User Testing #1

As the official three month development stage of the REACT Object Sandbox came to an end, we unleashed the Curpanion technology we had been developing on a variety of interested audiences. The efficacy of our plans, and the user interface, the cohesions of the physical and online worlds that we had envisaged and the desirability of such technology for museum professionals were all aspects that we needed to test. Figure 1, a poster produced for the testing events, describes some of suppositions we wanted to test out:



Figure 1. M. Patchett and A Flack, ‘Museums and the Internet of Things exhibition poster’ (2014)


The following feedback was received from two testing events. The first was held at the REACT Creative Media Studios on June 4th and the second at the Digital Dimensions Showcase at the University of Bristol on 12th June. Both events were attended by technologists, museum professionals, government officials and other interested parties. We can split the feedback we received into two categories: responses from museum professionals and responses from creative industries which formed part of the Object Sandbox Cohort.


What We Were Showcasing


Figure 2: “Curpanion object on ‘activation”’ (2014)

For the purposes of user-testing our prototype display consisted of:


1. Curpanion plinth/RFID sensor unit

2. Curpanion connected-object (RFID-fitted and 3D printed)

3. Interactive taxidermy Greenfinch display plinth


Responses from Museum Professionals


- Many responses concerned the flexibility and mobility of the technology. The fact that the Curpanion units can be applied to multiple exhibits or that, more simply and cost-effectively, one unit can be moved between exhibits quickly and easily makes it an attractive proposition for museums with minimal capital to invest and the need to ensure expenditure goes as far as possible. Curpanion technology has the potential to be applied in a variety of settings and incorporating a vast array of content.

- Linked to this, the potential price of the unit was attractive. The flexibility of the technology means that an initial (or small ongoing) outgoing is particularly attractive.

- Museum professionals particularly enjoyed the ways in which Curpanion technology effectively linked the physical and online worlds. This is something many museums are currently striving to get right, and Curpanion technology, provides a particularly compelling platform for this.

- The user interface itself was exciting. Curpanion technology encourages visitors to linger at an exhibit while the activation takes place. This allows museums a longer window of time in which to impart the kinds of messages that form vital parts of their educational mission. Many people go to museums and glance at exhibits as they pass, rarely spending much time examining and learning from them. Curpanion technology offers the scope to change this and enhance the educational potentials of museum objects considerably.

- Museum professionals were also taken by the the flexibility of the Curpanion object - the fact that it could be modelled and printed to reflect their collections or a particularly iconic museum object was hugely attractive.   


Responses from Creative Industries


- Like the museum professionals, these users of the technology enjoyed the fact that the physical and online worlds were connected in such a seamless fashion. However, the online avatar, in the form that it currently takes, appeared to be surplus to requirements, with many users appearing to fail to grasp the connection between their physical object, their interaction with the exhibit, the online learning content, and the online avatar.  On the basis of this testing, we will move forward, initially, without the avatar component of the online package, instead reserving this for a much later iteration to be introduced once Curpanion technology is better known.

- Many users enjoyed the nature of their interaction with the Curpanion, its plinth and the exhibit itself. The object (for these events, a gorilla), the plinth with its lighting-on-activation capacity (see fig. 2) and the sounds produced ‘by the greenfinch’ forged an interaction which many people found to be ‘wonder’-ful. This theatricality appears to be absolutely integral to the attraction of Curpanion technology, moving beyond the ‘colder’ interactions of other museum-located RFID technologies (see previous blog post)

- Most of the users were pleased with the size and finish of the Curpanion object itself, and this seems important as we move on to production of the next prototype.

This first stage of testing proved invaluable. In many ways it confirmed many of the ideas that had underpinned our production of this technology in prototype form. Nevertheless, the suggestions
for improvements will be instrumental as we work toward the next testing phase, at the Horniman Museum (19/20 July) and Bristol Zoo Gardens (24 July).

Andy and Merle