Communicating of Built Heritage Information: Tangible Interaction Approach

Each built heritage artifact possesses multiple types of information, varying from simple, factual aspects to more complex qualitative and tacit qualities and values like the architectural symbolism of a monument. This paper investigates how tangible interaction can enable the communication of qualitative information of built heritage to lay visitors. Through a comparative, field study in a real-world museum context, we examined how the tangible characteristics of an interactive prototype museum installation influence how visitors perceive a particular story. The communicated story relates a historical journey in ancient Egypt to the physical and architectural characteristics of the entrance colonnade at the Djoser Complex in Saqqara.

For the aim of this study, we developed three different interactive installations (and experimental conditions) in order to compare the causal influence of the tangible interaction on the sensemaking of the visitors, as shown in Figure 1. Each condition consisted of an interactive navigation (input) and a passive representation (output) element. For the navigation, a map of ancient Egypt with its territorial divisions of 42 nomes was used as the main interaction method, either via touch screen (Touch-Dix) or via a tangible interactive surface featuring a movable 3D-printed statue of pharaoh Djoser on the map (Tang-Dix and Tang-Phys). Each condition contained a representation view of the entrance colonnade that dynamically changed according to the user interaction. This view varied from a digital display showing a walk-through in a rendered 3D model of the colonnade (Touch-Dix and Tang-Dix) to a 3D physical rendition of the colonnade that was semi-attached to the installation (Tang-Phys).

In order to test the feasibility, reliability and validity of the proposed conditions and methods, we conducted a lab study and a two-days pilot study before we carry out the large-scale study at the Antiquity Department of the Royal Museums of Art and History in Brussels (in the exhibition rooms of the Egyptian Collection), to estimate general usability issues like whether museum visitors would be sufficiently intrigued by the interactive designs to start interacting with them, and whether they would intuitively understand the functionalities of the interactive features. This museum comprises the largest collection of Egyptian antiquities in Belgium. During the study, each condition was introduced with a brief explanation about the general context of the building (i.e. location and historical period) and about their purpose of interaction (i.e. exploring the architectural symbolism of the entrance colonnade). Visitors were allowed to participate individually or in groups, and as such included couples and dozens of children on a museum school trip. All the interactions were observed, logged and video recorded. The experiment finished with a semi-structured interview that was audio-taped, and which focused on the comprehension of the meaningful relationship between the map and the colonnade. The interview also included questions about how the colonnade looked like, in order to capture how people perceived the architectural characteristics of the space (e.g. height, fluting of the columns) that were not explicitly relevant to understand the story, yet still are valuable heritage qualities to be appreciated or remembered. Finally, visitors filled in a user experience questionnaire (, covering both classical usability aspects (i.e. efficiency, perspicuity, dependability) and user experience aspects (i.e. originality, stimulation). The findings indicate how tangible interaction is able to engage museum visitors more to accomplish additional efforts, facilitating a vivid understanding of cultural values and architectural qualities of built heritage.


Touch-Dix_model Tang-Dix_model Tang-Phys_model
Touch-Dix_study Tang-Dix_study Tang-Phys_study
Fig. 1a. Touch-Dix Fig. 1b. Tang-Dix

Fig. 1c. Tang-Phys

Fig. 1. Different comparative conditions for communicating the architectural story of the entrance colonnade of Djoser Pyramid Complex: a) touch navigation and digital representation; b) tangible navigation and digital representation; and c) tangible navigation and physical representation.

Output Publication: Eslam Nofal, Vanessa Boschloos, Hendrik Hameeuw and Andrew Vande Moere. 2016. The Role of Tangible Interaction for Communicating Qualitative Information of Built Heritage. In Proceedings of Arqueológica 2.0: 8th International Congress on Archaeology, Computer Graphics, Cultural Heritage and Innovation, pp. 441-444, 5-7 September 2016, Valencia, Spain.
Categorised Design, Technology