A Virtual Reality Museum

'Home of <blank> ' is a museum of homes which connects the living environments of different cultures across time.

Context

Classroom project at Carnegie

Mellon University

Timeframe

6 weeks, Fall 2018

Role

Research, conceptualization, interaction design, visual design

Tools

Cinema 4D, Sketch

Team members

Anukriti Kedia, Emma Zelenko, Jay Huh

The Challenge

How might we use the affordances of VR to conceptualize an immersive experience for a museum that enables visitors to explore artifacts and information in a more engaging manner?

Passive user

Active user

< insert 4 pointers/problems here?>

passive visitor to active visitor graphic

< insert gif of home of?>

The Solution

'Home of <blank>' is a collection of homes from various cultures and time periods containing multiple artifacts that would give overall contextual information of an artifact to the visitor. The experience would also enable them to explore related objects and use them as a portal to navigate from one home to another.

1. The Home Environment 

Artifacts as parts of a larger whole

An object in a museum exists in isolation, which makes it difficult to provide the visitor with its larger story, like the people, place, time and culture associated with it. By showcasing artifacts in their actual environments, and through various types of interactions and audio, visitors would learn more about the artifact than through plain, static text.

Insert GIFs instead of static images

Exploring unusual homes

The home environment would give the visitor a chance to explore surroundings that have not been experienced by them before, for example, indigenous homes or dwellings of refugees.

Exploring artifacts within a home

Using hover and click interactions of the controller for the Oculus Go, the visitor would be able to interact with the artifacts placed in these homes to learn more about them.

2. The World of Connections

Artifacts as parts of multiple narratives

A single artifact has several stories associated with it and these stories also contain other artifacts. The museum experience would allow the visitor to freely explore such inter-connected stories and associations between artifacts as opposed to the linear navigation that conventional museums provide.

Explain multiple narratives of the hand axe

like a sun

 

Exploring connected artifacts

In this space, several artifacts related to the chosen one are displayed to the visitor. There is a common 'connection' that ties all these artifacts together. The visitor would also be able to change this 'connection' to view another set of artifacts.

The Concept

Steps in the experience

1. Selecting a country

Once the user puts on the VR headset, he or she has to select a country on the map to begin exploring.

2. Selecting a home

The home environments belonging to the chosen country are displayed and prompts them to select a home of their choice.

3. Exploring the home environment

The visitor walks around in the environment to explore it and views the different artifacts that belong there. An audio narrative plays in the background to give the visitor an overview of the time period, the cultural background, the socio-political situation at the time etc.

4. Interacting with artifacts

Using the hover and click interactions of the microcontroller, the visitor learns how the artifact relates to the environment and obtains information through motion, audio, text, and video.

5. Exploring the world of connections

The visitor is free to explore various artifacts in this space, through multiple connections that the selected object makes to other artifacts in the museum.

6. Entering another home environment

Through the artifacts in the world of connections, the visitor is able to enter a different home or can choose to go back to the earlier home they came from. In this way, the visitor is able to travel from one home to another through a non-linear path while discovering connected artifacts on the way.

7. Extending the experience outside VR

Objects favorited by the visitor in the VR experience are accessible to them even after the experience, on the mobile application.

Journey map

Aims of the experience

Affordances of VR
Better structuring of data
Our experience - venn diag center
Progressive disclosure
Provide the bigger context

Objects are situated in a time and place and have cultural, social, political factors attached to them. Having an understanding of these influencing factors helps in understanding the bigger story associated with the object.

Show how objects relate to one another

The experience not just explains the user the significance of an artifact but also shows how that artifact is part of several other stories and is associated with a variety of other objects through various connections.

Allow for free exploration

The museum allows the user to choose their own path to freely explore artifacts and connections that interest them, which is different from the conventional, fixed path offered generally by museums. 

Provide for a different experience every time

The experience gives the user the ability to form their own narrative and build a unique experience each time they visit the museum.

The Process

Research and analysis

To understand the ways in which information is presented and interacted with in museums, we visited the Carnegie Museum of Natural History. Through our discussions with Becca, the head of exhibition content and gallery implementation, and our own observations, we identified some opportunities for enhancing the current museum experience.

The museum experience is often passive- just looking at objects from a distance instead of interacting with the objects or other people. One exhibit begins with a discussion on how globalization influenced culture in Europe between 1500 to 1800. Giving historical context to the art pieces would make for an interesting story to a visitor. However, this story did not continue throughout the exhibit and there was no discussion of globalization within individual pieces.

We individually generated a list of problems that we saw with the current museum experience and then used affinity mapping to group our findings into five main categories.

1. Lack of context

Artifacts are often shown by themselves instead of in the environments they existed in. Sometimes, even the descriptions of the artifacts don’t explain its the cultural significance.

