Daniela Petrelli

Phone vs Tangible in Museums - A Comparative Study


Output: Conference Paper

Digital technologies in heritage sites and museums are generally understood to be screen-based and more recently applications for the visitors’ phone. Such digitally augmented visits, however, take away the materiality of the collection - and the embodied experience that is key to a deeper engagement and appreciation. The rise of the ‘Internet of Things’ supports the seamless imbedding of sensors and actuators within objects and spaces.

In this way technology disappears giving way to a direct emotional connection with heritage and/or objects. While these new visiting experiences can be designed, the validation of their effectiveness remained. This paper discusses a comparative study with 76 participants using an app on a mobile phone, a smart card and a smart replica while visiting an exhibition. The replicas and the cards were both tangible, but the replicas had an aesthetic value the smart cards did not. Visitors’ preferences (collected via a questionnaire) and observed behaviours were analysed in depth.

This study is the first to offer a possible definitive answer to questions that have been asked for the past 10 years on the distracting effect of mobile devices in museums and the assumptions that younger visitors would prefer technology while older generations would resist it. This research was further disseminated at the ACM CHI Conference on Human-Factors in Computing Systems 2018 receiving an Honourable Mention, and underpinned Petrelli’s keynote speech “Beyond the Phone: Mobile CH in the age of IoT” at MobileCH - Mobile Cultural Heritage in 2018 at ACM Mobile HCI. It also formed part of her keynote speech “From Delivering Facts to Generating Emotions: The Complex Relationship between Museums and Information” at ACM SIGIR Conference on Human Information Interaction and Retrieval (CHIIR) in 2019.

Research Output

Phone vs Tangible in Museums - A Comparative Study

This project contains further videos that can accessed via the full case study below.

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Research Method

The study compared three different modes to control multimedia in a musuem exhibition. Data collected included questionnaires and observations. Observed visiting behaviours were coded respect to body posture and their focus of attention. Participants who moved often and shifterd their attention often were ‘fish’ while less mobile and more focused participants were ‘ants’. The video shows such different visiting behaviours with the phone and the tangibles (replica or card).

Key Methodologies:

Full Project Output

REF '21

To learn more about the output, methods and dissemination of this work, explore the full project submission.