Executive Summary

In the National Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, interactive devices are used as the primary method for delivering information in some exhibitions, and as a supplemental source of information in others. Te Papa was interested in seeing how these on-floor devices engaged and affected the users’ experience. The goal of this project was, therefore, to assist the museum in gaining information about the users’ interaction with the on-floor devices in the current exhibitions. Our research offers the museum useful information that will allow them to improve its design of interactive devices in the future.

In order to select three devices for our study, we toured the museum, looking at each interactive and took detailed notes. We then compiled these notes into a list of pros and cons for each. This list was then brought our team of sponsors and discussed the best options. After we had three devices to study, we looked to find out why they were chosen to convey the subject matter of the exhibition. To do this, we met with each respective curator. We conducted in-person interviews, focusing on the design process of exhibitions and the original intent of the interactive devices.

We then began our main stage of data collection. We sought to evaluate the visitor experience in order to assess the devices’ impact. This objective was broken down into six sub-objectives that allowed us to understand many aspects of the interaction between the visitors and the devices in the museum. Each of the sub-objectives helped us to create specific survey questions that would be given to the visitors at the end of their interaction with the devices. Along with these post-visit surveys, we observed visitors in-person and via camera recordings. The in-person observations were meant to give us a view of the visitors while they were interacting with the device in order to note any interesting or surprising information that could be useful in our findings.

We chose to focus on the touch tables in The Mixing Room exhibition, the Quake Safe Game in the Awesome Forces exhibition, and the Ngā Mōrehu: The Survivors game in the Slice of Heaven exhibition. These devices were chosen because they represented variety of interactives that ranged in age, interface type, and content. We then conducted two interviews with key staff members of the museum, who had played an important role in the design and development of The Mixing Room and the Slice of Heaven exhibitions. From this, we learned about the complex design process of exhibitions. The project involves many departments and outside companies. We also learned that what the curators intend the visitors to take away from their experience is not always what they actually do. The Mixing Room’s three touch tables are broken up into three themes: challenge, connection, and freedom, but visitors tend to not notice this and only visit one.

We broke up our third objective into six sub-objectives:

The first sub objective was to identify visitor background and expectations. For this, we sought to understand the visitors’ background and the expectations of technology they brought with them. This sub-objective was explored using the survey and in-person observations. From this, some of our important findings were that the average visitor is proficient with technology and expects to be able to choose the information they look at. The average value for visitors’ proficiency with technology across all exhibitions was 7.8 on a 1 to 9 scale. Additionally, the mode was 9, suggesting strongly that the majority of visitors were very proficient with technology. We found that visitors prefer to choose their own information because 60% of visitors preferred to get their news from the Internet, which allows users to curate their own information.

Our second sub-objective was to determine how the visual aspects of the exhibition are related to visitor-device interaction. This sub-objective looked at how the visitors were attracted to the device, whether that be because the device caught their eye or a friend called them over. This sub-objective also dealt with how many people in the exhibition chose to use the device. This sub-objective was completed using data from our in-person observations and the video recordings. We found that all of the interactive devices had surprisingly low use percentages. In a two-hour period, we recorded 296 people who walked through the Quake Safe Game with 18% interacting with the device, 279 who walked through The Mixing Room with 40% using the device, and 71% who walked through The Survivors game with 13% using the device.

The third sub-objective was to explore the connection between the devices’ current ease of use and visitor suggested improvements. For this, our survey asked the visitors to rate the ease of use of the device and to provide feedback on what could make it easier to use. We also observed the visitors’ interaction with the device to not whether they were using it correctly and their reactions while using it. This developed a couple of noteworthy findings. First, The Survivors game was the easiest to use with an average rating of 8.3 on a 1 to 9 scale with 9 being the easiest. The Mixing Room was in second place, with a rating of 7.3. The Quake Safe Game came in last with a rating of 6.4. We found that The Mixing Room and the Quake Safe Game had mixed reviews because of their interfaces were not what people expected; the Quake Safe Game had an old touch-screen interface and The Mixing Room used a technology that people were not used to. The most common response from visitors on how improve ease of use was to include better instructions on how to use the device.

The next sub-objective was to examine the engagement of the visitor with the device. This sub- objective dealt with the amount of time the visitor interacted with the device, how exploratory their actions were, and their commitment to the interaction. We determined the amount of time the visitors used the device from our video recordings. We observed the visitors interacting with the device and classified each of them using the Exploratory Behavior Scale (EBS). This scale classifies each visitor as passive if they have limited interaction with the device, active if they use the device as it was intended, and exploratory if the user went above and beyond by applying repetition or variation to their actions. The commitment of the visitor was measured by proxy of whether the user was sitting or standing while using the device. We had one major finding about engagement. When we classified each of the users on the EBS, we noticed that The Mixing Room had the most passive users. We believe this to be because people could easily view the content without interacting with device themselves. The Quake Safe Game had the most active users because the clock prevented people from performing exploratory action. The Survivors had the highest amount of exploratory users because people developed a connection with their avatars, causing them to fully explore all the chances they could make in the game.

Measure visitor enjoyment of the device was our fifth sub-objective. The visitors’ enjoyment was measured using the survey and our observations. On the survey we had a question asking what they found interesting about their interaction with the device. From our observations we noted the users’ emotions and reactions while using the device. This showed us each of the devices had an attractive feature to it. The Mixing Room’s water effect proved to be fun for visitors to play with. With the Quake Safe Game, people enjoyed the challenging aspect of the time limit. The Survivors developed a personal connection with the user, allowing them to enjoy their experience more.

