A museum visit is an amazing opportunity to immerse yourself in someone else’s mind, in someone else’s world. We dive into a context where we see things anew, ready to take in a new perspective.
This might happen in a museum you’ve never visited before, or one you have visited repeatedly. Our visit is about being in another place.
Sometimes, we aren’t able to, though. To be fully present means to be fully open to the experience. To fall into a flow of observing, questioning, understanding and reflecting on what we have seen, heard and felt.
To deepen the visitor's time at the museum, we propose Eaves - a museum pass to an immersive experience accustomed to your presence.
What happens when we imagine a museum visit without phones, minimise the amount of reading of plaques and have the visitor use all of their visual energy on sensing their surroundings? By limiting the amount of visual queues for the visitor, enhancing the auditive context, we aim to bring the visitor closer to the exhibitions.
At the same time we can bring a person closer to the art, and the artist closer to the person observing their work. By exploring an element of auditive augmented reality, an opportunity to open up museum visits to people with a visual impairment or difficulties learning through text becomes a clear advantage as well.
At the start of your visit you have the chance to set up Eaves based on your expectations and ambitions, so that you get the most out of your visit. During your visit, Eaves is your companion and museum pass, guiding you through the exhibitions and its architecture, while informing you on the pieces that intrigue you. When returning Eaves, you receive a summary and a condensed version of your visit so that you can re-visit it whenever you feel like, and share it with others.
Like going to a museum with a knowledgable friend, or eaves-dropping into a guided tour, Eaves tailors your visit to your expectations, your behaviour and your past museum visits.
Expanding the museum experience
Originating from a desire to enhance a spatial experience through sound, we explored different places where a sense was over represented. A museum visit rarely has an auditive quality to it that exceeds the visual perception of your surroundings. What if more of the information is communicated through audio, freeing up our visual capacity to take in the exhibited artefacts and the museums architecture with increased awareness? It is essential to gain a deeper understanding of the exhibition and learn more than what you expected.
To improve our understanding of the scope of this context, we looked into the museum visit experience by mapping out general situations and needs that might arise. Through a visit at a local art museum, we identified several existing pain points that had a reoccurring effect in other museums. These are known issues in museums and are the subject of active discussions among museum curators.
Some situations identified as interesting to look into further:
- An installation with accompanying sound is easily overheard in other rooms. A video with audio needs headphones that are usually occupied by another visitor, or deemed to unhygienic to use.
- An installation in the middle of the room has the information placed on a close-by wall, which requires the visitor to memorise either the text or the experience.
- Information on a plaque become impossible to read when other visitors obscure it.
- A sense of uncertainty is felt when the directions or layout are unclear.
- When visiting in a group, people have different speeds to tour a museum and might not synchronise well.
Flow and immersive experience
A clear premise was set to develop the concept: there would be no use of the mobile phone. An increase in cognitive load and a distraction from a simultaneous activity; it is usually occupying the visual perception, and so would encroach on the visuals of the museum.
An existing and common solution to bring the information about the exhibitions closer to the visitors has been in the form of audio guides. Their usual shape and interaction is rudimentary, where the visitor presses the corresponding number for the artefact on display. What if the audio guide is like a knowledgeable friend, that tells you about the piece in front of you, or like a tour guide in the same room, eaves-dropping to what they are saying, narrating the right piece at the moment you are in front of it?
As visitors have different expectations and goals with a visit, they can customise the guide after their needs, so that the visitor feels in control of their experience.
Museums place a lot of effort into the spatial atmosphere and design to bring the story behind an exhibition to life. A certain look and feel is the goal and it is often a part of a rigorous marketing strategy. Respecting that, the concept has two “parts”: one that is neutral with the core concept, the other an adjustable one for the branding of the museum. The object consists of a physical and an interactive design, with an interface for set-up and drop-off.
Combining the ideas of a remote control and an admission’s pass, Eaves leverages familiar shapes and functions to become an easy companion. It is worn closely to the body, connected to a neck-strap that is customisable to fit the museum’s overarching concept. The neck-strap consists of a band and a clasp; the band can be in cotton, polyester, leather, etc, with a clasp in an adjustable colour. The neck-strap can be removed and will snap back through its magnetic mechanism.
