Blogs Media Lab

8-Ball (Eyeo Edition): Kim Rees

During the June 3–5 Eyeo Festival, we opened up the Media Lab blog to the many coders, artists, and web developers speaking at the conference, which took place at the Walker. To give presenters a chance to introduce themselves, we sent out our 8-Ball artist questionnaire, in which we pose some of life’s most–and possibly […]

Peroscopic's data exploration tool on US gun violence

Peroscopic’s data exploration tool on US gun violence

During the June 3–5 Eyeo Festival, we opened up the Media Lab blog to the many coders, artists, and web developers speaking at the conference, which took place at the Walker. To give presenters a chance to introduce themselves, we sent out our 8-Ball artist questionnaire, in which we pose some of life’s most–and possibly least–pressing questions. Three, Hong Kong-based coder/designer Cédric Sam; Giorgia Lupi, founder of the Milan–based information design company Accurat; and–today–Kim Rees, took us up on the offer. The head of Information Visualization at Periscopic, a Portland-based data visualization firm, Rees says she’s particularly excited about a current project, a landmark because it’s the first time she’s used textiles to visualize data: “I’m working on a series of textile pieces that are based on custom and personal data from about 20 people I’ve met recently.”

Here’s our favorite eight responses of the many Rees answered for us:

What technological innovation is going to most dramatically alter our near future?
3D printing and nanotech. (Nanotech is so old, but has so much potential. Someday there will be a renewed interest in nanotech, and I will get self-cleaning clothes and nanobots that will keep my nails perfectly trimmed).

What global issue most excites or angers you?
Human trafficking and modern day slavery. It’s so difficult to combat and goes undetected or unaddressed. It’s very distressing to me and outrages me that it’s not causing a global, public outcry.

Which living person do you most admire?
Somaly Mam. She escaped life as a child sex slave and now works to rescue other girls. She’s an incredibly strong, inspiring, and humbling person.

What’s your most vivid memory from childhood?
A field fire we drove by in rural Minnesota. I was very young. It seemed like the world was on fire.

What do you consider the most overrated virtue?
Politeness. Kindness is mandatory, but pleases and thank-yous are affectation.

What artists would you like to collaborate with?
I would love to work with Maya Lin on something. I have this dream of obtaining an aircraft carrier and turning it into a floating anachic society. I would love to have her design the landscape.

Is there anybody you’d refuse to shake hands with?
There are lots of people. We’re working on some things about gun violence. In the course of this project I’ve read a lot of stories about child murderers and sexual predators. There are many sickening stories that I will never forget. Those people — I could never shake hands with them or possibly even be in the same room with them.

If you were to die and come back as a person or thing, what would it be?
A dollar bill. I’d love to be a fly on the wall, so to speak, to see how people live, see what they value, see their exchanges.

Be Nice, MIMMI is Listening!

The nature of Twitter is ephemeral: a shout into the digital void that quickly fades away. This summer in Minneapolis, however, your tweets may have physical impact on the environment — or, a very small microclimate, at least. Meet MIMMI: MIMMI is a large, air-pressurized sculpture suspended from a slender structure located at the Minneapolis Convention […]

The nature of Twitter is ephemeral: a shout into the digital void that quickly fades away. This summer in Minneapolis, however, your tweets may have physical impact on the environment — or, a very small microclimate, at least. Meet MIMMI:

MIMMI is a large, air-pressurized sculpture suspended from a slender structure located at the Minneapolis Convention Center Plaza. Cloud-like in concept, the sculpture hovers 30 feet above the ground, gathering emotive information online from Minneapolis residents and visitors to the plaza. MIMMI analyzes this information in real-time, creating abstracted light displays and triggering misting in response to this input, creating light shows at nighttime and cooling microclimates during the daytime. Whether the city is elated following a Minnesota Twins win or frustrated from the afternoon commute, MIMMI responds, changing behavior throughout the day and night.

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Allen Sayegh (left) with Nate Solas

In other words, MIMMI displays Minneapolis emotional temperature in light — in real time.

