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Experiential Digital Gallery Engagement (EDGE)

March 7, 2019
Mark Lochrie

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Canvas is the first phase of the project and seeks to develop a framework/process for developing prototypes to test within a non-metropolitan art gallery.

EDGE is a follow-up phase that will design and develop a platform based on requirements from MOSTYN and Arts Council Wales. Themes of EDGE will be woven into the initial stages of Canvas and will become one of the three prototypes to take forward – to develop, deploy and study.

Art should speak to both our hearts and minds. Contemporary art often speaks primarily to our intellect, hoping our hearts will follow. Experiencing art is a personal journey for each of us; through the use of interactive technologies, these journeys can be enriched providing galleries and museums with the opportunity to further understand the ways in which they can personalise that experience to each individual.

Our focus is on MOSTYN, Wales’s foremost contemporary art gallery, which welcomes over 80,000 visitors a year. But the learning from both the feasibility study and the developed prototype will benefit other similar cultural institutions.

The project will help MOSTYN define their purpose as a public art gallery in the face of rapidly developing, culturally; competing for interaction, and explore new and authentic ways in which we can communicate with our visitors and communities.

Key aims:

  1. Use human-centred design approaches to understand MOSTYN audiences and establish themes and patterns within their behaviours.
  2. Deploy and test multiple, agile, lo-fi prototypes for a responsive visitor feedback interface.
  3. Develop one low-fi prototype into a fully functional prototype that can be deployed and studied within MOSTYN’s art gallery.
  4. Create a blueprint for a cost-effective feedback and monitoring tool that MOSTYN could use to track audience changes and ensure we can continue to meet their evolving needs.
  5. Share and disseminate our findings with audiences, stakeholders and other researchers.

Canvas seeks to understand audience motivations and behaviours using a mixed Human-Centered Design (HCD) methodological approaches using various tools and processes such as;

  • The Design Thinking Double Diamond strategy.
  • Co-design workshops.
  • Design methods such as; “how might we…”, storyboarding, interviewing, cultural probes, insight statements, rapid-prototyping.

Digital is all around us, we are ever-increasingly connected to one another. In it’s simplest form digital is just a ‘swipe away’. But digital in the form of a mobile phone becomes a barrier when in the present. It blocks our view to the physical world, it disrupts us and it obscures realities. However, we know that digital technology delivers the possibilities to provide a greater level of interaction, increase in knowledge and richer content. Broadcasters have adopted digital technologies as a way of boosting audience engagement through responsive channel communications (return channel). Methods and services such as the “red button”, “on-demand”, “second screen apps” and on-screen calls to action such as hashtags and SMS, have all had a significant impact on bringing new content to audiences in novel and intuitive ways.

Having identified digitally native audiences into two groups – ‘Facebook Families’ and ‘Experience Seekers’. Experience Seekers, which make up for only a minority of gallery goes are typically represented by students or graduates, local, young, single, without children. This is particularly concerning, as these are MOSTYN’s ‘audiences of the future’. Facebook Families are also young couples (or families), often with children and tend to be engaged with digital mediums, social media and cultural exhibits – competing for demands for engagement and time. We will look for shared characteristics between MOSTYN’s audiences to form such categories based on cultural needs and interests, and test our understanding using prototyped feedback interfaces.

Our project objectives and activities are:

  • Design a framework to map MOSTYN audiences.
  • Use a cultural probe and ethnographic techniques to gain insight into how these segmented groups behave and interact with MOSTYN, building rich understanding and empathy with their needs.
  • Prototype feedback tools which enable better communication with such audiences.
  • Produce a fully functional prototype that can be deployed at MOSTYN.
  • Use blogs, vlogs and social media to document our processes.
  • Create a blueprint for future projects and funding applications.

At the EDGE of Canvas is the form of an Experiential Digital Gallery Engagement object. This will be extracted from the insights gathered during the workshops facilitated during phase one – these include -but not exclusively- the discussions, themes and feedback collected. EDGE will provide Wales with its first dedicated digital arts platform, and groundbreaking research into how audiences engage and respond to digital technology within a public art gallery.

These approaches increase the accessibility between broadcasters and audiences but also from between audiences. Canvas:EDGE will combine the input gathered from the HCD approach and will draw inspiration from these responsive channel services by exploring how we can engage our existing and new audiences with digital arts?

Regional museums and galleries have struggled to adopt such engagement technology due to the high cost, lack of specialist skills and limited resources. However, as technology dates, the costs decrease, and the barriers to entry reduce. As society shifts and the need to understand technology becomes more apparent, the rise in hackathons and maker communities allows participants to discover and explore the possibilities of what we can do and make with creative, digital technologies.  

This project will build upon the advances in broadcasting and the rise in digital making by bringing MOSTYN together with partners, our communities, audiences and stakeholders to create, inspire, engage, upskill and disseminate. Canvas:EDGE, will have a physical presence within MOSTYN’s “Tube” (the concrete vestibule area). Inspired by the current trends in television such as engaging with content via navigation, reactions and downloading, it will empower audiences to “flick” channels and interact with a huge range of digital content.

Canvas:EDGE extends beyond just a physical experience that delivers digital arts in an innovative way. It will be a channel that enables audiences to become part of the exhibition – evolving over time. Audience engagement will be initiated from the beginning of the project through a series of facilitated HCD workshops and specialist talks.

The project will run from November 2018 to December 2019. Phase one will begin January – March, followed by phase two April to Nov. Once deployed in phase 2, Canvas:EDGE will then gather data on viewer interaction, behaviour and content preferences, and track visitors as they continue their journey through MOSTYN. EDGE will thus provide MOSTYN with groundbreaking audience insight, which will inform and enhance our future digital strategy, business plan objectives and exhibition programmes, ensuring we are fulfilling the ACW ‘Inspire’ objective to ‘make the most of our arts building’.

After the funding period, the project will be transformed into an interactive archive web experience that audiences can view from any web browser. The findings from the project and its methods and processes could later be developed into a toolkit that will enable other arts organisations to cost-effectively create their own audience engagement technologies.

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