A design space for social object labels in museums

  • Marcus Winter

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


Taking a problematic user experience with ubiquitous annotation as its point of departure, this thesis defines and explores the design space for Social Object Labels (SOLs), small interactive displays aiming to support users' in-situ engagement with digital annotations of physical objects and places by providing up-to-date information before, during and after interaction. While the concept of ubiquitous annotation has potential applications in a wide range of domains, the research focuses in particular on SOLs in a museum context, where they can support the institution's educational goals by engaging visitors in the interpretation of exhibits and providing a platform for public discourse to complement official interpretations provided on traditional object labels. The thesis defines and structures the design space for SOLs, investigates how they can support social interpretation in museums and develops empirically validated design recommendations. Reflecting the developmental character of the research, it employs Design Research as a methodological framework, which involves the iterative development and evaluation of design artefacts together with users and other stakeholders. The research identifies the particular characteristics of SOLs and structures their design space into ten high-level aspects, synthesised from taxonomies and heuristics for similar display concepts and complemented with aspects emerging from the iterative design and evaluation of prototypes. It presents findings from a survey exploring visitors' mental models, preferences and expectations of commenting in museums and translates them into requirements for SOLs. It reports on scenario-based design activities, expert interviews with museum professionals, formative user studies and co-design sessions, and two empirical evaluations of SOL prototypes in a gallery environment. Pulling together findings from these research activities it then formulates design recommendations for SOLs and supports them with related evidence and implementation examples. The main contributions are (i) to delineate and structure the design space for SOLs, which helps to ground SOLs in the literature and understand them as a distinct display concept with its own characteristics; (ii) to explore, for the first time, a visitor perspective on commenting in museums, which can inform research, development and policies on user-generated content in museums and the wider cultural heritage sector; (iii) to develop empirically validated design recommendations, which can inform future research and development into SOLs and related display concept. The thesis concludes by summarising findings in relation to its stated research questions, restating its contributions from ubiquitous computing, domain and methodology perspectives, and discussing open issues and future work.
Date of AwardAug 2016
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Brighton

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