There is a notable need for museums and cultural heritage sites to engage visitors in different ways and to put the collection back into the centre of the visit. The meSch project takes the stance that materiality complements and completes cognition. A personally meaningful and sensorial rich experience with museum exhibits can greatly improve both the visitors’ experience and their appreciation for the museum’s cultural values. To be able to help heritage professionals innovate their own practice, the meSch project aims to stimulate a DIY attitude and approach with cultural heritage professionals.
Description of project:
meSch is a 4-year EU funded project with the goal of co-designing novel platforms for the creation of tangible exhibits at heritage sites: cultural heritage professionals will be able to offer visitors new interactive experiences by means of material interaction with smart objects. By empowering cultural heritage professionals with a technological platform to help them create their own interactive, smart and tangible exhibitions, meSch aims at making the encounter of digital and material more sustainable in museums. To be able to design such a platform a co-design approach is central to the project and its activities.
The meSch approach is grounded on principles of co-creation, or as the project partners say: ‘co-design’; the participation of designers, developers and stakeholders into the process of creation and evaluation as equal partners, and on a Do-It-Yourself philosophy of making and experimenting. Three large-scale case studies in different museums provide test beds for the real-world evaluation of meSch technology with the public and cultural heritage stakeholders.
The meSch project relies on co-design to understand and better frame how experiences with cultural heritage sites and objects can be enhanced using smart objects: by embedding electronic tags or sensors into regular (‘non-smart’) physical objects. Different kinds of people, from curators, to managers, educators, exhibition designers and visitors have been involved in a set of exploratory co-design activities.
Nature of co-design sessions:
- Consortium sessions where all project members participated to identify user requirements and to start ideating scenarios and prototypes.
- Local co-design sessions with project partners to analyse how and why specific interaction concepts could be integrated in the specific museums.
- Local co-design sessions with local collaborators in order to have a wider perspective of the implications of involving users in co-design activities and to involve a greater range of cultural heritage institutions in meSch activities.
- Design Jams where individuals are presented with a specific design challenge to tackle.
What have they learned?
Merel van der Vaart, cultural heritage professional and PhD-candidate at Allard Pierson Museum considers ‘co-creation as a collaboration tool. It’s a way to help the various project partners with different skill sets work together.’ In a multidisciplinary project consortium such as meSch, which include technology developers, designers, academics and heritage professionals, it is important to find a common language and understanding of (technical) possibilities early on in the project. Partners Waag Society and Sheffield Hallam University propagated the use of design thinking techniques for this from the onset, making co-design approaches very central in the project.
In the first stages of the project, the meSch co-design strand consisted of a constant diverging and converging of ideas and insights. The co-creative activities in the consortium meetings allowed for an active reworking and sharing of insights between partners.
As an academic strand and co-design strand potentially run the risk of being separate things -performed by different partners, supporting different goals of the project- it became soon important to blend of the results of the more formal techniques (such as interviews with cultural heritage professionals) with co-creative results and to actively seek for support for co-creative insights in academic literature.
Why it is a best practice:
Co-design is one of the pillars that meSch is built on. All prototypes and exhibitions were developed in cooperation between designers, cultural heritage professionals, technical personnel and future users. meSch’s co-design strategy employed a large variety of participatory techniques within different phases of co- design and these have been reflected upon and successively adapted.
For the development teams from the universities of Stuttgart, Sheffield Hallam, Limerick and the team of Waag Society it was valuable to see how cultural heritage professionals work with a specific heritage object and what interaction elements can be connected with the story behind it, adding substance and sense to the object.
meSch has put together a resource based on their own experiences with running co-design workshops. The resource will help cultural heritage professionals to run their own co-design workshops and get the best possible results. Templates for co-design methods are published, accompanied by examples of how they were implemented in the meSch practice.
Project website for MeSch, accessed on August 26th 2015 via: http://mesch- project.eu/