Saturday, August 1, 2020

Free Tool CollViz Makes Data Visualization Easy for Museums

A title graphic with the word "CollViz" over data set images


Have you ever considered creating a way to let visitors explore your hidden collections online or in an exhibit? What about including a dashboard that illustrates your community impact in a grant proposal?

“Data visualization” may sound trendy and flashy, but it’s been around for a very long time – even mastered by Florence Nightingale. And you too are already familiar with it -- pie charts, bar graphs, timelines, and maps are all kinds of data viz.

At its core, data viz is the translation of data into visual characteristics. Take a point in a scatter plot, for example. The color, size, and position of that point can each mean something different. Humans are really good at picking out patterns, and so data viz lets us visually explore, understand, and communicate trends in data in an intuitive way.

CollViz (short for Collection Visualization) is a website created by Jessica Mailhot. She’s braided together her experience in collection management and data viz design for her Master’s thesis
project at the University of Colorado Boulder’s Museum & Field Studies Program. CollViz is where you can find pre-made templates of dashboards designed for museums, tutorials for how to use and customize them, and a host of resources to make data viz easy and powerful. Everything on CollViz is free to use, and the software Tableau Public is free, too.

Museums are full of data. It’s how they manage their collections, measure their impact, carry out projects, and teach science. And while data viz has blossomed in many other spheres, it’s still a relatively new frontier in museums. There is boundless potential, though, especially for engaging with the public. Data viz is intuitive and eye-catching. It’s spread over social media, published in popular magazines, and even reports our progress in health tracking apps.

For museums who may be curious about bringing data viz into their toolbelt, there can be some imposing barriers: training time, IT experience, extra funds, and resources suited for other professions. Now the CollViz website is a place for museums to go to get everything they need to make data viz easy, quick, and relevant.

In these transformative times for museums, we need to seek out new ways to make an impact and create engaging experiences for our communities. CollViz is here to make data viz a robust and accessible option for museums of all kinds and is something you can begin today while working remotely. So click over to the CollViz website, and let’s visualize the future of museums together!

A series of data visualization graphs





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Paul Orselli writes the posts on ExhibiTricks. Paul likes to combine interesting people, ideas, and materials to make exhibits (and entire museums!) with his company POW! (Paul Orselli Workshop, Inc.) Let's work on a project together!

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Friday, July 24, 2020

Zeroing in on Zero-Touch Interaction



Jim Spadaccini and Hugh McDonald from Ideum were kind enough to share the post below about their company's latest work on touchless interactive systems. Lots of interesting things to learn and think about here -- enjoy!


Five years ago, our company worked with Intel to devise a touchless interactive system for desktop users. At the time, Intel had recently released their first RealSense depth and tracking technology, and they were looking for a proof of concept. We were very excited about the challenges this presented and enthusiastically jumped at the opportunity. As we got started, we quickly recognized that implementing a successful touchless interface had little to do with the technology itself. Instead, at its core, creating a strong, intuitive touchless experience was a design challenge—and one that requires special attention to visual feedback.

This early experiment came to mind as the coronavirus pandemic worsened. (You can read about it in greater depth in an article we posted back in April 2020, Touchless Gesture-Based Exhibits, Part One. Paul Orselli and I also discussed this topic in May 2020, and you can check out that conversation at Museum FAQ - The Future of Digital Interactivity.) As COVID-19 swept through the country, concerns about touch tables and hands-on exhibits grew, and museums and design firms were (and still are) looking for possible solutions for retrofitting exhibits or developing new types of experiences. Keeping the lessons we learned from the Intel collaboration in mind, we looked to create a system that provides real-time feedback and helps visitors understand what is, at its core, a novel method for interaction. 

More specifically, we aimed to create a system that would allow visitors to use gestures to navigate large screen and touch table interactives. This is quite different from the full-body touchless interactions that have become fairly common in museums over the last decade or so. (We wrote about those types of interactions recently as well; see Touchless Gesture-Based Exhibits, Part Two: Full-Body Interaction.) The system we imagined would require a certain amount of precision to allow visitors to navigate, make selections, and access information and media. For this project, we wanted to build a touchless experience that would help visitors use digital exhibits focusing on wayfinding, collections, media viewers, simple games, and other types of informational interactives. 

