I wonder… Inquiry techniques as a method to gain insights into people’s encounters with visual art

Lucia Marengo, Queen Mary University of London, UK, George Fazekas, QMUL, UK

Published paper: I wonder… Inquiry techniques as a method to gain insights into people’s encounters with visual art

The digitization of art collections is a great opportunity to engage audiences beyond the context of the museum visit. Interfaces to access collections have been initially tailored for professional search tasks: the new challenge is how to design systems for open, casual, and leisure-based explorations.

In a human-centered framework, the users’ perspective is a fundamental step to design and improve creative solutions. How can we listen to and understand the potential users, in order to design meaningful experiences? How can we collect insights, and what do these tell us about the users and the systems?

We explore the use of inquiry techniques as a method to surface the curiosities people have for paintings. During two iterations, visitors of public events wrote questions they had about selected paintings. 138 Post-its were collected and thematically analyzed. Results highlight that curiosities are contextualized, and that artworks are interpreted mainly as scenes. People are interested in meanings and symbols; they also displayed the use of fantasy and empathy.

Additionally, we evaluated the effect of age, previous knowledge of the painting, and frequency of visiting museums on the questions’ content through statistical analysis. While no strong finding emerged, we noticed that adults and kids likewise display an active role in the inquiry process, and that a previous knowledge of the painting is connected to more descriptive and atomic curiosities.

In the discussion, we suggest design opportunities might lay in the interactive discovery of information, in storytelling-based descriptions, and in emotional connection. Our findings suggest that in leisure-based explorations atomic information might not be satisfying, and that descriptions should be contextualized to the painting.

Our presentation will be an opportunity to discuss the value of the method, and to comment on how the insights could be embedded into the design of leisure-based experiences.

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