Case Study: Gallery One
Ed. note: This case study is a selection from the 2013 “Justified” competition, for which an esteemed jury identified 14 submissions that demonstrate the value of design in a clear, compelling and accessible way. To learn more about the jury’s perspective on this selection, see the juror comments.
Gallery One, an additional permanent wing at the Cleveland Museum of Art, was conceived specifically to inspire visitors to explore the museum’s collection in new and different ways by leveraging digital technology. Local Projects created an entire suite of interactive experiences and developed a visitor strategy to achieve this overall goal.
Located at the entrance to the museum, Gallery One welcomes visitors into an active 13,000-square-foot space where art and technology merge together to transform the traditional art museum experience through intuition, play and creativity. Designed for visitors of all ages, both novice and seasoned, the technology interfaces inspire users to see art with a higher level of depth and understanding, sparking experiences across the spectrum from close looking to active making and sharing.
Within the museum world, Gallery One is groundbreaking in both scope and scale. Incorporating such a breadth of technological elements into a traditional museum or gallery space expands upon what has typically been a very niche environment. Interactive or technological elements that engage visitors and promote learning through experience have remained, largely, outside of the museum field to date.
We began the process with working discussions about curatorial aims and the concepts that infused a wide range of artwork installations planned for the space. It was important to carefully consider the learning goals that the museum’s education department had outlined for each of the disparate areas. These aims became a part of our internal processes for evolving visual design and interaction.
Because there were so many interactive elements being planned for installation in the space, it was crucial not only to consider all of them in a holistic manner but also to imbue each element with a consistent sensibility in alignment with the overall branding and design of the physical space. This meant that all elements had to be designed and iterated upon in a staggered manner, but internal design reviews and milestones often had to be scheduled simultaneously.
Another main concern was how to make technology merge with the traditional gallery environment while keeping the emphasis on the artwork and curated environment and prompting visitor engagement with the interactives. It was a serious challenge to find the right balance between learning, contextual understanding and fun. That balance and consistency of visitor engagement had to be maintained across the entire suite of interactives, and it had to be inclusive of platform, design and hardware considerations.
We surveyed existing digital technology and interactive media at major art institutions both in and outside of the U.S., as well as applications related to displaying or seeing art. In each case, we made a brief assessment—gleaned from publications or first-hand experience—of visitor impact. The client organized user testing with local groups during the latter stages of production, and analytics were built into most of the applications.
The lobby entrance to Gallery One features the Beacon, a 4-by-4-foot array of 55-inch LED displays that play a looping, non-interactive program featuring both dynamic and pre-rendered content. In the main section of the gallery, works of art are organized into thematic groupings. Six 46-inch multi-touch screens, or “Lenses,” are placed throughout the space and feature more than 16 custom interactive activities or games that invite visitors to engage the art on view through creative experiences and challenges.
In “Make a Face,” the game matches a visitor’s facial expression to that of more than 180 artworks from within the collection (watch the video). Young museum visitors can explore the museum’s collection through the “Line and Shape” interactive, where lines are drawn across a micro-tile wall and matched to one of more than 7,000 works.
The 40-foot multi-touch Collection Wall visualizes all 3,600 artworks currently on view in the museum, dynamically transitioning between thematic and curated groupings that are both customized and algorithmically generated. Rented or visitor-owned iPads may be docked at the wall. Visitors can save artworks to the “ArtLens” iPad application (watch the video), thus creating a personal favorites list and generating a custom tour based on their selections.
During the design process, the Collection Wall had to be prototyped as quickly as possible given that the hardware installation would not be ready until late in the project process. With graphics on that scale, it was crucial to avoid visual and aesthetic missteps. We iterated upon the prototypes that evolved out of the interaction and graphic design phases. Features were refined and functionalities were tweaked once real content was integrated and use within the environment could be better understood from a visitor perspective.
Our design solution for Gallery One was seen as an evolutionary change for the field in the sense that we worked closely with the museum over the course of the entire project to constantly question, push and revise how to communicate and engage with museum visitors. There were a few major shifts in the interaction and physical design approach when we realized that certain paths were not yielding the desired results. These shifts were a radical departure from what the Cleveland Museum of Art had originally intended. Ultimately, the client supported the shifts in design as they were invested in creating a space that would have a long lifespan, engaging and exciting all types of visitors.
One of the biggest challenges was to preserve the main objective the studio set for itself and the museum: to allow visitors to see art in a new way, enhanced—not inhibited—by the technology. Our interactive experiences allowed visitors to learn about art via means that were exploratory, creative and playful, but always returned to the collection itself. In terms of design direction, we made a considerable number of revisions to both the interface design and the overall dynamic between the physical design and visitor experience in order to create a seamless relationship between the artworks and the technology. Constraints like square footage and breadth of audience were taken into consideration from the outset.
The design solution has exceeded both the expectations and goals that were initially set for Gallery One. As the project evolved, many of the interactives were customized to an incredible level of detail. This satisfied the client’s request that we utilize a broad range of content, and it expanded upon the number of options for involvement and participation on the part of the visitor. Myriad interfaces and goals were streamlined into a cohesive overall design plan and visual approach. There is something for everyone without things being fussy or overly complicated.
Cited by Fast Company as a “brilliant reinvention” that creates a “breakthrough museum experience,” Gallery One recreates the museum as a platform for visitors’ own creativity. By generating joy, engagement and wonder, the space opens up new experiences, allowing visitors to express their own interests by creating custom tours or using their own gestures to browse the collection. The Wall Street Journal described Gallery One as “a suite of cutting-edge digital interfaces that together transform the 100-year-old museum into one of the most technologically advanced art hubs in the world.”