Ideas from CRASSH mobile possibilities conference

Digital Media
December 4, 2013

What are the challenges and possibilities raised by mobile? Now that more than half UK adults have smartphones, and with tablet use doubling in a year, cultural services need to understand the social shifts the normalisation of these technologies cause. The conference ‘Making Cultural Heritage Mobile: Challenges and Possibilities’ at the University of Cambridge explored these issues. Here are some reflections on this event and the questions raised about mobile and its impact on service design.

The conference was organised by the Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities (CRASSH). This post looks at issues from the conference, as well as from a pre-conference workshop I had kindly been invited to, along with other museum professionals working in digital service delivery, academics and creative designers. The discussion here draws on themes from both these related events

I was also presenting the opening keynote. My slides are at the end of this post, along with a list of attendees at the workshop. A big shout out to Carl Hogsden, Research Associate at CRASSH, who co-ordinated the events. 

See also our last post with a summary of relevant research reports:

Summary of themes

For me there were a number of themes that surfaced. These included:

  • Mobile is here and embedded in daily and has already changed social behaviour. Use of mobile is normal and happening throughout people’s lives. No discussion of service development should be looking at this as the future. 
  • There is a common risk of looking new technologies through the characteristics of existing well understood technologies.
  • In-gallery mobile requires a holistic approach beyond just digital delivery to ensure the visitor experience is great from beginning to end.
  • There are complex social factors at play in gallery use of mobile such as individial perception of expected behaviour, personal space and transferred behaviour from experiences elsewhere.
  • The use of mobile phones especially the prevalence of photo-sharing has subtle implications for the management of image rights.

Mobile is an embedded aspect of daily life

A common issue discussed was that mobile use is not some new thing. Loic Tallon, Senior Mobile Producer at the Metropolitan Museum of Art New York, made the point that if museums are thinking about getting into mobile, then they are merely choosing to participate in activity that is already happening everywhere already (including in our museums).

He noted that mobile is not a new technology in museums anyway. For example, audio guides have been in use for decades. He also pointed out that the concept of individual mobile technologies is not new either, citing newspaper use on a train as an example. These were new once too. I especially like his comparison between handheld games consoles and conkers – both being examples of the behaviour of carry portable gaming devices around!

Mobile is a behaviour not a technology

Loic outlined his approach to developing services using mobile, which was put simply in 6 points:
  1. Mobile is a behaviour, not a technology. He emphasised that mobile describes how you behave, independently of any technology you use.
  2. Mobile exists already. If museums are talking about starting to go mobile they are only starting to participate. Mobile behaviour is aleady happening inside museums. We need to understand how that behaviour affects what people expect of services.
  3. Develop for the use, not the technology. This is how to take the first point and apply it. It is daft just saying ‘we need an app’ (insert any trendy new technology here). If there is an experience we wish to happen, we should look for technologies that support that aim
  4. Who is it for? What does it do? Sounds obvious, but you can’t serve all needs, so you should prioritise a specific audience and identify the experience you are offering.
  5. Think outside the museum box. He discussed the idea that we should not design a car to look like a carriage, just because horses used to power them.
  6. Keep it simple. The things that work are usually the simplest, such as Angry Birds or Temple Run.

Loic Tallon with an amusing take on web statistics pie charts, suggesting that rather than thinking exclusive separate slices, web usage on mobiles and by other means are interchangable and people switch between them all the time

Jane Alexander from the Cleveland Museum of Art also discussed how daily mobile behaviours should be considered when looking at services development. Jane was responible for delivering the impressive Gallery One experience at Cleveland Museum of Art. Within Gallery One, she noted that when visitors were given a choice of museum-provided iPads or bringing their own, she had expected users to want a museum iPad, but was surprised to find that more people wanted to bring their own.

This made me wonder if this reflects that people are quite attached to their devices and that visitors possibly also just want their familiar settings. Of course it may be they don’t want to use a device that someone else has touched!

One of the other familiar behaviours several speakers noted was head-up (use supports or augments external activity) versus head-down use of mobile (user focus is on the mobile not external stimulus). When in a museum, there was a desire to reduce the amount of time spent looking at screens, and increase the amount looking art exhibits. There were various ways in which this had been tackled, but generally avoiding anything other than the simplest controls and giving people big images to relate to objects in galleries easily were mentioned as ways to address this.

Support issues arising from using mobile devices in-gallery

Gallery One was one of the most impressive implementation of enagaging technology in a physical gallery space in the last year, with its incredible Collection Wall, the largest multi-touch screen in any US museum. Gallery One acts as an entry point to fire up the imagination of visitors and has a number of digital user experiences to engage users directly with the art in the collections. 

Jane Alexander delivering evening lecture

One of these uses iPads in robust foam cases that can be ‘filled up’ with interesting art from the main galleries using clever RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) technology. This allows visitors to ‘drag’ interesting objects from the Collection Wall onto their iPad, and then take a tour of the rest of the Museum. This works by a one-off linking between the RFID as an ID chip, which tells the servers that the app is running on that particular iPad, so it knows where to download the user choices – simple, but clever in creating a sense of magic with a simple method.

Jane raised really good points about projects being as much about visitor-services management as it was about technology. The staff in the space act as gallery assistant, technician, screen cleaner, helper and lots more. This had required rethinking the management of the space and personnel in an integrated way.

She described surprising findings. For example Art Lens is designed for visitors, but 60% of traffic came from outside Ohio, so were unlikely to be visitors (Cleveland is not a major tourist destination). She also described the ways in which people naturally establish a level of group etiquette about how far they should interfere with the experiences of others. It was interesting to hear how multiple people listening to open audio in one echoey space self-managed reasonable noise levels out of self-awareness.

