Representing Hybrid Environments

an exploration of the relationship between people and the curated exhibition spaces of the Carnegie museums.

Exploring Space: Carnegie Museum of Art X App

Our first assignment was to download and wireframe some of the key interactions for the CMOA app and website, as well as explore the physical exhibition safe of the museum. I began my exploration of the CMOA App by approaching the interface with fresh eyes- without taking a peek of the app, I left the morning of October 26th to head out to the Carnegie Museum of Art. This was done with the intention of preserving my experience as a new user of the app while fulfilling my role as an attendee of the museum.

For the majority of museum go-ers, the app is a fairly new development (having been most recently updated in April of 2016) and is not advertised well outside the confines of the museum walls. Therefore, I wanted to personally understand how the app accommodates new users in the immediate context of a gallery setting, where they have freshly downloaded the app just moments before entering.

Not to much surprise, I stumbled into several road blocks from the get go.

Exploring Space: Carnegie Museum of Art X App

I began my individual tour of the museum at the Scaife Galleries, a large collection of classical to contemporary pieces on the second floor. After noting an advertisement to download the app on the entrance door, I pulled up the app and tried to explore it/relate it to the immediate environment- I quickly realized that I could not do the latter as easily as I believed.

This was because of the “code system” that the museum uses to label and classify pieces of art in order to create the interactive viewer experience. I quickly discovered that while I was trying to search for information based on the immediate environment (photographic installation in the Scaife Galleries), the app would only allow the user to search for a limited range of pre-labeled pieces that were not necessarily guaranteed to be within the Scaife Galleries alone.

After understanding this limitation of the interface, I decided to play along with the system and see where that would bring me. This in itself felt like an oddly constraining user experience- I went through the process of perusing the “Collection Highlights” page, which provided me with a limited scope of pieces to chose from, and selected an artwork that I vaguely recognized.

After I was brought to the piece’s information page, I still felt more concerned with finding the piece itself rather than delving into the background and details- the ambitious implementation time of the information page in the user flow actually made it appear quite useless when separated from it’s subject. Finding the location button at the bottom of this page gave me an initial sigh of relief, but upon further inspection I found that it was equally as unhelpful and contextless as the frame before. While it provided the name and number of the gallery the piece was situated in, it did not help me understand how I could arrive there to see it. The lack of relational spatial data (which could have been presented in the form of a structure map/image or gps) made it frustrating for me as a “new visitor” to try to find this specific piece, which in some ways through the app I had been directed to see.


  • Code System: The “Code System” is not ubiquitous across the gallery space or inclusive of all pieces. This inconsistency across the system is not intuitive to the way viewers navigate the museum. (Can we improve this sub-system in order to improve the larger system?)
  • Scope: The wireframe’s design suggests for users to narrow their scope, though the scope is heavily limited and specified by the design itself. The app has eliminated the hierarchy of selectable information that gives the user the feeling of choice. This can be a point of frustration for the user. (Keep in mind, sometimes simplifying the scope can assist the user, but in this context it is not useful.)
  • Distraction: While the app’s code system interface is designed to bring another dimension of information and analysis to the museum go-er’s experience, it distracts and detracts from other crucial art-viewing processes by how tedious the system is to understand. How can we be sensitive of the artistic processes of the viewer through a design (mobile and non-mobile)?
  • Layers and Curation: Part of what made the navigation experience frustrating for me was that there was no clear or intuitive hierarchy of information regarding the pieces (also referring back to the limited scope of search options the app provides). What if we could navigate the pieces through “layers” of information (could be physical and/or digital?), learning more about art through a variety of “lenses”. (Holding phone up in front of piece, “peeling” off layers of information.)
  • The Internet: I think that the idea of cataloguing our intellectual and emotional experiences on an internet platform is something that is already intuitive for us in this day in age. What if along with learning through layers in a museum setting, we could catalogue that journey digitally as a tool for others to learn from as well. What if there was a system that catalogued our preferences through an interface the user gives feedback into (like/heart, dislike/thumbsdown) and noted them to recommend other pieces.

Redesigning the Space: Capturing Narrative

I decided to focus on the theme of narrative after having attended the Strength in Numbers photography installation in the Sciafe gallery. As a departure from the isolated and decontextualized pieces of ambiguous classical art in the room over, the installation presented groups of photographs that together formed a cohesive story. I loved the feeling of looking at these photographic “life stills” and the wealth of context and information they provided (at least in comparison to the rest of the collection.) How could I iterate upon this exhibition interaction to provide the viewer with more information about the pieces?

A slide projector was an unexpected but crucial inspiration point for my re-designed CMOA gallery environment. Just as a slide projector takes individual components, or stills of an experience and exhibits them in chronological order, I wanted my experience to capture artworks (that can be perceived as visual stills in the chronology of an artistic process or artist’s life) and contextualize them within the archive of other works that are related to it.

Particularly when dealing with the subject of artistic narrative, the variables of time and context are two of the most relevant components that come into play. To explore this area further, I researched artists that utilize time and context as a medium that (quite literally) adds dimension to their work.