Last week Paul and I took a walk across Loring Park and found our way to the convention center’s sunny plaza to catch a glimpse of the installation just hours before the official launch. We were lucky enough to chat briefly with Allen Sayegh, the founder of the global design research and user experience consultancy behind the project.

“I call these types of projects Highly Evolved Useless Things that are beautiful to look at and have an evocative power,” wrote Sayegh in a followup email. “Because it is a large structure in the city that has to withstand all the elements and engage the public on many levels, the team at INVIVIA (which is an interdisciplinary team composed of architects, engineers, programmers, landscape architects, robotics experts, psychologists) had to do many rapid iterations and prototypes with custom written software to come up with the installation that at the end we hope everyone agrees is beautiful to look at and experience.”

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Sayegh described the work in terms very familiar and dear to the Walker’s New Media Initiatives department: “At the end of the day this is a research project for us. We had to use many open source tools/ technologies such as Arduino, actuators, special lighting, and different sensors along with complex physical manufacturing in a very tight schedule to achieve a level of design that works for this city.”

On the software side I was curious how they were extracting the mood from Twitter. “In this project we are reading social media feeds and do basic language analysis to detect what people are feeling. Although by no means is this supposed to be scientifically accurate, we did base our software on a recent scientific paper that was published on this topic.” Here’s a screenshot of the mood-informing keywords from the live site:

mimmi_mood

I have yet to see MIMMI properly lit at night, but I’ve been following the live webcam feeds. Sayegh included a final picture along with this note:

Formally speaking MIMMI is a cloud or an abstraction of a cloud. The aesthetic choices of form, color, and lighting were driven by a general interest of the hybrid perceptual state of digital and physical.

There was a very conscious decision to make MIMMI look as if it was digitally rendered in its built form.

mimmi

This project appeals to me personally on a number of levels: art, interactivity, technology, space-making, and also because the city was able to get it installed in such a public place. More like this, please.

 

8-Ball (Eyeo Edition): Giorgia Lupi

During last week’s Eyeo Festival, we opened up the Media Lab blog to the many coders, artists, and web developers speaking at the conference, which took place at the Walker. To give presenters a chance to introduce themselves, we sent out our 8-Ball artist questionnaire, in which we pose some of life’s most–and possibly least–pressing […]

"The real Montalbano," a data visualization from Accurat's La Lettura project

“The real Montalbano,” a data visualization from Accurat’s La Lettura project

During last week’s Eyeo Festival, we opened up the Media Lab blog to the many coders, artists, and web developers speaking at the conference, which took place at the Walker. To give presenters a chance to introduce themselves, we sent out our 8-Ball artist questionnaire, in which we pose some of life’s most–and possibly least–pressing questions. Two, Hong Kong-based coder and designer Cédric Sam and Giorgia Lupi, founder of the Milan–based information design company Accurat, took us up on the offer. Lupi says her company is her most exciting project at the moment. Founded two years ago, Accurat is opening a New York office, where it’ll expand its work in “imagining new ways to tell stories through data.” Our favorite eight replies to our questions:

What is your favourite inanimate object?
My pencil case (even I don’t feel it being inanimate).

If you could pose one question to every person on earth, what would it be?
What (why) do you live for?

What’s your favourite place to people-watch.
The Underground (and Twitter).

What artist turned your world upside-down?
John Cage.

If you own a pet, what characteristics do you share with it?
Getting bored of everything after a little while.

What’s your favourite recording of all time?
Synapscape‘s Act!

What have you been listening to lately?
Battles’ “Wall Street” (Gui Boratto remix)

What is your advice for young people today?
Do a lot and stop complaining about meaningless stuff. Draw, and fight for beauty.

