Mobile technologies and cultural institutions: a design perspective.

Paper
Davide Spallazzo, Italy

Published paper: Mobile technologies and cultural institutions: a design perspective

Davide Spallazzo | Design Department – Politecnico di Milano | davide.spallazzo@polimi.it

Digital technologies and mobile technologies in particular are often pointed as a driver to achieve new visiting models but their employment in cultural heritage field is anything but straightforward. Despite the very long tradition of mobile interpretation in museums and the new potentials offered by smartphones and tablets (Scolari, Aguado, & Feijóo, 2012), the current visit models often rely on that enabled by audio guides, be it a guided tour or a free choice tour, soundtracks and soundbites in the definition by Proctor (Proctor, 2010).

Furthermore, the introduction of digital technologies in museums and cultural institutions requires collaboration between professional with very different backgrounds such as curators, experts of education, programmers, graphic designers, just to name a few.

The paper looks at this complex ecology from the point of view of a designer, trying to point out the main issues to be taken into account while designing a mobile experience for cultural institutions and a process that can be followed to achieve a final product from scratch.

The user, the visitor, is the starting point of the design framework here proposed that regards as essential for a cultural visit to learn something, to engage (also socially) and to enjoy the visit time (ICOM, 2010).

The design process here discussed combines two phases (Spallazzo, 2012). The first is based on analytic thinking and aims at defining the main problems the new project must face and to take important decisions about the mobile experience, such as the contents to be displayed, the learning model to be proposed, the level of social engagement to be pursued and so on.

On the contrary, the second phase is based on synthetic thinking and aims at building up ideas relying on the results of the first phase and at proposing visit scenarios. Design thinking (Brown, 2009) is here employed to synthetize in experiences, coherent with the assumptions, an interesting story, mechanics of interaction (both with contents and users), cultural contents and the user.

These process and framework have been applied in several projects and as a teaching tool for design students, achieving efficient and well targeted products and scenarios but what can be lost following the process is the visitor and the need to create for him something really beautiful, enjoyable and amusing, that is what design usually does.

In few words this paper proposes and discusses a well-structured design framework to support the development of mobile experiences for cultural institutions but at the same time it warns designers not to take it too seriously and to pursue visitors’ engagement and enjoyment above all.

Keywords: Mobile technology, design, cultural institutions, user experience, design framework

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