of Vancouver main exhibition gallery, as my background is a combination of software engineering and technology design specially in interactive media such as video games, so my perspective is a little bit biased from those channels, and I am trying to address the use of digital media in museums from a technology design , and user experience point of view, and not the cultural or historical preservation.

In this article, I will elaborate on seven different digital and physical technologies deployed for museum of Vancouver, and I will investigate them from an interaction design, and user experience perspective, by discussing my personal exposure to these mediums, and bringing up the main notes that I observed from a friend’s interactions in an unattended approach.

From design perspective, I mostly concentrated on how intuitive the interaction elements of these technologies have been designed, which can gauge the participants attentions in first step. and second, I investigated how playful and interesting experiences emerged from these mediums, by comparing my own personal experience and coding a friends reactions.

According to [5], humans are playful creatures, and they seek everywhere to create and enjoy engaging experiences. the design of technology mainly concentrated on efficiency since the beginning of digital age, while recent technology development trends are considering the play elements inside their design thinking process as well[4].

In next section, I will elaborate on seven different technologies used in museum of Vancouver, either through the physical or cyberspace and I will evaluate their design, and emerging experiences, mainly the playful one. Then I will depict a physical object in museum which has a high potential for playful experience as last case study. Finally I will explain how these applied tools can be improved in the conclusion section.

Eight Case Studies:
1.Museum of Vancouver Digital Website:[1]
The main website that facilitate access to different information about the museum such as events, exhibitions, collections, blogs, multimedia, and social media networks such as Twitter and Facebook.

The interface and interaction design for website is quite simple, and efficient from a usability perspective, while navigating between different parts, and focusing on main contents are quite straight forward. The main website is mostly informative about news and events. By the way I noticed the blogging part does not include active participation of community and local people, which can be considered as  some design problem in social interaction design problem domain.

The personal experience for me was mainly informative, and I did not notice any engaging or playful elements. I think adding some play elements even to formal pages such as events , and education program can motivate to people actively participate and benefits from proposed educational plans. For example, a comment form and list which can be authenticated by some administrative roles can boost social exchange as an playful experience. or even connecting this events to corrsponding facebook or Twitter can facilitate the social and play power of these systems inside the main website.

2.OPENMOV : The Search Engine for Digital Collections [2]

It is very interesting website project which facilitates an effective search over objects available in museum of Vancouver either the main gallery collections or stored sections. the interface provides easy and understandable options for search such as name, catalogue, department, location and etc. as it has been started recently, most of objects in database does not include any image, it also lacks a recommendation components that can help people to narrow down their search space, or find the alternative words which might be the right case based on some spelling problems, that can happened quite frequently, as most of objects come from different cultural communities, and they have roots in other languages.

A cool example through digital collection website:

3.City Kids CD: Explores the lives of Vancouver kids in 1910

The first technology medium observed in medium was a really simple system composed of a monitor, and a button, which was hanged in a shelf which includes other objects such as toys.

the interaction model looks quite simple, and motivating, as there are some playful elements (toys) around the monitor which can captivate the kids and older adults to interact.

Personal observation: The system does not work, as by pressing the interactive button noting is being shown in the monitor, the objects and toys around the monitor looks quite interesting to me as they remind me the similar kind of toys which I collected when I was a kid, I think collecting things is one of those playful elements of human life which happens even from early days of life and keep going till ending days of life chapters.

Participant observation: I went with a friend early in the morning to museum, and there were not enough people in the museum, but I was observing my friend’s behaviors without telling him explicitly, and I noticed he looked at objects without touching them, and even did not try the monitor, it seems the location of monitor was not well suited to captivate his attention.

4. Witness Living Legacies

There was a wide board which includes some written texts about Tsleil-Waututh  first nation community cultural rules, and values, and their future plans for healing their territories.

Also,a white button was connected to board with a listening sign which could motivate participants to interact with. Finally, a recorded message will be played after pressing the button, which is in both specific first nation and English languages. The main cultural message include “ Members of this community be stewards of all land, water, and air resources, and reconstruct it in a traditional way.”

My observation: I was attracted to listen to recorded message as there was a sense of adventure in me, and it was increased while listening to native language first. while the whole experience was quite static.

Participant observation:

My friend tried that as well, but did not spend whole the period of playback, and moved to more playful elements. the design was simple and intuitive enough to start the interaction, but the experience and content were not engaging to keep participant attention for whole the playback period.

5.Location Aware Aparat Film:

There was an interactive movie broadcasting system, which was activated based on the participant location. for example it starts to play an old movie about Vancouver railway system, and streets like Robson, and Granville when a participant located in front of a window, some lights turned on as well.