Multitouch Kiosks Highlight Collection

It’s difficult to blog about a collections-focused touch screen in a museum without drawing comparisons to the amazing Collections Wall at the Cleveland Museum of Art — and feeling entirely inadequate. We’re not (yet!) anywhere near that scale, but luckily for our egos we weren’t aiming there with this project. We wanted a simple, intuitive interface and […]

It’s difficult to blog about a collections-focused touch screen in a museum without drawing comparisons to the amazing Collections Wall at the Cleveland Museum of Art — and feeling entirely inadequate. We’re not (yet!) anywhere near that scale, but luckily for our egos we weren’t aiming there with this project. We wanted a simple, intuitive interface and something we could evolve in-house after watching and analyzing user behavior.

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AJ explores some of the garden artwork on the new screens.

We stayed true to the original idea of a “big swipe” interaction, creating what’s essentially an enormous photo-viewing application with zoomable images and some video mixed in. As another way to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, we chose to launch the screens with highlights from the Garden.

Under the hood

The screen are running Google Chrome in Kiosk Mode and displaying a simple web page supported by a lot of custom Javascript. To keep things fast each screen is running a Squid web proxy to keep a local copy of the content, and the videos are also stored locally to avoid buffering issues. I thought Squid would manage to cache the videos, but due to the way they’re served using HTTP Range Requests I had to install a very vanilla Apache server locally to get them working. A bit of ugly overhead that keeps it from being a truly standalone solution, but something we were unable to solve on a deadline.

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Design and New Media hanging paper representations of the screens to get a sense of scale and placement.

We’re also logging interactions using Google Analytics’ Track Event API (easy, since it’s just a web page!). Right now we’re tracking when the screen is “woken up” by a visitor’s interaction, when they open the textual “Info” button, and when they play a video. With video we also separately track if they watch all the way to the end, and if they don’t we log the timestamp they stopped watching.

The project is on our public Github account, so please have a look if you’re interested.

Content admin

The content is fed to the web page via a simple JSON file. AJ built an online editor that allows us to rearrange slides, import new collection objects and video, and edit or create the “Info text.” Very often our public-facing projects run into tight deadlines to launch and the admin / maintenance side of things never gets finished, so I’m quite excited to have this working.

Screen Shot 2013-06-06 at 1.31.58 PM

Lessons Learned

Gestures are different at this scale.

Sure, we know HTML5 and Javascript and have built some nice gestural interfaces before, but we weren’t prepared for the differences of a large-scale screen. Instead of tidy touch events using single fingers, we were seeing people swipe with their whole hand, or two fingers, or four. People tried to zoom using whole hands dragging in and out. Kids would “tickle” the screen and overwhelm our scripts, leaving the device crippled. While we gained many days by developing and designing in a familiar toolset, we lost almost as many days trying to rapidly mature our touch library. Midway through the project Ideum released Gestureworks Web Socket bindings for Javascript, which is absolutely the approach I’d take next time if we stick with HTML5. We learned the hard way that a true multi-touch vocabulary is not something you can just “whip up” from scratch…

Attract screen felt like a “home page”

Eric built a fantastic opening animation to attract visitors’ attention, which they would then dismiss to start interacting with the slides: “Tap to begin.” A number of our early testers mistook the animated gestural instructions for a menu, and were quite distressed when they couldn’t find a way back to the “menu.” We toyed with changing the intro and couldn’t solve it until finally we realized we just needed to change one word: “Swipe to begin.” By making the intro video actually be the first slide, users were able to discover the operation of using the screens (swipe) at the same time as they “dismissed” the intro. And the intro was always available by just swiping back. It’s a no-brainer now that we see it, but it’s one I’m glad we tested and re-tested.

Video is being watched until the end!

… about 10% of the time. That doesn’t sound like much, but it’s honestly higher than I expected (caveat: only a few days of stats). The space isn’t an especially inviting one for consuming media, but the content is compelling enough people are happy to stay and watch. We’re still collecting data to see if there are any trends around the timestamp when people stop watching — I hope this will inform the type of video content that is most appropriate for the medium and environment.