The view from the designers

It is always great to hear from experience designers. Ben Templeton from ThoughtDen shed light on the creative process in developing mobile experiences. He described the challeges of developing ideas. I liked his view that constrained brief helped creativity, but also that in design, you sometimes have to get loose and random –  I loved this line as typical of this process: ‘Wouldn’t it be cool if…’ 

His work with National Museums Scotland on ‘Capture the Museum’ was a great hands-on activity, showing mobile being used, but merely as part of an overall experience, also involving running about having a good time (um, walking about sensibly I mean!) .

Ben Templeton discusses prototypes. Not all of these made the cut...

Another slant on mobile experiences was the work by Rosie Poebright, Creative Director, Splash and Ripple and Steve Poole  Professor of History and Heritage, University of the West of England on developing a mobile experience for visitors to the 18th century Sydney pleasure gardens in Bath. This involved a fantastic steampunk ‘Time Radio’, which relayed voices from the past through triggered audio. I loved the retro-styled device and there was an impressive amount of historical research to bring the voices authentically to life.

Rosie Pembright shows off the wonderful time radio with Steve Poole researcher on the Sydney Gardens project.

Intellectual property

Eleonora Rosati discusses licencing

Dr. Eleonora Rosati, Research Associate at CRASSH, discussed a review of UK museum attitudes to images licensing models and the public use of copyright and motivations and drivers for digitisation. She discussed how a risk-managed approach to rights has become common across UK institutions. She introduced concepts of ‘licensing-in’ associated with using other people’s images and ‘licensing-out’ concerning management of an organisation’s material being used by others.

This was followed by with Matthew Bailey of the National Portrait Gallery, who reflected that the historic approach to orphan works had resulted in just a handful of people coming forward to ask about works they have rights to, but even the no direct challenges. He also discussed that curatorial culture has driven their decision to offer the most restrictive type of CC licence. This was partly reflecting a risk-averse culture highlghted already by Eleonora, in that CC licences are permanent, so if they had used a looser licence, they couldn’t change the terms later for any image so assigned

Catherine Draycott of Wellcome Images discussed various issues which included the issue of in-image metadata stripping causing modern-day oprhan works. This is a potentially large issue when so many people use mobile phone photo sharing apps and websites.

Ideas to resolve this included using image-recognition software to identify images on creation and link to an archived metadata record. This might be one way to retrive metadata purely from a scan of an image. A developer in the audience also suggested that re-sizing tools in open source software might be rewritten to retain metadata which they currently strip.

Digitising images may not automatically confer copyright

Finally Jonathan Griffiths of University of London suggested that the historic assumption that digitised images have automatic copyright is something likely to be challenged by changes in European law. This is because the law implies that mere reproduction of an image is not sufficiently seen as authorship, therefore the copy is not subject copyright as a creative work. This could mean that previous assumptions that digitisation can create income might not be valid, because the business model for this process assumes copyright control over the images produced.

My keynote slides on mobile trends

Here are my slides from the opening keynote. They cover the implications of ubiquitous mobile devices and how they change social behaviour, and therefore service design. They then expore how publishing content as data is a way to cope with the complexity and unpredictability of diverse devices.

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Workshop 28 November 2013

The pre-conference workshop looked at mobile in galleries. The workshop was facilitated by Ross Parry (Senior Lecturer in digitisation, web, mobile and in-gallery interactivity) and Alex Moseley (National Teaching Fellow, Educational Designer) from the University of Leicester.

Attendees represented practitioners (e.g. me!), academics and designers. 

Workshop in the Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences, University of Cambridge

The workshop involved a lot of hands-on drawing and bashing out of ideas. The artificial restriction that we were considering how mobiles would be used cause a lot of creative ideas, although some solutions didn’t include mobile phones at all. This reinforced my view that it is never technology that should be the reason for a service – a required experience for specific visitors should be the driver. Having said that, it is always essential to get into the space that your users will be using, to feel what they feel.

Ross and Alex’s slides are here

Attendee list

  • Anne Alexander  CRASSH
  • Jane Alexander  Director of Information Management and Technology Services, The Cleveland Museum of Art 
  • Jonathan Baldwin  Director of Teaching and Learning, University of Cambridge
  • Alan Blackwell  Reader in Interdisciplinary Design, Computer Laboratory, University of Cambridge David Chatting  Investigative Technologist, Culture Lab,Newcastle University  
  • Lorna Cruickshanks  Community Partnerships Coordinator: Talking Objects, British Museum  
  • Sandra Dudley  Interpretation, Representation & Heritage; Exhibitions and Collections Director, University of Leicester
  • Sarah-Jane Harknett  Outreach Officer, UoC Museum of Archaeology & Anthropology
  • Carl Hogsden  Research Associate, CRASSH & UoC Museum of Archaeology & Anthropology
  • Andrew Lewis  Digital Content Delivery Manager, Victoria and Albert Museum  
  • Alex Moseley  University of Leicester 
  • Ross Parry  Senior Lecturer in digitisation, web, mobile andin-gallery interactivity, University of Leicester
  • Dan Pemberton  Collections Manager, Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences 
  • Rosie Poebright  Creative Director, Splash and Ripple
  • Steve Poole  Professor of History and Heritage, University of the West of England  
  • David Scruton  Documentation and Access Manager, Fitzwilliam Museum
  • Loic Tallon  Senior Mobile Producer, Metropolitan Museum of Art
  • Ben Templeton  Creative Director, Thought Den Ltd
  • Grant Young  Digitisation and Digital Preservation Manager, UL, University of Cambridge

About the author

Digital Media
December 4, 2013

Digital Content Delivery Manager at the V&A. Information scientist at work and hacky maker of strange things out of it.

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