Critical design, value-led design and spaces for experimentation with design in archaeology and heritage

Join us to discuss how we do design in archaeology & heritage, and how we might explicitly draw critical and value-led design principles into our practices…

Screen Shot 2019-04-18 at 14.28.38Next week I’ll be in Kraków, Poland with many of my friends and colleagues for the annual Computing Applications in Archaeology conference. As we’ve previously advertised, Francesca Dolcetti, Rachel Opitz and I are chairing a Roundtable (session #36) on User Experience Design in Archaeology and Cultural Heritage on Thursday 25 April, Exhibition Room A, from 8.40am – 12.40pm. We’ve been lucky to recruit an amazing group of presenters who work across the discipline and around the world, presenting on a range of projects from data design to multimedia and museum design, for online and ‘offline’ audiences.

This roundtable feeds into a larger stream of research and development that the EU COST Action ARKWORK has been generously supporting, and that Rachel, Francesca, myself, and many of our collaborators have long been interested in: namely, how do we do design as archaeologists and heritage practitioners?, and where are we (and where are we not) explicitly deploying design principles in our day-to-day practices, our records, our archives and wider publications?

A growing body of interdisciplinary work provides guidance and meaningful rationales for pursuing specific forms of critical design and value-led design, yet the extent to which such ethically-minded design is used within our discipline is unclear. Indeed, within the field of design itself, this is still a relatively underdeveloped topic, although there are various resources, like Jet Gispen’s brilliant Ethics for Designers, that offer crucial toolkits which are of relevance to all folks (including archaeologists) involved in crafting new methods, new projects, new tools and published outputs. Gispen herself writes that she was “Struck by the lack of ethical knowledge of most designers and design students” which led her to “explor[e] ways for designers to incorporate ethics into their design process.”

Next week we hope to probe some of these issues with our roundtable participants, our in-person audience, and others who might wish to contribute to the conversation via social media or our Google Doc (which we’ll open for editing on the morning of 25 April).

In particular, we would like to engage with two larger themes – namely:

(1) critical thinking/reflection in design and value-led design

(2) the spaces in our workflows and practices that afford more experimentation with design

And we will frame our discussion around five key questions:

(1) What does ‘success’ look like in terms of the user experience (UX) design process for archaeology/heritage? What constitutes ‘failure’ in relation to the UX design process for archaeology/heritage?

(2) What should the role of archaeologists and cultural heritage practitioners be in the development of UX and User Interface approaches for use in the discipline?

(3) What are the unconscious choices you’ve made in your design processes, of which you later became aware?

(4) Are archaeologists and heritage professionals ethically obligated to state the values driving their design practices and explore the role their values play in the process? Why or why not?

(5) What values are implicitly embedded in your design processes and products? Have you ever considered applying ethical, feminist, queer, decolonial, or value-sensitive design? How did – or might – you structure such community-minded design work? And where (i.e., in relation to which processes, outputs, practices, tools, etc.) would you apply it first?

We welcome reflections from those not present for the conference, and hence we encourage you to add to the Google Doc from Thursday 25 April, provide comments below (through this blog), or find us on Twitter at #krakcaa #s36. Our session is also likely to be recorded, so you should eventually find the talks online. In the meanwhile, see abstracts below and please join us next Thursday 25 April from 8.40am CEST in Exhibition Room A!

S36: User Experience Design in Archaeology and Cultural Heritage: Speakers & Abstracts

Part 1: ‘online first’ designs

Ksar es Said: Building Tunisian young people’s critical engagement with their heritage. Paola Di Giuseppantonio Di Franco, Mark Winterbottom, Fabrizio Galeazzi, Michael Gogan

  • This paper describes the work undertaken as part of the Digital Documentation of Ksar es-Said Project. This project, funded by the British Council, combined education, history, and heritage for the digital preservation of tangible and intangible aspects of heritage associated with the 19th cent. Palace of Said in Tunis. We produced an interactive 3D model of Ksar es-Said and developed learning resources to build Tunisian students’ critical enagegement with their heritage through enquiry learning activities in the 3D model. We used a user-centred approach, based on pre-assessment, mid-term evaluation and post-assessment design. The selection of effective technologies, and the design of the online platform and its associated contents was a complex, non-linear process. It required formal and informal meetings, focus groups, and interviews with various stakeholders, as well as an important process of mediation between the different stakeholders involved in the co-creation of contents. While the selection of final contents and activities for the platform required us to reduce the complexity of intangible aspects of Tunisian heritage into a small number of ‘themes’, preliminary assessment of the activities suggests that the learning method proposed is an effective way to actively engage young Tunisian students with the concepts of hybridity and complexity and leaves an open space for teacher-students discussions around constantly changing heritage-values.