Position matters

So far the right-hand screen is used almost twice as often as the left-hand, which is a bit deeper in the space. So it may just be ease of access and people engaging with whatever they reach first, but we’re watching this closely for clues for future content: maybe one screen could be a long-running silent video? Maybe one screen never returns to the attract mode? Do we run something entirely different on each screen so there’s a reason to try both?

 Summary

A fun and challenging project that launched on-time and does pretty much what we set out to do. Can’t ask for more!

If you’re in the Twin Cities, please stop by and try out the new screens, and tweet us @walkerartcenter with feedback.

 

8-Ball (Eyeo Edition): Cédric Sam

With the Eyeo Festival bringing an international array of coders, designers, and artists to the Walker this week, we decided to open the Media Lab blog to conference speakers. To give all presenters a chance to introduce themselves, we’ve sent out our 8-Ball artist questionnaire, in which we pose some of life’s most–and possibly least–pressing […]

With the Eyeo Festival bringing an international array of coders, designers, and artists to the Walker this week, we decided to open the Media Lab blog to conference speakers. To give all presenters a chance to introduce themselves, we’ve sent out our 8-Ball artist questionnaire, in which we pose some of life’s most–and possibly least–pressing issues. The first to take us up on our offer is Cédric Sam, a designer and coder who hails from Montréal but has lived in Hong Kong since 2009. Tomorrow morning he presents on what he’s learned about social media in China and how his experiences there might inform the work of designers, programmers, and journalists into the future.

Describe a recent dream in 15 words or less.
I was lost in an endless indoor shopping mall in Hong Kong…

What technological innovation is going to most dramatically alter our near future?
I think it‘s going to be affordable mobile broadband Internet. I lived in Hong Kong for three years and fast Internet on the go is relatively affordable and created many new use cases that we don’t yet see in North America.

What’s your most embarrassing moment?
When I was in high school, we participated in an overnight quiz competition. I was so tired by 1 am that I entered and used the girl’s bathroom. And they printed it on the event’s newsletter. So here it is again. :)

Fill in the blank: What the world needs now is _________________.
More delightful data experiences. Or more experiences with delightful data.

If you could have any career, what would you choose?
Dataset tamer.

What’s your most vivid memory from childhood?
Playing in cornfields in suburban Montreal. They’re now occupied with houses and a Canadian Tire.

What’s your favorite comfort food?
Shepherd’s pie (aka Pâté chinois, in Quebec). And my Chinese comfort food is congee.

What is your advice for young people today?
Avoid bandwagons. Talk to people (not just at your school or in your own country) to figure out what those bandwagons are!

Getting Mobile in the Garden

This summer marks a major milestone for the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden: 25 years as one of the country’s premiere public sculpture parks. The New Media Initiatives department’s contribution to the celebration comes in the form of a brand new website for the garden, a fully responsive “web app” that has been an exciting challenge to […]

This summer marks a major milestone for the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden: 25 years as one of the country’s premiere public sculpture parks. The New Media Initiatives department’s contribution to the celebration comes in the form of a brand new website for the garden, a fully responsive “web app” that has been an exciting challenge to build.

Opening screen of the web appMap view of the garden

The new site is a radical shift from the static, research-focused 2004 version, and instead becomes an on-demand interpretive tool for exploration in the garden, including an interactive, GPS-capable map, audio tour, video interviews, and short snippets called “fun facts.” One of the most exciting features is the new 25th Anniversary Audio Tour called Community Voices. Last summer we recorded interviews in the garden with community members, first-time visitors, and some local celebrities, and it’s all come together in this tour to present a fantastic audio snapshot of just how special the garden is to people.

Detail view of Spoonbridge and CherryInterpretive media for Spoonbridgegarden_phone_5_sm

The site provides light, casual information “snacking,” with prompts to dive deeper if time and interest allow. It gives visitors a familiar device (their own!) to enhance their visit at their own convenience.

Of course, we didn’t neglect our out-of-state or desktop visitors, but the site’s focus remains on getting people to the garden. For those unable to experience it physically (or for those frigid winter months), the new website provides a browsable interface to familiar favorites and up-to-date acquisitions and commissions.