After a period of discovery and experimentation, we designed an integrated and color-coded hardware and software system. This mouse-emulation system consists of a motion and depth sensor along with small LCD displays and LEDs to provide immediate visitor feedback. (We are using Leap Motion and RealSense sensors in two alternate versions of the experience.) In addition, the cursor is color-coded and animated, and changes based on interaction to provide additional feedback to the visitor. The graphic inspiration came from signage for the NYC subway system: clear, bright graphics; bold colors; high-contrast text. Finally, we built a simple housing for the integrated touchless device that attaches to our line of Drafting Touch Tables




The system is designed to provide onboarding information and immediate feedback on how to use it. Here’s how it works:


White - In the exhibit’s attract state, LED lights pulse to draw attention to the integrated touchless system. This is designed to highlight the fact that there is something new here. The small display on the sensor unit shows literal iconography to onboard the visitor—a hand with a pointing finger.



Yellow - As the visitor moves their cursor, yellow is the hover state. The cursor changes as the visitor moves it over onscreen objects, such as buttons or other interface elements.




Green - Visitors make selections by quickly retracting their pointer finger or by holding a clenched hand to grab and drag an onscreen object.



Red - If visitors actually touch the display, they see red LEDs, a red border around the large display, and a red “this is a touchless display” message on the small display.




The combination of a small auxiliary display, LEDs, and cursor animations might initially seem like overkill, but we have found that novel interactions like this often require more than one type of feedback. These elements work together to let visitors know that this system is present and is responding to their actions. It certainly would have been simpler to forgo the added hardware system and modify the exhibit on the larger display, but such changes to existing applications aren’t trivial in terms of redesign and reprogramming, and it is not clear whether visitors would understand that experience on the large display had been altered in some way. 

This integrated hardware system has the advantage that, once built, it can be deployed on any number of interactive exhibits with little change to underlying source code. In addition, since the changes to existing applications are minor, the system can be removed and the application can revert to its original touch interface when the need for a touchless system is past.

Our initial rounds of informal testing suggest that this prototype system works reasonably well. While it is, not unexpectedly, less intuitive than a touch interface, it is accurate and reliable enough for most visitors to navigate without frustration. In addition, in a new world where people are understandably reluctant to touch objects in public spaces, the system provides an odd feeling of empowerment: I can make things happen, I can make selections and interact, and I can do it without touching something!

The development of this system is part of a new broader initiative called Touchless Design which we announced last week. The software and DIY instructions for the integrated hardware system will be open-sourced and available at Touchless.Design later this summer. As part of this new initiative, we are collaborating with the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., with whom we will build and test a proof-of-concept kiosk to be installed in the fall. In addition, we are very fortunate to have received funding from Intel as part of their Pandemic Response Technology Initiative.

In the coming weeks, we will be testing our early prototypes, publishing our findings, and continuing to refine and develop the hardware and software. Along with the National Gallery of Art, we are working with other institutions on new proof-of-concept touchless exhibits. You can follow our development by visiting the Touchless.Design website or one of Ideum’s many social media channels. We look forward to hearing from you!




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Paul Orselli writes the posts on ExhibiTricks. Paul likes to combine interesting people, ideas, and materials to make exhibits (and entire museums!) with his company POW! (Paul Orselli Workshop, Inc.) Let's work on a project together!

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Thursday, July 16, 2020

Balancing Touchless and Tactile in Museums

Image of person with hands in the air in front of a video display showing stick-model hand images.

Because of COVID-19, the realities of balancing the real health and sanitation concerns of visitors with the interactive nature of "hands-on" exhibits leave museum workers in a difficult situation.

Even if a "touchless" or "contactless" museum is possible, is that something we want to really set into motion?  Eliminating every aspect of touch in a museum would, at a start, create spaces that are inaccessible to people with physical or learning challenges. Numerous scholarly articles underline the developmental and educational importance of tactile learning in museums.

Fortunately, I recently had the opportunity to chat with Greg Sprick, the Technical Director of the Richard Lewis Media Group (RLMG) and he shared with me the ongoing work and research that he and his colleagues have been sharing via the RLMG website.  You can access a free series of PDF whitepapers written by Greg and his colleagues on topics ranging from how personal devices can be incorporated into visitor experiences to "minimal-touch" solutions for in-gallery interactives.

You can access all of the COVID-19 resources from RLMG here.  (As a bonus, they have also provided sets of fun Zoom backgrounds for all your "Work From Home" videoconferences.)

How will your museum handle "Touchless vs. Tactile" concerns?  Share your thoughts or additional resources in the "Comments" section below!



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Paul Orselli writes the posts on ExhibiTricks. Paul likes to combine interesting people, ideas, and materials to make exhibits (and entire museums!) with his company POW! (Paul Orselli Workshop, Inc.) Let's work on a project together!

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Sunday, July 12, 2020

Tools You Can Use: Symbolology 🎶 ↕ ☂


Since so many of us are Working From Home and spending more time on our computers, tools that improve our workflow are welcome. 