The main body has a completely closed casing that is easy to clean to enhance the feeling of hygiene for the visitor. The rounded shape of two connected circles, one smaller where the hand would grasp, and the other slightly bigger with the main controls.
The bigger circle holds a concave surface where, through touch, sound levels can be controlled and duration of the playing information is displayed. The smaller circle has a subtle convex surface for a softening of the corners towards the sides, so that it always lays comfortably in the hand.
The backside is kitted with a capacitive wireless charging pad for easy handling of the museum personnel when the battery is low. This also ensures a minimum of crevices and openings where dirt and bacteria might gather, easing cleaning routines as well.
Interactive design through light and sound
Light and sound form the feedback provided to the visitor when performing actions with the object. Making these soft and warm, the impression will not be too stark or draw attention more than is necessary to understand that the visitor was successful in their interaction. By combining visual and auditive feedback, the risk for confusion is minimised, as these can each stand alone, in case the visitor is not looking at the object or cannot perceive it, or if the headphones malfunction.
The visual queues consist of light and a circular form on the big circle on the front of the object. The colour can be adjusted to the museum wishes, while in general red - orange - green would indicate battery status (low - charging - charged).
Aside from sounds for the specific functions, there is also ambient sound and exhibition narration. Ambient sounds provide the visitor with a blank canvas of sound, where environmental noises fall to the background, consistent with the museum’s atmosphere and specific to each exhibition. These sounds are completely decided by the museum, with basic tracks ready to use. Exhibition narration encompasses the specific information that a visitor can call up when looking at an artefact. This can be anything from a story for the younger visitors, bringing together the visit in a way that is accessible for them, or the artist talking about their own work, bringing each person closer to the work they’re looking at.
Entering: set up your museum experience
When picking up Eaves, a set of possibilities is given to you. The museum could put together a itineraries where the visitor is guided through e.g. the must sees, or pinnacles of the style etc depending on the amount of time they have available. In this way, the museum can add layers of storytelling on their exhibitions; hidden narratives that are revealed when placing specific artefacts together. The visitor can also set the level of information about the artwork; whether they feel they are complete novices or experts in the subject.
Tracking in the museum: navigation
In an unfamiliar setting, it is easy to lose your way. When exhibitions are laid out, the story the artefacts tell follows this path. So as a visitor you gain a lot by knowing your way- that is why in this system will play in a panoramic stereo sound. Working with an intuitive use of sound, the exhibition’s ambient soundscape increases on your left, right, front or back to pull you towards that direction. Through tracking installations connected to Eaves, the museum knows where you are, and where you best head to next.
Whenever the visitor comes closer to an artefact, the narrating voice will starts playing, increasing in volume when staying in front of the piece. The visitor can at any time walk on, leaving the piece and its story behind.
Taking the sound with you
Placing a finger on the concave circle will produce a soft bubbling sound and an intensifying light to keep the sound with you so that you can walk on in the museum and listen to the same narrative regardless of where you are at. At any point you can stop this by again placing a finger on this area, pressing down until a sound and light feedback is given and the narration stops.
Museum visits in groups: bubbles
When visiting a museum with others and you want to share the experience you can share what you are listening to. Placing the passes on top of each other transfers the sound to the other pass. the one on top transfers theirs, at the same portion of the narration.
Leaving: Take the museum with you
At the end of the visit, Eaves is handed back for cleaning and charging, if needed. The visitor will get a prompt to synchronise their museum visit summary with a digital device or account. The summary brings together your visit, based on the data, such as location, narrations listened to, duration, etc. acquired during that time. Favourite artists or artefacts helping you to find new museums to discover in your city or anywhere in the world. Maybe something in the gift shop would be of interest? Bringing together the narrations you listened to so you can revisit them wherever you are or share with close ones. And if you missed a narration during your visit because you had to hurry, it will be there for you, too.