Multitouch Exhibit Design 3: The Visitor Experience

This post is the third in a series of three posts exploring multitouch and multiuser design. Our company, Ideum, develops computer-based interactive exhibits for museums.

The first post addresses user interaction and feedback, the second focuses on User Interface (UI) elements, objects and environments, while the third looks more broadly at how multitouch and multiuser exhibits can shape the visitor experience.

Traditional Computer-Based Interactives
Part of our attraction to multitouch and multiuser exhibits has to do with their ability to enhance the visitor-experience. Much of the criticism surrounding traditional computer-based exhibits and kiosks is valid:

1.    They tend to isolate visitors
2.    They are often too information heavy
3.    Interactivity is often limited
4.    In many cases the experience can be easily replicated at home, school or work

The traditional computer-based exhibit seems to have more in common with an ATM than it does with other interactive exhibits found in the museum. Traditional computer-based interactives can be functional, but are not often inspiring.

atm-windows2000

Multitouch, Multiuser
Making computer-based exhibits more interactive and engaging has always been the challenge. Ideally, these exhibits will act as catalysts for visitor communication and conversation. In the past we’ve developed computer-based interactives that have used push-button interfaces (also see Jukebox Memories), touch capacitors, and even spherical displays.  Multitouch and multiuser capabilities are a very welcome development, and I don’t think I’m overstating the case by saying it may be the most important innovation for computer-based exhibits since the development of the World Wide Web.

Multitouch, multiuser exhibits present a number of advantages over their single-touch, single-user counterparts:

1.    Multiuser exhibits bring museum visitors together and encourage social interaction
2.    Interaction is more physical and intuitive
3.    Multitouch tables are still novel and present an experience not found at home, school, or work

wii-players

With the popularity of large-screen TVs and gaming platforms like the Wii, we weren’t really sure what type of response we would receive during our initial testing. But we were really overwhelmed with the enthusiasm for the platform. There is something very compelling about the table top format itself. It allows visitors not only to interact with the program running on the surface, but also with each other.

kids-with-multitouch-table

Even with early prototypes, we found the table drew large crowds and kept visitors’ interest.  How long this novelty factor lasts is hard to judge. Obviously, good design with interesting content is required to make great exhibits. Looking forward, multitouch and multiuser capabilities have a lot to offer the future of exhibit design.

Hardware, Now More Software
Since last summer, we’ve had to work on both hardware and software solutions. However, now that we have a stable multitouch hardware platform, we are shifting focus onto software design and development along with more in-depth visitor testing. I’ll keep posting what we find. Your thoughts and comments are welcome.

Finally, if you’re looking for more about multitouch you can visit the Multitouch Blogs directory site or the following sites:  Interactive Multimedia Technology, The NUI Group Blog , Natural User Interface blog,  Point & Do, Microsoft Surface BlogMultiTouch Blog, Multitouch BarcelonaStimulant, and Touch User Interface.

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