Artifact is an augmented reality learning and co-curation platform for The Carnegie Museum of Art.
Visitors can use Artifact to create their own paths through the museum based on what is most meaningful to them, learn about the art they find most interesting with interactive content specific to each piece, and share their own ways of experiencing art with their community.
Curators can use Artifact to change and build the experiences they offer more nimbly. They can adapt learning experiences quickly for new and changing audiences, and reevaluate how visitors experience galleries without spatial renovation.
Our 5-week project resulted in concept video, research and design documentation, and presentation to students and faculty within CMU’s Schools of Design and Architecture.
Through a series of museum visits, interviews, and literature review, we narrowed in on three important developments within the 21st Century art museum space:
Research > Problem Space >
We then developed this problem statement. While our initial design might not solve the broader entangled issues we identified, it might add a tool to the toolkits of educators working against them.
AR In Museums
We realized from speaking with museumgoers and curators, our industry research, and our own experiences at CMOA, that there was a lot of potential in using augmented reality to empower both museums and museumgoers to collaborate on richer learning experiences. We built this conclusion around the following insights on how the affordances of the technology might enrich both learning and curation at art museums.
Artivive, Austrian Belvedere Museum
Research > AR In Museums >
As we researched how augmented reality platforms could enrich museum experiences, we needed to understand how people use them, what interactions they afford, and how we might best deploy those to achieve our design goals. Even without many common consumer devices, existing AR interactions feel surprisingly intuitive, tactile, and effective on systems such as Hololens 2.
To understand how to design for virtual spaces, we did a lot of technical secondary research, but also were able to demo both existing Hololens platforms. This was crucial in understanding the AR and Hololens experience, including how intuitive it was to manipulate 3D and “2D” content together in mixed reality.
We found that there’s an amazing amount you can do with this technology, and were surprised by how easy it was to pick up. We also wanted to design around the reality that it’s a very new technology for most people, especially as our users would be renting, rather than owning, it.
We designed the Artifact experience as a service in four parts: Discovery, Onboarding, Experiencing Art, and Reflection.
Visitors are introduced to the Artifact experience when they pick up museum passes on-site or online. Visitors may purchase passes just as for other special exhibits and ease in through device and content onboarding in a dedicated zone. They pick their own path through the museum, get to where they’re going, and interact with content specific to works relevant to them.
Visitors may switch things up at any time or share their journey with the Artifact community. When finished, they swap their headset for a physical keepsake with a record of the pieces they wanted to remember.
We analyzed the existing branding elements of CMOA built upon them to establish a connected identity that made sense for Artifact. CMOA’s existing graphic systems are inconsistent in typeface and style for different areas of the museum and website. Understanding that most of these elements try to establish a minimal, geometric aesthetic that gives artwork space to shine, we harmonized elements within a system emphasizing restraint and readability, using Helvetica Neue type and a narrow, high-contrast color palette.
AR Touch UI
We used our hardware demos, Mixed Reality UI best practices, and our principles to create interfaces that users could engage with and enjoy even without prior experience with the technology.
An augmented reality learning platform to enrich visitor experiences at art museums
Purchasing Artifact Passes
Museumgoers purchase Artifact passes at the ticket desk. Staff direct visitors to the Artifact Experience desk to pick up headsets
Visitors show their ticket to borrow a headset. Staff assist with fitting and calibrating and visitors follow a tutorial to learn gestural interfaces
Visitors begin by choosing among:
Fully guided tours from museum’s curatorial staff
Community tours published by museumgoers
A custom tour generated from visitor preferences
They also may browse galleries and Artifact content independently
Getting To The Gallery
Lightweight visual indicators and audio instructions guide visitors to galleries, and the pieces on their chosen pathways
Virtual indicators adjacent to wall text signal where visitors can interact with Artifact content
Interacting With Art
Visitors learn about works by browsing four categories of information:
Process and Craft
Visitors rngage with content bespoke to each piece
Adapting Your Experience
Visitors may call a control panel anytime to change or exit their tour or access settings, bookmarks, and a gesture refresher if they have any issues
Sharing Your Journey
Visitors can assemble and submit their personal paths as tours to an online community. Museum staff moderate community tours and highlight them in the experience select interface
Remembering Your Tour
When they wrap up, visitors return their headset to the check-in desk, and receive a memento card showing their pathway. A QR code links to digital keepsakes showing works seen during visitors’ tours
Our team made a lot of progress within the brief project window and we see a lot of potential in what it might bring to how museums integrate developing information technology into their learning experiences. In addition, there is ample room to explore how these systems provide opportunity to disrupt entrenched issues in those experiences as they exist today.
The systems designed for Artifact present many opportunities to build a complete service, particularly in how to leverage data on how visitors experience CMOA. We prototyped a video wall for the atrium showing show community tours and visualizing the most popular art in the galleries. Importantly, this screen lets museumgoers without the AR experience connect with Artifact-generated content.
We see Artifact is a scalable product. Although we designed our solution around specific challenges at CMOA, the product’s framework can be easily applied to reinvigorate other public art collections.
We’d love to continue building Artifact by prototyping with AR software and developing in Unity for Hololens. In the long term, CMOA’s relationship with CMU and stature in the art world put it an excellent position to work on this and related future-looking experiences.