My observation:I personally enjoyed to look at a movie which was created by capturing street views on a moving locomotive, and comparing the old and new days of Vancouver streets and buildings. I think the location awareness technique used in this component was great, but the location of screen in comparision with the objects representing the camera was a little bit strange, while participants need to turn 90 degrees to switch from objects to movie screen.

Participant Observation: my friend got surprised while standing in front of some museum objects and lights turned on suddenly, and a Movie broad-casted through an Aparat. the ambient sound system was interesting, meanwhile there were no voice over the screening movie though.

6. British Columbia Through the camera lens of Philip Timms

The Photodigitization project :

The digitization of Vancouver Public Library’s historical collections started in June 2000 with the Leonard Frank Photodigitization Project, while continued two years later by Vancouver’s Golden Years: 1900-1910, Photographs by Philip Timms. “British Columbia through the Camera Lens of Philip Timms”[6] There were two main principles for this project:

  • protect the collection by making it electronically available.

  • represent the collection by raising researchers’ and communities’ awareness of the historical photograph collections.[6]

There was a standing computer boxed in a fancy metallic frame, which facilitate access to digitized version of mentioned photographs available from website that VPL has released since 2002. There is a standard keyboard and some physical mouse objects which facilitates navigation and search through different sections of website.

My observation : using a computer based interface was quite simple and easy to captivate the website content, even though I tried to touch its screen several times, as I expected the fancy boxed computer provide some touch based interaction, the physical mouse input was a little bit tricky, and I personally needed to read some tips before using that correctly.

Participant observation: I was looking on my friends interactions unattended and I noticed he has the same problem with using mouse tool, and the whole experience did not took more than 4 minutes for him to go over contents and stopped exploring the website too early.

7.Tune In To Vancouver Bands from 1960 – 1970

There was a group of buttons installed on a long board while each of them represents one of famous local rock bands between 1960-1970 including : 1.The Collector 2.Seeds of Time 3.Northwest Company and etc, and by pushing any button a selected song from that band would have played. These music tuners were located under a big neon named Smilin’ Buddha Cabaret which represents a famous cabaret back to that time, which most of these bands played on stage.   Also, there were a collection of music instruments and hippie clothes and models which represented the dominant culture of music bands and fans back to that time specially in that districts.

My observation: it was an interesting experience while switching between different bands, and looking at their pictures under the big neon frame of the cabaret where they played back to that time, even though I have never been exposed to some of those bands or the place before, but I started to imagine different events happend in that era, I think it was mainly because of nice decoration that was created in museum about these set of objects.

Participant observation: I noticed my friend had a semi playful experience while interacting with this tool, even though he might not be a fan of rock band back to that era, but he was interested to listen and look at pictures, and reconstructed music instruments from the local hippie culture.

8.Shared Blackboard

There was an interesting physical object which allowed participants to reflects their experience and feeling in a shared tangible board using simple drawing materials, and it was located in entrance of the museum, which I believe should be placed in exit gate. I think this sort of objects in museums can create a playful experience, if designers provide enough motivations and rewards for participants to being motivated to express their own ideas and emotions about their field trip. Applying a shared communication object in any domestic or public space attract people attention to provide their views about a common experience they had from a reality and subject.


As I mentioned for each case, some of these technologies provide very simple and basic interfaces for audiences, which make them intuitive enough for museum participants to interact, meanwhile as generations expectations has raised from both technology and digital media, the mentioned technologies, does not provide enough attractions to initiate the interactions which is the side effect of being super simple.

Furthermore,  families and museums participants are looking to have fun while experiencing a technology in physical or cyberspaces[3]. and this elements need to be considered in design of any technology which is going to attract families, and humans, as playful creatures. “However, aside from games, the design of technologies has generally focused on tools to improve our efficiency,”[3] but recent works and trends show a significant interest to support playfulness in technology and digital media design and production.

I can argue that, adding fun, and engaging design to mentioned technology can help to improve the museum participants ‘ experience while being exposed to cultural and historical facts. For example providing a digital board which can get users feeling and comments and visualize them in the context of museum, can attract more end users’ attentions, and improve their participation in learning process.


3. Hutchinson, H., Mackay, W., Westerlund, B., Bederson, B., Druin, A., Plaisant, C., Beaudouin-Lafon, M., Conversy, S., Evans, H., Hansen, H., Rouseel, N., Eiderback, B., Lindquist, S., and Sundblad, Y. Technology Probes: Inspiring Design for and with Families, Proceedings of CHI, ACM Press (2003), 17-25.
4. Gaver, W. (2002). Designing for Homo Ludens. i3 Magazine, June (2002)
5. Huizinga, J. (1950). Homo Ludens: A Study of the Play Element in Culture. Boston: The Beacon Press.