Beyond Paper: Experimental User Interfaces for Museums

In 2003, computer scientist Alan Kay said: “If you look with a squinty eye at most of personal computing today, you'll see we're basically just automating paper—using digital versions of documents and mail.” We still treat our computers like glorified paper; he argued; the real revolution has yet to come. Kay was one of the pioneers of the graphical user interface (GUI), which transformed text-based ways of interacting with computers into a visual interface of graphical icons, windows, and other visual indicators. The GUI opened computers to broad audiences in the 1980s, and it has been the standard way of interacting with computers ever since. When museums build digital experiences for our audiences, we generally assume a visual way for users to interact with our data. We have visitors type in an audio stop number on a keypad; we treat collection websites like grids, translating salon-style gallery hangs to the web. But what would it mean for museums to rethink when and why we use visual interfaces? Today, the tech world is seeing a proliferation of advancements that move away from or enhance traditional visual interfaces. Siri and Amazon Echo allow us to interact with computers using voice commands. With Facebook M and Magic, we can now accomplish tasks—from finding a birthday gift for a friend to ordering an Uber—via chat. And tangible user interfaces allow us to use physical objects to interact with digital information. In this presentation, we will examine how user interfaces are evolving, giving examples of today’s most exciting experimental interfaces. We’ll explore what museums can learn from new kinds of interfaces and how they might incorporate some of these approaches into their work. And we’ll discuss how we’re experimenting with interfaces for an audio guide for visually-impaired audiences at The Andy Warhol Museum. Speakers Session Leader : Desi Gonzalez, Manager of digital engagement, The Andy Warhol Museum Co-Presenter : Ruben Niculcea, Innovation Studio, Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh MCN 2016 Presenting Sponsor: Piction New Orleans, LA