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, Aftereffects, Illustrator, 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 visitor

Active visitor

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.

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.

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 beyond VR

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

User journey

Design considerations

Provide the bigger context

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

Show relationships between objects

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

Allow for free exploration

The museum should allow visitors to choose their own path and freely explore artifacts and connections that interest them, instead of the fixed path offered generally by museums. 

Provide a different experience every time

The experience should give visitors the ability to form their own narrative and have a unique experience each time they visit.

The Process

Research and synthesis

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 generated a list of problems that we had identified 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 the 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.

Concept ideation

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?
 
How can we better organize information? 

Initially, the home environment and world of connections were two separate ideas that we eventually combined into one experience. 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.)‚Äč

User journey

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 assigned 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 or the main menu.

Hovering on an object will indicate that it is in the selected state.

Clicking on the selected object will give the visitor additional information about the object through text and audio.

The touchpad will be used to move and cover distances in the 3D space.

Extending the experience beyond VR 

The mobile application is an extension of the VR experience so that visitors can access objects favorited by them even when they are no longer in the VR space. 

 

In the VR experience, to avoid overwhelming the visitor and to limit the experience to a short time period (a VR experience is typically around 15 minutes), only a few objects within a connection will be visible. However, in the mobile application, all the objects that belong to a particular connection will be accessible.

Reflection

Since physical museums are made of tangible, sensorial experiences, VR experiences might not be able to 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 the real world.

Copyright © 2019 Khushi Shah