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Friday, November 6 • 5:00pm - 5:30pm
Follow the Pen: Exhibition Metrics at Cooper Hewitt. Now What?

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In December 2014 Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum reopened after a three-year renovation with a redesigned and reimagined dynamic twenty-first century design museum within an historic landmarked structure. Our vision was to create an environment in which design could be fully available and actively engaged in. Together, museum staff and the nine design teams embarked on a collaborative process to reimagine Cooper Hewitt, not only the Andrew Carnegie Mansion, but the entire campus, our brand, our education programs, and our exhibition strategies.Groundbreaking technology has shaped our transformation, and in March 2015 our electronic Pen was launched. It encourages visitors to explore and engage the riches of Cooper Hewitt’s collection and the depth of its exhibitions in ways that are only possible with technology.

The Pen is a rubberized wand with a pen-shaped tip at one end and an NFC antenna at the other. Not only does it work as a capacitive stylus on all of the digital tables newly installed in our galleries, but it can be used around the museum: each item on display at the museum that now has an NFC tag next to it (behind each object label). When you find something you like, or want to read more about later, just tap the back of the pen to the “collect” icon on the label, which sits on top of the tag. Lights on the Pen illuminate and a slight vibration confirms that the item's been recognized. You're essentially building your own personal collection as you browse the museum, and you're given a URL when you leave that lets you access that collection (or add to it when you return).

The content for this experience is drawn from the museum’s collection and delivered through the museum’s Application Programming Interface (API). Our TMS database holds all content for all object records, constituents, and links to other assets. A stylus combined with a vast museum collection database means that the museum is no longer just a few hundred objects inside our heritage building, but it is an experience that can follow you anywhere.The metrics gleaned from the Pen and our API promises to be a treasure trove. It is this moment in the museum’s journey, and mine as well, that I will focus on in my presentation. After two months we’ve surpassed 110,000 physical visitors, xxxx number of Pens have been dispensed, xxx,xxx objects have been saved with the Pens to personal visitor accounts, xxxx new personal accounts have been set up; and we can slice and dice the metrics in any number of ways.

So now what? As the head of cross-platform publishing—charged with developing all print and digital publications, exhibition didactics, and digital table content—I’m interested in making sense of this digital data by supplementing it with visitor response data. I am going to get out of the lab, and conduct user research. I plan to begin with sorting the data for the top most collected objects and then conducting in-gallery visitor research to inquire:What do you expect you’ll find? What do you want to find? Were you disappointed? Did the content deliver? What more do you want?

Over the next few months I will explore whether the label chat, table chat, and other exhibition didactics hold up or disappoint with our visitors. This information may be able to inform our interpretation and label-writing strategies. It might provide ideas for future exhibitions. What does it portend for the museum’s print and digital publications? My hope for this study is to draw relationships between our digital data and UI research to better inform and Cooper Hewitt’s content development.

avatar for Leifur Björn Björnsson

Leifur Björn Björnsson

Co-founder, Locatify
A founder of Locatify; a privately held Icelandic company who offers a platform (Creator CMS) to publish location aware content to mobile branded apps. Customers create guided tours or treasure hunt games for indoor and outdoor use on a mobile device – powered by iBeacon and GPS... Read More →


Micah Walter

Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum

Friday November 6, 2015 5:00pm - 5:30pm CST
Harriet Hyatt Regency Minneapolis 1300 Nicollet Mall Minneapolis, MN 55403

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