Querying With Tangible User Interfaces. A User Centred Design Experiment.
I have been investigating how users ask question to navigate and explore content (data) of museums and other Cultural Heritage (CH) organisations. This might seem more straightforward when a specific museum collection has been set up. Nevertheless, when integrating data from the different CH organisations, the way people see the content and how it’s hosted might be different. Users will approach libraries in a different way they approach museums. Under Europeana, many of these organisations are integrated in the Europeana Data Model (EDM). This way we can describe people (creators), places, dates, date periods, objects and many other descriptors to produce more accurate answers. Despite all the effort and the sturdiness and accessibility of the data, it is still very complex not only to t to query it, but is also difficult to grasp the complexity and extent of the knowledge encompassed under it.
As mentioned above, Europeana as an organisation has integrated into a single space in the data model. Therefore the data and information is there. Despite this, it can be argued that there is not yet an optimal tool to produce knowledge from it. My research aims to find out most optimal ways to engage with such information so users can produce knowledge from it. In previous post and academic publications, I have discussed the different approaches that can be taken to develop such engagement tools thus arguing for the use of Tangible User Interfaces as a possible solution. Therefore, to understand user needs, I devised a User Centred Design experiment where I designed over 50 different tools (icons) that users potentially require to ask questions to a data repository such as Europeana’s.
I realised that this produces the same amount of complexity as if working with a common Graphical User Interface (GUI). For this reason the study aimed to identify particular personas based on their digital generation, digital skill, and cultural heritage background and web tools knowledge among others. It is important to keep in mind that these icons represented TUIO actions, query actions and logic operators as well, that is the reason of performing such experiment, to reduce such complexity.
Participants were asked to find particular artefacts such as: Picassos (things) that were not made by Picasso, or XVII Century objects from France. These questions might seem simple but arguably, there is a certain level of complexity that might hinder engagement with the content when querying for those results. These question can be asked in through Europeana’s API’s access or through the SPARQL Endpoint. But many users will find complicated to query through those particular approaches and even more complicated to learn all the particular query syntax to perform the query. Moreover, the brain has to figure out the logic complexity on top of the syntax and interaction processes. Tangible Interaction can help segmenting those thinking processes and facilitate querying with a particular syntax.
After performing the statistical analysis, the experiment showed most meaningful approaches that users followed ant their experiences when taking part in the experiment. This provided me with the information of what artefacts (tools), logic procedures and particular user requirements that needed to be implemented in the Tangible Interface to query cultural heritage data.