Behind the scenes

MSG Web Data

Our proof of concept for the site was lean and mean, built quickly using open source tools (leaflet.js) and open data (OpenStreetMap). We didn’t have latitude/longitude positioning info for our public works of art, but as it turned out some kind soul had already added a significant number of our sculptures to OpenStreetMap! We set about adding the rest and knocked together a new “meta API” for the garden that would unify data streams from OSM, our Collections, Calendar, and existing media assets in Art on Call.

Fuzzy GPS

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Next we began the process of verifying the data. We’d created custom map tiles for the garden so we could maintain the designed look and feel Eric was going for (look for a future post on the design process for this site), but it involved  some compromises to make the paths line up visually. The New Media team spent a few hours walking the garden in the early spring, making notes on sculpture GPS anomalies, misplaced paths, and trying to avoid having anyone appear to be inside the hedges. No two devices gave the exact same GPS coordinates, so we ended up averaging the difference and calling it close enough.

Native-ish

It’s not a web app. It’s an app you install from the web.

As we discovered while building the mobile side of the new Collections site, a properly tuned webpage can start to feel a lot like a native application. We’re using swipe gestures to move between information “slides,” pinch and zoom for the map, and followed most of the tips in the forecast.io blog post (above) to further enhance the experience. We’ll never be quite as snappy as a properly native app, but we feel the cross-platform benefits of the web fully outweigh that downside. (Not to mention our in-house expertise is web-based, not app-based.)

Need for Speed

garden_pagespeed

This was the make-or-break component of the mobile site: if it didn’t “feel” fast, no one would use it. We spent untold hours implementing just-in-time loading of assets so the initial site would by tiny, but then we’d have the images we need just before they were supposed to be on screen. We tuned the cache parameters so anyone who’s visited the site in the past will have the components they need when they return, but we can also push out timely updates in a lightweight manner. We optimized images and spread the map tiles around our Content Delivery Network to prevent a single-domain bottleneck.

Finally, and perhaps foolishly, we wrote a safety fallback that tries to estimate a user’s bandwidth as they load the welcome image: by timing the download of a known-size file, we can make a quick decision if they are on a painfully slow 3G network or something better. In the case of the slow connection we dynamically begin serving half-size images in an effort to improve the site’s performance. We’ll be monitoring usage statistics closely to see if/when this situation occurs and for what devices. Which brings me to…

Analytics

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I hope I’m right when I say that anyone who’s heard me speak about museums and digital knows how adamant I am about measuring results and not just guessing if something is “working.” This site is no exception, with the added bonus of location tracking! We’re anonymizing user sessions and then pinging our server with location data so we can begin to build an aggregate “heatmap” of popular spots in the garden. Above is a screenshot of my first test walk through the garden.

We’re logging as many bits of information as we can about the usage of the new site in hopes of refining it, measuring success, and informing our future mobile interpretation efforts.

Enjoy!

Please visit the new Minneapolis Sculpture Garden website and let us know what you think!

 

Secrets of a Museum Social Media Manager

Two or so years ago, Kristina Fong, the Walker’s Marketing and Audience Research Coordinator, was handed the keys of the Walker’s social media accounts and, ultimately, a new title: Digital Marketing Associate. At that point, social media at the Walker meant accounts on Twitter and Facebook. Today, the Walker has 374,000 Twitter followers, 49,000 Facebook […]

FongHands

Two or so years ago, Kristina Fong, the Walker’s Marketing and Audience Research Coordinator, was handed the keys of the Walker’s social media accounts and, ultimately, a new title: Digital Marketing Associate. At that point, social media at the Walker meant accounts on Twitter and Facebook. Today, the Walker has 374,000 Twitter followers, 49,000 Facebook likes, 13,000 Tumblr followers, 8,800 Instagram followers, and a presence on other platforms, including Pinterest and Storify.

