Designing an interactive way to experience art history

Exhibit Conservation is an interactive tool that allows users to look at restored paintings and ‘peel back’ layers of conservation history. It encourages people to learn about a work of art through demystifying the process of art conservation, telling stories about the work through infrared and x-ray technology, and prompting questions about authenticity.

UX/UI, Branding, Visual Design

Masters Thesis

About the Project

In many museums, wall text is still the primary mechanism by which museumgoers are expected to learn about a work of art. It’s always been my least favorite part about going to art museums. Wall text is typically small, completely divorced from the painting, and communicated in dry, inaccessible jargon.

Exhibit Conservation instead presents an exploration of an alternative mechanism for interacting with and learning about an artwork. I began the design process through interviews with museumgoers focused on understanding how wall text impacts one’s understanding of a work of art. These conversations helped me identify what about wall text works, and what I should do differently. 

UX Problems

I needed to figure out a way to deliver information to the user without breaking their engagement with the work itself. In other words, I asked, what should the relationship be between text and artwork?

This question also became central to the management of conservation imagery with the final artwork. Early surveys confirmed that people were interested in seeing conservation efforts in addition to the artwork. As a result, I sourced x-ray and infrared images of the original painting, allowing viewers to visualize elements impossible to see on the surface. This of course introduced the new challenge of determining how best to weave these new images into the fabric of the visual story of the painting. 

UX Solutions

To help users focus on the painting rather than text, I designed a hotspot navigation system. By clicking on hotspots visible throughout the painting, users activated an overlay box revealing a hidden conservation image. However, I found in user testing that viewers were less inclined to toggle through each type of conservation image for each hotspot. As a result, I curated the conservation images, matching each with the unique hot spot that best allowed the viewer to see with the eyes of an art historian or conservator.      

The hotspots also open bite-sized content explaining what users are looking at. Each hotspot has a different piece of content, bringing to life imagery and artistic identifiers that the viewer may have missed as a casual observer. Arrows within the content boxes allow the user to navigate through the narrative of the work without having to click on the painting.