I found that Nobuhiro Nakanishi’s exploded views of otherwise 2D images into 3D gave the scenes he portrays an ethereal sense of movement and space across time. This is reminiscent of the projector and it’s continuos, chronological representation of a place in time.

Art+Com Studios take this idea several steps further, by correlating the data of time and place from video documentation to create a three-dimensional representation of a recorded series of events. The Khronos projector is another project that relates the physical manipulation of a surface to reveal different frames in a time lapse of a physical space. These spatio-temporal representations of content were the primary drivers behind my idea.


  1. Establish an artistic narrative through exploring dimensions of time and context surrounding a body of work — the art space
  2. Relate pieces within a collection to each other
  3. Maintain an intimate and personalized relationship between the viewer and the art
  4. I am not trying to re-define a space, but more-so enhance it and give it meaning (as I am a little bit of a traditionalist in this context and would like to preserve certain feelings/experiences/sensations)

Iteration 1: Compiling/brainstorming interactions.

Iteration 2: Storyboarding.

  1. A freshman art history student at Pitt decides to check out a new artist’s exhibition at the CMOA at the request of their professor
  2. They are new to Pittsburgh, so they have never seen the museum yet. Knowing the exhibition name however, they are able to request information and direct themselves to the gallery
  3. Before entering the gallery space, they note a sign on the door that suggests to download the cMOA app for a furthered interactive experience. They download the app

5. Student finds the piece in the viewfinder, the app identifies the piece

6. Student chooses to expand the view of the piece into 3D space by pressing a button in the bottom left-hand corner.

  1. The student can relate the piece in view to other pieces made before and after it in the gallery to further understand it’s temporal context and significance in the collection. The phone serves as the controller while the panels are manipulated in 3D space
  2. They can also choose to navigate through a separate, three-dimensional timeline of the piece itself that includes content specific information by swiping and holding any of the timeline frames that are of interest to them — time period/art movement, relevant historical events, relevant figures, mediums and techniques, etc.

Extra Thoughts/Questions:

Would a more social take on this design enhance the viewer experience?

How can I get the viewers to look at information within the painting as well as outside of the painting?

Re-defining the Scope

After assessing my previous design, I realized there were several drawbacks that limited my ability to flesh out my idea further. By limiting my interaction to a series of simple, dead-end digital interfaces, I don’t think I was truly able to hone in on communicating a thorough and meaningful narrative. This was the driving motive for me to move my scope from the Scaife Gallery to the Hillman Hall of Minerals and Gems in the Museum of Natural History (one of the Carnegie Museums).

As a new visitor, this gallery immediately caught my eye out of the rest- not only because of the shiny, glittery stones in beautiful glass cases of course but because of the diversity and breadth of the collection itself. Something else I noticed immediately was how these pieces were being showcased- because of how vast the collection is, the pieces are displayed very close to each other in a densely packed hall. Though the visual beauty of the gallery speaks for itself, I had a difficult time understanding information about the pieces themselves.

My new goal for this project now became understanding how I could emphasize the context and meaning of the gallery pieces here instead of in the Scaife. How could an engaging, interactive exhibit space by the aid of technology lead to a more meaningful and informative museum go-er experience?

Technologies and Techniques

The Kinetics of Crystal Growth — The determination of linear growth rates of crystals/calculation of linear growth rates of individual crystal faces can be utilized to generate spatio-temporal renderings of minerals and gems on display.

Interaction Type 1: Spatio-temporal Crystal Growth

Gem “seedlings” can be used as tactile elements of an exhibit interaction. By having users place the seedlings of different minerals on a designated kiosk, users will be able to witness the life of a mineral as it germinates from a small to a large and complex crystalline structure. Users will be able to control the rate and time position of the structure’s growth (rendered using generative algorithms) using the motion of their hands, moving them like the hand of a clock. This will give museum-goers better insight regarding the growth patterns and crystalline structure of the displayed specimens, as well as the beautiful diversity of forms that exist among the collection.

Interaction Type 2: “Hologram” Projection Kiosk

After selecting any mineral or gem on display using the viewfinder in their CMNH app, users can go to one of the designated kiosks by the exhibit and tap their phones against the surface. Using holographic projector technology to give the impression and functionality of 3D, users can experience realistic holographic renderings that they can explore by hand. Users will have the option to fully rotate the model, zoom in and out to microscopic degrees in order to explore the crystalline structure of the gems, and add the specimen to their “Rock Collection” archive in the CMNH app that they can refer to anytime.

Other Applications:

Holographic kiosks with spatio-temporal renderings of objects or environments could be planted throughout CMNH.

Interaction 3: Social Media Interaction

To extend the scope of interactions into the social realm, I thought that having users establish identities in the context of the exhibit would be a great way for them to connect with it and other museum-goers. I started wire-framing an app for the museum of natural history that would allow users to create a profile, become “rock collectors”, “capture” rocks and gems they found to be interesting, learn more about them and share their collection with others.

Presentation: “Hologem” Keynote

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