From heterogeneous data to heterogeneous public: thoughts on transmedia applications for digital heritage research and dissemination. Damien Vurpillot, Perrin Pittet, Johann Forte, Benoist Pierre

  • In recent years, we have seen a tenfold increase in volume and complexity of digital data acquired for cultural heritage documentation. Meanwhile, open data and open science have become leading trends in digital humanities. The convergence of those two parameters compels us to deliver, in an interoperable fashion, datasets that are vastly heterogeneous both in content and format and, moreover, in such a way that they fit the expectation of a broad array of researchers and an even broader public audience. Tackling those issues is one of the main goals of the “HeritageS” digital platform supported by the “Intelligence des Patrimoines” research program. This platform is designed to allow research projects from many interdisciplinary fields to share, integrate and valorize cultural and natural heritage datasets related to the Loire Valley. From the valorization perspective, one of our main initiative is the creation of the “Renaissance Transmedia Lab”. Its core element is a website which acts as a hub to access various interactive experiences linked to research projects about the Renaissance period: augmented web-documentary, serious game, virtual reality, 3D application. We expect to leverage those transmedia experiences to foster better communication between researchers and the public while keeping the quality of scientific discourse. By presenting the current and upcoming productions, we intend to share our experience with other participants: preparatory work and how we manage with researchers to produce, in cooperation, tailor-made experiences that convey the desired scientific discourse while remaining appealing to the general public.

User Interface Design and Evaluation for Online Professional Search in Dutch Archaeology. Alex Brandsen

  • This paper will describe preliminary results from the ongoing user study with a small (n=9) representative group of archaeologists, in relation to the AGNES system. AGNES stands for ‘Archaeological Grey-literature Named Entity Search’. The search system has a web interface that allows archaeology professionals to search through a large collection of Dutch excavation reports. The purpose of the user study is twofold: (1) to collect user requirements and (2) to evaluate the search system under development. This is achieved by periodic workshops. In the evaluation stage both the UI and the search result quality are evaluated by users. The evaluation is done by screen capturing and the “thinking aloud” method, which asks users to motivate every interaction with the system, and explain their reasoning. This is combined with a more traditional UI feedback questionnaire. All evaluation is done with both controlled use (completion of a given task) as well as free use (completion of a freely chosen task). This empirical evaluation is combined with statistical evaluation of the system by analysing query/click stats as well as click heatmaps, created by user tracking. The iterative, user-led design process combined with intense evaluation and end-user involvement from the start of the project should ensure a more suitable, user-friendly and efficient tool for the target audience.

9.15 – 9.30 discussion slot

Part 2: ‘in person first’ designs

Unintended Outcomes – VR, Heritage and User Engagement. William Michael Carter, Rhonda Bathurst, William Ciaran Lim-Carter

  • This paper will discuss the ad hoc deployment of an archaeologically informed Virtual Reality research project, Longhouse VR, as a semi-permanent exhibit at the Museum of Ontario Archaeology (MOA). Originally intended as an exploration of the intersection of technology and archaeology, speaking specifically to the archaeological community, the research project’s aims were primarily around the construction of new archaeological knowledge through the 3D making process. The platform for interactivity was an HTC Vive VR headset and gaming engine, allowing for real-time user engagement, immersion and limited interactivity. As it was never intended for public use, notions of user engagement were secondary to the display and new knowledge creation of the archaeological record. We will explore the means in which the MOA has now physically deployed the Longhouse VR experience and technology, symbolically repatriating museum space from an outdated post-colonial exhibition environment. Further, after almost a year of deployment, over 1800 Indigenous and non-Indigenous users have engaged with Longhouse VR in addition to the post-experience qualitative survey, providing a unique window into the unintended outcomes of non-archaeological user engagement. Benefiting from the substantive user interaction, Longhouse VR is now being remodeled, to better support and address the needs and desires of the public and more importantly, the descendant Indigenous communities. This paper offers a unique opportunity to demonstrate how unintended outcomes can have a direct influence on User Experience Design and the intentionality and communication needed to balance agency, authenticity, authority, and transparency of heritage informed digital media experiences.