Today, sadly, is Kristina’s last day at the Walker, as she heads on to other adventures. Hers are big shoes to fill, but Kristina has kindly laid out some must-read tips for whomever succeeds her here–or for anyone doing social media for museums or other institutions. Here are the first five tips, but please go read the rest at her blog:

1. Know your museum, know it well. This is more important than knowing how to use TweetDeck, HootSuite, Instagram, Statigram, Facebook Pages, Google Analytics, etc etc. If you don’t really, I’ll say it, love your museum, you are lost. You may not love everything about it all the time (I never fell in love with dance, or other types of programming I felt I ought to love, although I tried to understand it), but the most important thing about social media is being genuine.

2. Your social media person has to be a good writer. You’re writing every day and you have to relay your message in short, pithy statements. You have to have a voice. It’s also not a bad idea to make sure your person has written online somewhere. How does the internet talk? You should be fluent in that. Confession: I’m not a great talker, unless I’m really comfortable in a situation. Words feel more like my ally when my hands are creating them, not my mouth. Someone whose personality screams social may not be able to present that online.

3a. ‘Likes’ and followers matter (even though the opposite was probably the first thing uttered at the very first social media panel at a conference). Is it the end all be all? Of course not (especially if you’ve gotten cheap ‘likes’ by saying “If you agree with this obvious statement that everybody likes, click ‘like.’) But they matter because it’s a simple fact: you’re growing your audience. Tell me this, would you be worried if you suddenly lose 5,000 fans on Facebook? Or you just stopped at 10,000? Probably. They matter. If you’re getting likes, that’s a vote of confidence. When I post something that people really respond to, ‘likes’ go up.

3b. Caveat: If your likes go up and your engagement numbers also don’t go up (number of active comments and conversations), that’s a problem. That means you’re boring your new followers. You’ve got to grab them when they’re fresh—that means every day, since you’re getting new followers every day.

4. Talk to people. There’s a lot to strive for on social media: engagement numbers, responses, participation, qualitative data. But overall, they’re the exact same goals as our general mission statement and our website/blogs. Engage, ask questions, be a catalyst for critical thinking, connect. Be available. Build intrigue & trust—if those two things are possible simultaneously. I strive to make our audience feel like they can approach us and that in turn builds a positive relationship with us. (Think how much more you like a person you meet if they simply ask you a question, say your name, or turn to say something directly to you.) So that can be through direct conversations, yes, but also just by sharing knowledge (you get the exclusive) and giving people the opportunity to make a comment (you feel knowledgeable).

5a. Make it genuine. I know when I’m forcing a tweet. It’s burdened with edits and necessity. (Necessity = “you have to tweet about this poorly selling event or else!!!”) You also can’t be excited about everything. An institution is an entity online. We read these accounts because they’re one stream, as one being. So Walker is an entity that loves contemporary culture and thought, dance, music, visual arts, family programs, esoteric artists-in-residence, a restaurant, and a Shop, and everything related to those things. That’s a lot!

But do you tweet about all the things you love all the time? No. You may have, say, 5 things going on the week. Some of them are big, some of them aren’t. You don’t talk about each with equal excitement. In your mind, you prioritize their importance and that’s what you communicate.

Same thing with museums. Not everything deserves three exclamation marks and a post every day. (Especially those esoteric artists-in-residence.)

5b. A confession: I’m hyper-aware about the number of messages being sent out from each channel every day.  Probably too much so. People don’t mind if you post several times on Facebook in a day, as long as those posts are spread out a little bit, but I’m very sensitive about it. You have to consider the reader’s feed, not just what you want to push out. I have tried, again and again, to stress the importance of “keeping it cool” to the various departments who have their own Facebook pages/Twitter feeds, and it does not always work. You may take 8 photos back to back, but you do not Instagram them all in a row. You may have a list of events to upload to Facebook, but you do not make them all in a row because every time you do, it shows up as another post on a user’s newsfeed. You see? You have to be aware of your mark. You have to look at the world outside your world. A few studies have declared that they have found the “sweet spot” of Twitter posts: 3. Or something. I forget. They say that engagement goes down after you tweet more than 3 times. This is null and void if you’re doing it right.