For example, our keyboards are missing lots of symbols that might be handy to include in a document -- like ♠, ♣, ♥, and ♦. 

An easy way to browse and use these hidden characters is by visiting Symbololology, a one-page site with about 500 non-keyboard characters organized into categories including Punctuation (¿ §), Mathematics (≠ ∛), Greek (β φ), Arrows (▶ ⟲), and more!

Click on over to Symbololology to add some ⚡to your documents!




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Paul Orselli writes the posts on ExhibiTricks. Paul likes to combine interesting people, ideas, and materials to make exhibits (and entire museums!) with his company POW! (Paul Orselli Workshop, Inc.) Let's work on a project together!

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Friday, July 3, 2020

Celebrating Creativity During A Pandemic


Sometimes it is hard to turn away from the "pit of despair" that seems to characterize life during the July 2020 pandemic reality in the United States.


But wait!  It is not all doom-and-gloom!  Artist Federico Tobon, of wolfCat Workshop, has used paper clips, cardboard, scraps of wood, and tape to create wonderful and whimsical little mechanical sculptures, some of which are featured in this post.


Tobon also created a video collection of some creations entitled "29 automata in 6 minutes" which you can see on YouTube or embedded below.



You probably have all the materials you need at home right now to put together your own pandemic plaything -- why not give it a whirl?





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Paul Orselli writes the posts on ExhibiTricks. Paul likes to combine interesting people, ideas, and materials to make exhibits (and entire museums!) with his company POW! (Paul Orselli Workshop, Inc.) Let's work on a project together!

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Monday, June 22, 2020

My "Pandemic Project”


When the restrictions and precautions surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic took hold on Long Island, where my family and I live, it immediately became apparent that we were entering strange new territory. The notion of “working from home” and having meetings and conferences remotely, was not that different from much of my usual consulting workflow, but two other things soon became apparent.

First, as every museum conference I was scheduled to speak at or attend was canceled or postponed, the notion of “social distancing” on a professional level became very real, very quickly.  I missed the opportunity of seeing museum friends and colleagues in-person!

Secondly, and related to professional social (and physical!) distancing, I missed the back-and-forth of sharing and learning from each other – which strikes me as one of the underlying strengths of the museum field that sets it apart from many other professions.

So, what to do?  Well, what I did was to take up with new vigor the idea of “Museum FAQ”  videos (FAQ is tech-speak for “Frequently Asked Questions”) that, quite honestly, I had started a while ago but had left aside.  Now I started contacting museum colleagues to find out if they would be willing to have a conversation with me via Zoom (of course!) about a museum topic that would draw upon their personal experience and expertise.

To my delight (and relief!) folks readily agreed, and now I have started to build up a freely available library of videos on my POW! YouTube channel that covers a wide range of topics from Museum Management to Exhibit Design to Science Communication. Even though the videos are being recorded during the COVID-19 pandemic, the topics covered, and tips and techniques shared, are truly “evergreen” in the sense that they will still provide interesting and useful information for, hopefully, years to come. 

While I continue to record Museum FAQ videos, three videos, in particular, stand out for me.

Christian Greer, President & CEO of the Michigan Science Center, brought forward a thoughtful (and timely!) discussion about managing in times of transition.  I was struck by how eloquently Christian shared tactics for balancing the foundation of Mission with the flexibility and creativity needed for turbulent times.

On a completely different topic, Amparo Leyman Pino shared successful ways she has used language as an interpretive tool in museums. Amparo moved beyond the more familiar multilingual labels to the ideas of blended language and language-neutral environments.

Lastly, exhibit designer Margaret Middleton shared a fun and informative way to think about creating more inclusive museums by walking us through how to plan for better infant care and feeding areas as a model for the process.  

I hope you’ll click on over to the POW! YouTube channel to view some Museum FAQ videos for yourself – and, better yet, please let me know if there are new topics that we could have a Museum FAQ conversation about together to share with our museum colleagues on YouTube!  (Don't forget to hit the big red "Subscribe" button when you get to YouTube!)

(This post was adapted, with permission, from a piece I submitted for the online version of Informal Learning Review, Special Issue #2  June 2020 p.26)



Don't miss out on any ExhibiTricks posts! It's easy to get updates via email or your favorite news reader. Just click the "Sign up for Free ExhibiTricks Blog Updates" link on the upper right side of the blog.

Paul Orselli writes the posts on ExhibiTricks. Paul likes to combine interesting people, ideas, and materials to make exhibits (and entire museums!) with his company POW! (Paul Orselli Workshop, Inc.) Let's work on a project together!

If you enjoy the blog, you can help keep it free to read and free from ads by supporting ExhibiTricks through our PayPal "Tip Jar"