The final sub-objective was to understand key outcomes from visitor-device interaction. The key outcome that we looked at was the amount of knowledge the visitor took away from their interaction. This was done using survey questions about their knowledge before and after their interaction. We also asked about their preferred learning styles to see how the devices could best deliver their information. Our data on key outcomes produced many useful findings. The first was that all three of the devices taught their users about their content successfully. We also found, through our survey, that the most preferred learning style of the users was hands-on, while the second was visuals such as picture and video. Visitors also replied that reading was their least preferred learning style.

Some other highlights of the data included The Survivors game being rated the easiest device to use, having the highest number of exploratory users, and showing the highest percentage of positive emotions from its visitors. The Mixing Room had the most followers and had a higher percentage of people who sat during their interaction. The Quake Safe Game had the most active users and the highest amount of overall traffic.

From our findings we developed the following recommendations:

  • On-screen instructions: Confusion and misusing interfaces were a huge discovery from our data collection process. Visitors walking up to a device could not intuitively understand how to use the devices appropriately. Instructions must be a concern that is looked at during the initial planning stages of the device because they may not be able to be added later. Instructions should be placed on devices to explain what the objective of the game is and to explain how the device itself works. Not every device will need this explanation, especially when the device follows technology that most users are familiar with, such as a modern day touch screen. However, when looking at devices that are less common, such as The Mixing Room technology, it is always better to assume the users will be confused without any guidance and to take the measure to clear up any confusion that could occur.
  • Making devices more accessible: We saw at the Quake Safe Game that people were not able to interact with the device because it was being used by another visitor a majority of the time. In order to counteract this, there can be multiple screens or having games promoting groups working collaboratively. If neither of these suggestions were feasible for a future device, then it would be advisable to look carefully at the possible locations for the interactive. We believe that placing a device based on its type of interaction will help improve the visitor-interaction rate. Another way of looking at the problem of the accessibility of a device would be to supplement it in a way that allows users to play the game on other devices. If the museum looked into finding a way to standardize the software so that these games could run on mobile devices as well as the in-museum interactives, then people would be able to have access to museum content in more ways than ever before. Finally, having a restart button on devices that involve a long interaction such as the Quake Safe Game or The Survivors game would allow for people to experience all of the device’s content from its beginning, the way it was intended.
  • Device maintenance must be a priority: Interactive devices cost a significant amount of money to implement. Therefore, they should be reliable for the visitors. Unfortunately, when a device is malfunctioning, however small, it can cause the visitors to become frustrated and leave. It is important to note that the museum has a system in place for dealing with malfunctioning technology. The museum’s hosts either observe it or are alerted to the incident by visitors. It is unavoidable when dealing with interactives that problems will occur, but as long as they are handled in a timely manner, most of the visitors will not have to experience the bugs or glitches that can occur.
  • Meeting visitors’ expectations of interactive technologies: Technology evolves at a very rapid pace in today’s world. Along with these evolving technologies come guidelines for how devices are intended to be used. People expect devices to work a certain way, and when they do not, it makes things more confusing and frustrating. If a museum is going to use a unique technology that most people are not accustomed to, then it needs to be clear to the visitors how the device will behave otherwise the interaction with the device will suffer. We recommend that when looking at future devices, the museum take time to look at the standards of devices.
  • Implementing interactive devices is a good strategy for meeting visitors’ learning style expectations: We found that 60% of visitors who were surveyed preferred to get their news from the Internet. What we can extrapolate from this is that people have changed how they want to receive their information. Traditional ways of getting news, such as the newspaper only allowed readers to have access to the stories the newspaper chose to report on. This is much different than the Internet, where the almost unlimited content allows people to select their own stories to read about which puts them in control of the material. Interactive devices can provide this tailored experience just as the Internet does for all four types of learning styles we looked at. In addition, interactives allow for learning styles like reading and looking at images to be more flexible by allowing curators to swap in new material or modify current material digitally based on feedback for the exhibit. This shows that, regardless of the learning style, interactive devices are a good strategy for giving users the best experience with the material and letting them feel in control and empowered while they learn.
  • Most effective interactive device types: Each of the devices we looked at were effective interactive audience engagement devices. The Quake Safe Game can be commended for challenging its users in order to better engage them in the material. Interactive devices in the future should challenge their users, as it is a great way to get people involved and engaged with the material on the device by pushing them to be more active and interested. The Mixing Room was able to handle many different visitors at the same time. Through our observations we saw that many visitors traveled in groups, which meant that having a device that allowed everyone to interact at the same time is a huge accomplishment. Future devices should keep this in mind because there are many ways of solving the issue of multiple interactions. Finally, The Survivors game was able to use a person’s connection to the material presented to make for a meaningful engagement. Personal connection makes the user care about what is happening on the screen, making reading text and looking at images a necessity for users rather than a chore. Giving people the power over the avatar’s outcomes creates this connection because the only reason certain events or situations occur is because of the user’s decisions. Future devices should look to achieve this personal connection with their users by making them question what they are reading and what decisions they are making, in order to keep them fully engaged.

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