Engaging visitors with ‘invisible’ heritage: lessons learned on the impact of digital media, immersion, sound and storytelling. Jenny Wilkinson

  • My PhD investigates the role of digital media in optimising visitor engagement with non-visible outdoor heritage. Building on existing research regarding visitor engagement; this thesis proposes guidance to advise and support heritage practitioners and designers in the design, development and implementation of digital products to interpret heritage. The guidance includes a framework for engagement, defining the stages (process) and the states (experiences and behaviours) of visitor engagement. Visitor engagement is defined in this study as being a transformational experience in which the visitor’s emotional and/or cognitive relationship with the heritage is altered. Visitors featured in this study are people who are present at the heritage site, but may not be predominantly interested in experiencing the heritage of the location, consequently the guidance proposes a focus on both place-centred and user-centred design. The heritage site featured in this study is a public park with very little tangible evidence of the historical or cultural relevance of the location. A prototype digital product was created to help visitors understand and appreciate the period in the 19th Century when the park was used as the city’s Race Course and annually hosted horse racing. Mixed digital media, including sound, video and audio content were used to deliver location specific storytelling designed to immerse people who were on the park in the carnival atmosphere of the races. Findings from this study demonstrated that using the product had a positive impact in deepening people’s understanding of the park and their emotional connection to the location.

Mixable reality, Collaboration, and Evaluation. Erik M Champion

  • If we are to move past one hit AR wonders like Pokémon Go, scalable yet engaging content, stable tools, appropriate evaluation research, long-term and robust infrastructure, are essential. Formats like WebVR and Web XR show promise for sharing content across desktop and head-mounted displays (without having to download plugins), but there is also a non-technological constraint: our preconceptions about virtual reality. For example, in a 2018 Conversation article “Why virtual reality cannot match the real thing” by Professor of Philosophy Janna Thompson) she argued that virtual reality (and virtual heritage in particular) attempts to provide accurate and equivalent realistic interactive simulations of the existing real world. VR is not only a possible mirror to the current world. As Sir David Attenborough noted about the Natural History Museum’s “Hold the World” VR application, it provides a richer understanding of process, people can move and view virtual objects that are otherwise fragile, expensive or remote. And it allows people to share their mashups of reality, mixable reality. Collaborative learning can compel us to work in groups to see the bigger picture… your actions or decisions can be augmented and incorporated into the experience. However, there are few studies on collaborative learning in mixed reality archaeology and heritage. This presentation will discuss two projects, one using two HoloLens HMDs, one a game where two people with different devices must share and control one character, the theories adopted, and the range of possibilities for evaluating user experience in this collaborative mixed reality.

10.00 – 10.40 discussion slot

10.40 – 11.00 coffee break

Part 3: design process

Interaction Design (IxD) and Digital Heritage. Edward Gonzalez-Tennant

  • Interaction design (IxD) is the practice of designing interactive digital products. This paper address how IxD can improve the educational and public outreach potentials of digital archaeology and associated disciplines. Some of these challenges are broadly shared by digital heritage professionals. They include the ways we navigate incomplete evidence, the role of conjecture in digitally (re)constructing vanished places, and how we integrate descendant community and public voices across a project’s lifespan. I begin my discussion with goal-oriented design and how engagement with various stakeholders fundamentally changes our approach to creating interactive digital products. A closely related but oft-overlooked aspect is accessibility and usability. This portion of the paper will draw on recent work in video game design to advocate for ways we can engage broader audiences by anticipating atypical needs. I conclude the paper by discussing cognitive and affective methodologies. Cognitive refers to the processes by which we assess and modify our design choices, while affective IxD helps us better understand the emotional responses of users and how to employ them in moral and sympathetic ways. Case studies are drawn from the forthcoming Rosewood: An Interactive History, the Tragedy and Survival project that vetted digital reconstructions in front of public audiences, and the Virtual Museum of Human Evolution.