5c. What is doing it right? Paying attention to Twitter, what’s trending nationally, internationally (to a certain extent, don’t talk about pop stars in scandals), and within your sphere. That’s right. Follow influencers, follow places just like you, places you want to be like, the people who are talking about you, and share their information. You know very well that your museum is not a bubble.

5d. The argument for different voices is a consistent argument. I realized I just called the Walker an “entity” up above. But I also realize that every museum is a complex organism and that we appreciate more when we understand. If by voice one means perspective, I wholeheartedly agree. People need to see beyond the “voice” of the institution. Does that mean that they need a dozen different styles of writing, humor, grammar, and abbreviation in their lone Walker feeds? No! It is that designated person’s job to draw out what they need from the different voices, assess what might work well for social media, and invite them in to talk to you (quotation marks? super easy to drop into a post) and show their hand. Some people are terrified of social media. So don’t say, “Write a post for Facebook about this”, just ask them about it. The multiple voices are for blogs, and those blogs can be shared through social. (Ask A Curator-type days not included in this. Besides, maybe curators/programmers should just have their own Twitter accounts for this kind of thing and also everything.)

Thanks, Kristina, for everything. See you online.

 

Out with the Dialog Table, in with the Touch Wall

If you’ve explored our galleries, you’ve probably noticed the Dialog Table tucked into the Best Buy Info Lounge just off one of our main arteries. It’s a poster child of technical gotchas: custom hardware and software, cameras, projectors, finicky lighting requirements… Despite all the potential trouble embedded in the installation, it’s actually been remarkably solid […]

If you’ve explored our galleries, you’ve probably noticed the Dialog Table tucked into the Best Buy Info Lounge just off one of our main arteries. It’s a poster child of technical gotchas: custom hardware and software, cameras, projectors, finicky lighting requirements… Despite all the potential trouble embedded in the installation, it’s actually been remarkably solid apart from a few high-profile failures. At last tally, only the CPUS, capture cards, and one graphics board are original; the rest has been slowly replaced over the years as pieces have broken. (The graphics and video capture cards have drivers that aren’t upgradable at this point, so I’ve been trolling eBay to acquire various bits of antique hardware.)

It’s been a tank. A gorgeous, ahead-of-its-time, and mostly misunderstood tank. I’m both sad and excited to see it go.

I am, however, unequivocally excited about the replacement: two 65″ touch walls from Ideum. This change alone will alleviate one of the biggest human interface mis-matches with the old table: it wasn’t a touch surface, and everyone tried to use it that way.

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Early meeting with demo software

We’re moving very quickly with our first round of work on the walls, trying to get something up as soon as possible and iterating from there. The immediate intention is to pursue a large-scale “big swipe” viewer of highlights from our collection. Trying to convey the multidisciplinary aspect of the Walker’s collection is always a challenge, but the Presenter wall gives us a great canvas with the option for video and audio.

prsenter2

The huge screen is an attention magnet

With the recently announced alpha release of Gestureworks Core with Python bindings, I’m also excited for the possibilities of what’s next for the walls. The open source Python library at kivy.org looks like a fantastic fit for rapidly developing multi-touch apps, with the possible benefit of pushing out Android / iOS versions as well. At the recent National Digital Forum conference in New Zealand I was inspired by a demo from Tim Wray showing some of his innovative work in presenting collections on a tablet. We don’t have a comprehensive body of tags around our work at this point, but this demo seems to provide a compelling case for gathering that data. Imagine being able to create a set of objects on the fly showing “Violent scenes in nature” just from the paired tags “nature” and “violent”. Or “Blue paintings from Europe” using the tag “blue” and basic object metadata. Somehow the plain text description imposed on simple tag data makes the set of objects more interesting (to me, anyway). I’m starting to think that collection search is moving into the “solved” category, but truly browsing a collection online… We’re not there.

