An increasing number of museums are using computers to deliver information concerning their latest exhibits, way-finding, and art collections. Museums are providing their patrons with information to make their visit more efficient, more educational, and ultimately more enjoyable through the use of the internet or an in-house kiosk. Users may look up the museumís current exhibits, make plans for future shows, view floor plans and visitor traffic pathways, or read about their favorite pieces of art. The Smithsonian in Washington, DC recently implemented a computer kiosk to present historical stories of their National Gem and Mineral Collection (Sherman, 1998).
The Johnson Museum at Cornell University recently installed a kiosk
equipped with visitor orientation software. The system is an interactive
computer program that allows visitors to acquaint themselves with the museum.
It is part of the museum's effort to integrate modern technology with the
traditional museum environment and create an exciting museum experience.
In developing this new software, the museum defined three basic goals for
1. Create an informative program
2. Create an interesting program
3. Create a program that is easy to use
The focus of this study was to analyze the effectiveness of the program in achieving the three stated goals. It is important to break the goals down into separate issues and to evaluate these issues according to both literature precedents and program-specific performance requirements.
An informative program
It is very important that the Johnson Museum provide accurate information to aid users in exploring the museum. Many visitors will enter the museum unaware of the museum's layout and exhibit locations. They will approach the program with the intent of orienting themselves to the museum and hoping to learn about the museum. The program should have features that accommodate these needs.
An effective program will enable visitors to locate themselves spatially within the museum. It should provide a cognitive schema for locating exhibits and items within the museum so that visitors can leave the program and proceed to the items of interest without getting lost in the museum. They should not need to repeatedly ask for directions because the program will give them an intuitive understanding of the layout of the Johnson Museum.
The program should educate the users about the museum and its significance. Visitors should be able to peripherally learn interesting history about the museum while using the program and have the opportunity to learn new information about the museum collections. This could include artist bibliographies or interesting art history.
The final informative function of the program is that it should provide specific museum locations and details. If users want to find a specific work, they should be able to work through the program and locate the information with ease. They should also know such utilities as restroom location and coat rack areas. Users should be able to acquire everything from the program that they would normally have to look for on a map or brochure.
An Interesting Program
Because the computer program is intended to be the first item that most users will encounter in the museum, it will be instrumental in creating a strong first impression of the museum. It will have a large impact on whether or not users find the overall museum experience worthwhile. An interesting program will engage the user and create a favorable impression for the Johnson Art Museum.
The literature reveals that a large part of creating an interesting program is having a program that has a quality layout and aesthetics. The layout should be easy to follow and hierarchical in organization. The balance and focal point should be made to draw the interest of the user. Most users will read text starting in the upper left corner and following down the page. Therefore, it is recommended that information be centrally located and that important information be placed away from the lower right corner. Image and text can be used to develop the composition by filling portions of open space.
The program should also address a number of aesthetic issues. Visual appeal can be accomplished by using such design principles as balance, color and order. In the use of images, warm, red colors bring images to the foreground while cooler, blue tones move images to the back. Natural browns and neutral grays provide subtle backgrounds and a hierarchy of levels can be created using brightness and hue. However, too many bold colors make a screen undesirable (Martin 1996).
In meeting the goal of being an interesting program, the Johnson Museum setup should consider the suggestions above. The user should leave with a desire to explore the museum and further study the pieces previewed in the program. In essence, the program should leave the user with a favorable impression of the overall museum quality and a desire to acquire more museum knowledge.
An easy to use program
The majority of the success of the program will depend on its ease of use. If it is easy to use, visitors will be encouraged to explore the program further and learn more about the museum. As a result, they will also explore more of the museum and walk away with an extraordinarily worthwhile experience that they can share with their friends and thereby create an impressive image of the Johnson Museum. In order for the program to be easy to use, it should be universally accessible, have an optimized interface, simple, intuitive text, and straightforward, easy to read graphics.
A primary requirement for ease of use is that the program should be universally accessible. The museum attempts to reach out to all people, whether they are elderly, differently-abled or young children. The interface, text and graphics should all allow participation of all ages, sizes and all abilities, such as impaired vision or mobility.
The interface should also be easy to understand and its use should incur as few mistakes as possible. The primary input device used with this program is the a mouse, which selects text and image links. The mouse used at the Johnson is the same type as defined by Douglas (1997): a hand-held device, which is moved across a surface registering a relative displacement of the cursor. Viewing a desired object requires a person to identify the target object symbol and then perform some physical act (usually clicking a button) to retrieve information (Baber, 1997). In a previous study, evaluating mouse use and performance time, a pointing task included clicking on target circles of various sizes. Target size ranged from 32 pixels x 32 pixels to 8 pixels x 8pixels. The smaller targets showed the greatest performance times. Greater distance between pixels also led to an increase in performance time.
The display of text is an important factor in determining an easy to use program. Its design holds implications for detectability, readability, and comprehension. Text size must be large enough for the young, elderly and visually impaired to read. Language should not exceed that of a sixth-grade level to ensure understanding across age groups, education levels, and cultures. Text font or typeface must be legible; the Anglo-American system works best with a 12-point size in either Times Roman or Helvetica (Martin 1996). Further implications of text design include intuitive designs such as delineating hierarchical levels by size and color. Users will read larger, bolder text first. Users should be able to easily decipher the text and comprehend what is written in the program.
Along with the text, the graphics should also be designed to promote an easy to use program. The graphics should accent and reinforce the text and it should visually cue the user to different areas or complimentary information within the program. The colors of the background and character must contrast enough to make text identifiable. Previous research shows that individual differences in chromatic aberration, where shorter wavelengths of color (blues) refract more than longer wavelengths (reds), make it difficult for most people to see certain color combinations - like blue text on red background (Hedge, 1998). In addition to properly reinforcing the text, the graphics should allow the user easy visual access to other links within the program. Visual buttons should be easy to use and should correspond intuitively to the areas to which they will link the user. The users should be able to distinguish visual links and use them without much prior instruction.
When using the program, users should be able to perform the required tasks on an intuitive level. They should not make many mistakes and should be able to access and explore the screens that they desire without having to continually read instructions or engage in trial and error processes. They should not have a difficult time accessing the program, learning the interface or deciphering the text and graphics. If they can begin the program and use it without having to completely re-educate themselves, then the Johnson Museum program is successful in meeting its easy to use goal.
In trying to determine whether or not the museum program met its goals, we found it necessary to break the performance requirements down into measurable goals that we could analyze through surveys and observation. Measurable test variables were generated along two lines: personal characteristic and environmental characteristics. Personal variables are those variables that change form person to person but not with the kiosk or program. These include issues such as user computer experience, computer intuition and user mistakes. Environmental variables are those that remain the same regardless of the user. These include issues such as noise, computer graphic design and kiosk setup. The identification and testing of variable are discussed in the following sections.