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The Cross Culture Timeline

A  beautiful bronze incense burner from Egypt and a shining golden sword which you can find in the National Museum in Budapest.. What do they have in common? Maybe you will find out using the Cross Culture Timeline! 

One of the goals of the CEMEC project is to create an exhibition, which will open in October 2017 in Amsterdam and will be called CROSSROADS. For that exhibition, our team is developing several digital applications, one of which is the Cross Culture Timeline – and I will tell you a bit more about it in this blog.

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My name is Inge-Kalle den Oudsten, I am one of the PhD students from the University of Amsterdam working on the CEMEC project. My research focuses on the use of digital technologies in museums, and that is also why I am working together with our technical partner in Dublin, NoHo, to develop this particular digital application – a large projected timeline which will include information on many of the objects in our combined collections. We have a wonderful way of working together: the great minds at NoHo work on developing the actual application – the complicated technical part, basically – while I am concerned more with the visitor experience.

But first, let me tell you a bit more about the Cross Culture Timeline. As said, it is a digital application, which consists of a large projection on a wall, put there by three large short-throw projectors. This projection consists of three parts: the left shows a map with a timeline, the middle screen shows the object and the final screen will be used to show 3D scans, videos or other images. The projection can be controlled by using a tablet, such as an iPad. The main goal of this application is to show the connections between the different objects. Our project incorporates collections from a lot of different museums – they are from different time periods and different regions, but, surprisingly, they are also similar in many ways. We want to show the visitor the diversity of objects that will be in the exhibition, as well as the different links between these varied artefacts.

Ultimately, of course, we are very interested in whether visitors will use the application to discover these connections. We want to know how and why they use the timeline, and in what ways it affects their experience in the exhibition. Yet, before we can even start of thinking of such questions a lot has to be done still. Because the most important thing at the moment is to make sure that this application actually works, and that each visitor will easily understand how to use it. In short, we need to focus on user experience.

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Over the last few months, the amazing technology nerds at NoHo have been working really hard on developing a first pilot version of the application which we could then test in a physical space. This way, we could invite visitors to interact with the application and see how they respond. So that’s what we did; last month we showed an actual physical test-version of the application in the Digital Museum Lab of the Allard Pierson Museum in Amsterdam. Here, I can share some of the main questions and issues that we came up with based on this first evaluation.

  • What is the relationship between the iPad and the projection? So currently we’re using a tablet to control the large projection on the screen, intending to use it as a kind of ‘remote control’. However, it turns out that, for most visitors, it takes a while to see this connection, because all their attention is first focused on the tablet. How can we make this more clear to our visitors?
  • How do we select objects? The timeline application allows you to select objects in order to get more information about that particular object. Currently, visitors can find objects based on chronology or location. But maybe visitors would want to pick objects in a different way, for example, based on the material or its aesthetics. How can we incorporate these different methods of choosing objects into one clear design?
  • A tablet in the museum or a take-home-app? We are thinking of developing an application that you could use on your own device, such as your phone. But do visitors really want to download an app in the museum? Maybe they don’t have WiFi, or their storage is full? And why would you download an application if you can just grab the tablet that’s right there? So we’re wondering, how can we make such a take-home-app of added value?

So now you know about a few of the things that we’re working on with regards to the Cross Culture Timeline. Of course there’s many other things that we will have to improve (like its looks, for example ;)!), but luckily we still have a while until CROSSROADS opens! We will use that time to evaluate even more – in January, already, the Cross Culture Timeline will be part of one of the smaller CEMEC exhibits in Budapest. If you’re around, come give it a try!


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