Touch screens, and multitouch in particular, seem destined for eventually greatness in the galleries, but as always the trick is to make the technical aspect of the experience disappear. I hope by starting very simply with obvious interactions we can avoid the temptation to make this about the screens, and instead about the works we’ll be showing.

Beyond Interface: #Opencurating and the Walker’s Digital Initiatives

The new Walker Art Center website “heralds a paradigmatic shift for innovative museum websites in creating an online platform with an emphasis on publishing,” write Max Andrews and Mariana Cánepa Luna of the Barcelona-based curatorial office Latitudes, who add that the site places the Walker “at the centre of generating conversations around content from both inside […]

The new Walker Art Center website “heralds a paradigmatic shift for innovative museum websites in creating an online platform with an emphasis on publishing,” write Max Andrews and Mariana Cánepa Luna of the Barcelona-based curatorial office Latitudes, who add that the site places the Walker “at the centre of generating conversations around content from both inside and outside the Walker’s activities.” The pair discusses ideas behind the site with Robin Dowden, the Walker’s director of new media initiatives, web editor Paul Schmelzer, and Nate Solas, senior new media designer, as part of #OpenCurating, Latitudes’ new research effort investigating the ways contemporary art projects “can function beyond the traditional format of exhibition-and-catalogue in ways which might be more fully knitted into the web of information which exists in the world today.” Consisting of a moderated Twitter discussion, an event in Barcelona, and a series of 10 online interviews, #OpenCurating launches with the conversation below. As #OpenCurating content partner, the Walker will host conversations from this developing series on its homepage.

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Introducing Media Lab and the New Walker Blogs

It’s been seven years since we launched the Walker Blogs and with the release of our new website back in December we thought it was finally time for a refresh. You’ll notice that the design has changed to align with our new website and we’ve used the redesign process as an opportunity to rebrand each […]

It’s been seven years since we launched the Walker Blogs and with the release of our new website back in December we thought it was finally time for a refresh. You’ll notice that the design has changed to align with our new website and we’ve used the redesign process as an opportunity to rebrand each of our core blogs. It was an interesting exercise and allowed us to assess the state of our collective blogging efforts – how each of our (now) nine blogs serves a different audience, how they all have different use characteristics by their audiences, and how they could all be focused into tighter streams of content. The blogs definitely represent the long tail side of our publishing efforts – lots of small bits of specialized content for micro-niche audiences – so maintaining a strong emphasis on the personalities behind the Walker and their specific interests was key. And the rebranding process illustrated for us that when you present people with tangible criteria to change, such as a new name, tighter description, graphic – an understandable format to inhabit – it helps them better speculate on what their blog can be.

We decided on a system of flag graphics to represent the various blogs, since each blog is really a representation of a different group of people at the Walker (in most cases the individual programming departments). It’s a tricky balance to strike between striving for traditional, recognizable flag forms and having a graphic that cleverly plays off the title, but we’re glad to have a consistent vocabulary to build on in the future, especially since the blogs now match our comparatively monochromatic main site. We’re particularly fond of the Green Room’s flag.

Beyond the simple graphic forms, this is the first truly responsively designed Walker site – resize your browser window to see things reflow to fit a variety of screen sizes. Content and interface elements of lesser importance become hidden behind links at certain screen sizes. The main content area, on the other hand, stretches to fill a large width when called for. It leads to some pretty long line lengths, but gives our older, image-heavy content the space it needs to fit. We’ll be soon applying this technique to the redesigned Walker Collections, which features a strong publishing component. With the easy adaptations to tablets and mobile devices, it’s a good fit for our eventual goal of efficient multi-channel communications.

Other, smaller items of note include the addition of a grid/list view toggle in the top left to make skimming easier, smarter ordering of categories and authors (by popularity and date of last post, respectively), and a fun little flag animation when you roll over the left-side blog names (in full-width view).

And just for kicks, here are some rejected flag sketches:

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