2. Passive experience

Museums typically require passive engagement where you can simply look at objects, not touch or interact with them. Background information is typically displayed in dry, static text.

3. Information overload

The amount of information provided can be too overwhelming, irrelevant to the visitor is interested in, or easy to ignore. 

4. Absence of a bigger story

It is unclear how objects within an exhibit relate to each other. What is the connection between them, and what is the message that visitors should take away?

5. Distractions

Other visitors can be noisy or block your view of an artifact, causing an interruption in the experience.

Keeping the above problems in mind, we began conceptualizing for our museum experience. Additionally, for concept generation we also asked the following questions:

What is the role of affordances in virtual environments?
How can the (meta)data of each museum item (artifact) be leveraged?
How can visitors personalize their experience?
Can a VR museum provide a shared/collaborative experience?
1. World of connections

This would provide ways to see how artifacts relate to one another outside of the typical organization of time period, location, or artist. For example, all created while the artist was living through a war, all images of the love interest of the artist.

3. Museum of homes

A variety of artifacts from history and art museums would be placed in recreations of homes from multiple cultures and time periods to create a greater sense of content.

5. People's museum

A museum of today, to share people's current experiences and their valued objects.

2. Free exploration world

Instead of having a clearly laid out set of objects the visitor would need to walk through and explore a world. Many objects would not be visible until the user reaches a new destination.

4. Gamified experience

A type of activity users must participate in while exploring pieces. For example, a scavenger hunt.

6. Museum of museums

A space that connects a wide range of artifacts and data from all the existing museums.

Concept Ideation

Concept selection

Of these ideas, we felt that the ideas that had the most possibility for novel, engaging experiences that could utilize the 3D space of VR and think about ways to explore large amounts of data were World of Connections and Museum of Homes.

Feedback and concept revision

The feedback that we got from our professors and peers was that the Museum of Homes made good use of the 3D space in VR but did not explore large amounts of data. Conversely, the World of Connections explored data in an interesting way but did not make use of the 3D space. 

< insert pros and cons and solution diagram>

They suggested that we combine the two into one experience.

We wanted to make sure that if we combined ideas that they felt like a cohesive whole so we spent a lot of time considering where in our Museum of Home experience we could incorporate the World of Connections. We determined that each object within a home could transport people to a separate space that allows them to explore multiple connections.

Storyboard

The critique that we received was that the idea was too broad, trying to cover all types of homes through all times and all cultures. People also expressed interest in seeing homes that are vastly different from their own and artifacts less common in museums.

We spoke to several other design students to get their feedback on the types of homes they would be interested in seeing. We decided that we wanted to focus on breaking the stereotype of what a home is by featuring “atypical” homes either because the homes are created for unique environments (like igloos in Alaska), temporary shelters (like for Syrian refugees), or non-Western concepts of homes (like wigwams of Native Americans.)​

Journey Map

Prototyping

At first, we tried to make our concept video using After Effects. By drawing the space in spherical perspective and using the 3D camera tool in AE, we tried to give the illusion of walking inside a room. However, we had to discard this approach because the image looked distorted from certain angles.

Next, we tried using the software Cinema 4D to recreate the actual environment in 3D. For the objects within the rooms, we found existing 3D objects from open source libraries. The hardest part mapping texture onto objects. It took a long time to find suitable images for wall textures and then manipulate them to fit the shape of our walls.

While we did not find After Effects to be appropriate for creating the 3D spaces, it was the best tool for creating the interfaces. We used it for our navigations scenes as well as for layering text and cursors onto the Cinema 4D content.

Interactions

We assigned different functions to the Oculus Go controller to enable the user to interact with the museum space. So as to not disturb the viewer, we decided that the cursor would be hidden by default and would appear only when the respective button on the controller was pressed. Other functions were hover and click for making selections, walking around in the 3D space and going back to access the previous states/menu.

Hover state to select an object, the object starts moving.

Click to select an object to know more about it.

Directions to move and cover distances in the 3D space.

Brand Language

In an effort to create a consistent look and feel, we carried forward the yellow line of the blank that appears in the logo to the interface in the VR experience and mobile application.

Branding system: colors, typography, logo etc

Extension: VR 2d interface and mobile app

Mobile Application

The mobile application was an extension of the VR experience so that the user could access objects favorited by them later on as well.

 

In the VR experience, so as to not overwhelm the visitor, only a few objects within a connection would be visible. However, in the mobile application, all the objects that belong to a particular connection would be accessible.

final and concepts of app

Insights

Since physical museums are made of tangible, sensorial experiences, VR experiences cannot completely replace a physical museum experience.

 

However, the VR medium has affordances that can be leveraged to supplement the current museum experience by

 

Housing a larger collection from many museums,

Organizing content in multiple ways,

Visualizing spaces that are hard to create physically and

Enabling an experience that may not exist in reality.

Copyright © 2019 Khushi Shah