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The Avatar and the iPad: Lessons Learned

As Jenny mentioned in her previous post, we had an interactive running on a series of iPads in Vishnu: Hinduism’s Blue Skinned Savior and now that the exhibition has closed, it’s time to share our evaluation of the project. We were lucky enough to have an intern, Roslyn Esperon, independently evaluating all interpretive materials with this exhibition, so what’s in this blog post is a combination of her research, my own observation of visitor behavior and the analytics on the project.

Vishnu iPad

Visitors using the iPads in the exhibition.

Overall, use of the iPads among visitors went pretty well.  We know from our statistics that 8,629 avatars were issued to visitors via the quiz kiosks, which means roughly 28% of the people coming to the show took part in the activity. Of those surveyed by Roslyn, 100% found the iPads inviting and easy to use; 82% felt the iPads provided the right kind of information, kept their attention and didn’t distract from the artwork; 64% felt the iPads provided the right amount of information; 73% felt the interactive made them think more about the artwork and was helpful to their experience of the art; 91% felt use of the iPads was a positive experience. Of those surveyed, visitors were slightly more likely to use the iPad kiosk if they were familiar with the device, but the data does not indicate a strong relationship between prior experience with the device and actual use or non-use of the iPad in this setting.  Interestingly, users of the iPad kiosks were likely to have also used other interpretive materials, indicating that this was a supplementary experience to our labels and didactics.

Even though those metrics give an overall picture that is pretty good, there are other findings we should talk about.

Vishnu Kiosk

Visitors take a quiz to determine which avatar will follow them through the exhibition. Kiosks are located outside the exhibition space just off the elevators.

By design, we created a linear experience in which, ideally, visitors would take a quiz to determine which avatar should accompany them throughout the exhibition and then check in at other kiosks to either find their avatar in works of art or vote for their favorite depictions of their avatar in the show.

In early discussions, we decided to try something new and experiment by placing the quiz kiosks right outside the show so visitors would see them as they got off the elevator prior to entering the exhibition space.  The reasons for this were two-fold.  First, we wanted to see if this location would capture more people before they went in.  Second, we were conscious of the cultural issues with the subject matter and wanted to ensure this was seen as an optional path through the show, not a required one.

iPad Kiosk Use

11% of visitors using the introductory "quiz" kiosk did so on the way out of the exhibition instead of the way in.

The reality is more than a few visitors missed the quiz kiosks in this experimental location because they were seen as outside the exhibition space and because of this, many visitors encountered the interactive at a later point having not taken the initial quiz.  While you could still take part without having taken this first step, the subsequent sets of kiosks were designed in a linear fashion assuming you had taken the quiz and you had a specific avatar you were trying to find.  We’ve learned a couple of things for the next time around:  1) Those first kiosks really need to be in the gallery, not outside of it.  2)  Even if we move the kiosks to a better location, we are never going to ensure that every visitor funnels through space the same way, so we need to design the interactive in a much less linear fashion or provide clearer instructions for visitors who missed the first set of kiosks.

iPad mounts with clear bezels

Switching to a clear bezel helped expose the hardware. Compare to the images above where it's difficult to tell an iPad is contained in the case.

Another issue cropped up when we mounted the iPads.  Unlike our Wikipop iPad interactive for Seductive Subversion where the iPads were freestanding and could be picked up, this time we used LaunchPad mounts from Sprocket. Sprocket produces very elegant and sturdy mounts, but we didn’t expect that they would turn the iPad into a very normal-looking small touch screen because the iPad was so well hidden within the beautiful case.  Issues cropped up almost immediately. As visitors started interacting with the devices, they were treating them like a standard touch screen—we were seeing a lot of hard tapping, jabbing or trying to use fingernails to navigate—the iPads, which are used to a much more low-key touch experience, became unresponsive.  We worked with Sprocket to resolve this and they provided a clear bezel for the LaunchPad mounts, so visitors could see the hardware.  We’ll never forget going down to switch out the bezels and one visitor standing nearby said, “Oh, that’s an iPad!”  The switch to the clear bezel helped and now whenever we are using mounted iPads in the gallery, we’ll be using these to expose the hardware a bit better.

I’m not going to go too far into the actual findings around the content on the devices because without having taken part it’s a little hard to explain all the specifics.  That said, there’s an important statistic worth noting: only 64% felt the iPads provided the right amount of information.  These were activity based kiosks focused on helping visitors find avatars in the works of art and while visitors did report the iPad activity made them look closer at the works in question (yay, limited screen suck!), visitors still wanted more information. Interview participants showed a strong preference for content that would provide additional information and indicated they expected the iPads would contain didactic content and looked to the devices for it.  This is especially interesting given the findings on the Wikipop project—more, may indeed, be more.

There’s a lot of research that I can’t possibly fit into this post, but if you have questions ask in the comments and I’ll be happy to give you more.