Managing Engagement Design Risk through Creative Constraints. Claire Boardman

  • Non-practitioners often confuse design with art. Whilst each designer develops, through constant application and revision of their craft, a unique and often identifiable style, their work is not to express an inner world but to deliver pre-defined outcome(s). As such and contrary to popular belief, the ‘design process’ is fundamentally analytical and reductionist in nature; it is a constant cycle of data and information acquisition, evaluation and decision making which ultimately results in a single output – the design. Drawing on current research, this paper exposes the key design decisions made by the Researcher during the creation and employment of a digitally enabled ethnographic intervention consisting of two interrelated engagement designs: one a creative digital process and the other and interactive digital product. Through a reflexive and candid account, the development and success – or otherwise – of each presented design decision is discussed whilst acknowledging that user experience design does not exist in isolation but is nested in the broader processes of interaction and engagement design and therefore the wealth of technology and non-technology based affordances this offers. Further, the inherently iterative and collaborative nature of design practice, the necessity of the early inclusion of users and the importance of adopting a multi-disciplinary ‘mind frame’ whether working alone or within a wider team are highlighted.

Creating a unified design system across web, mobile, AR and VR. Damir Kotorić, Luke Hollis

  • A challenge that faces current archaeological data presentation and interpretation is establishing a shared visual vocabulary for user interface components across web browsers, mobile devices, and augmented and virtual reality experiences. Working closely with archaeologists, at Archimedes Digital we create cross-platform experiences for web, mobile, and VR/AR. A critical element that ties together all these diverse experiences is our unified design system. We aim to give users a sense of familiarity that allows them to easily move from one device to the next, and give them the best experience possible no matter the device they’re using. Building on the groundwork laid down by design systems like Apple’s HIG, Google’s Material Design system and Facebook’s Oculus VR Design Best Practices, we utilize tools like Figma, and Realtimeboard, in combination with design thinking workshops inspired by Google’s design sprints, to help us create this unified design system. We do this with the aim of creating user experiences that feel familiar to users, and with the goal of making archaeology accessible to people around the world.

Inclusive Digital Engagement for Heritage. Eleonora Gandolfi, Grant Cox

  • Access, participation and representation have been identified as the mechanisms that allow an audience to fully experience a museum or site. Traditionally, access issues were frequently limited by architectural and financial restrictions but with the rise of technology, new barriers need to be taken into account. Consequently, increased attention has been paid to sensory and cognitive interaction, cultural differences (interests, life experiences), aptitudes (the culture an the overall atmosphere of an institution), technology (lack of ICT use to enhance access to cultural offerings) and elitism (e.g. perception of cultural institutions as exclusive places, reserved to educated and sophisticated people; refusal of certain forms of cultural expression, considered to be of little interest or offense; low priority given to cultural participation). In relation to communication of archaeological and heritage content via an online medium, this happens mainly visually, symbolically and textually. Communication, especially textual, is just one of the tools that archaeologists have available to create a bridge between heritage and the public. This proposed case study will critically analyze how digital material, produced for educational and research purposes and for a variety of different audiences, can be adapted to meet the needs of different communities and bridge the gap between physical and digital space. Methodologies such as Action Research and language analysis have been applied in association to IT platform user testing to create a new ideal digital space to collect, access and share heritage information and data.

11.40 – 12.00 discussion slot

Part 4: discussion

12.00 – 12.40 group discussion of key questions & roundtable themes on critical design and value-led design


2 thoughts on “Critical design, value-led design and spaces for experimentation with design in archaeology and heritage

  1. Wow. Next level. That looks awesome

    Iain Davidson,

    Emeritus Professor, University of New England, Australia

    Mailing address:

    Unit 1413, 70 Longland Street, Newstead, QLD 4006, AUSTRALIA

    Mobile/cell phone AUS +61 402 106 853

    ORCID 0000-0003-1840-9704

    Texts of recent publications are on Academia: Cultural Heritage and Punta Arenas (in Spanish); Cultural transmission and stone tools; Aboriginal stone houses; Paleolithic art; Fauna in rock art.

    Facebook (Davidson Iain Davidson), (Iain Davidson), Research Gate (Iain Davidson)


    Instagram: iain5683


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