This section of the portfolio presents a selection of digital products and systems design and development. Strict design attention is paid to usability, accessibility, and scalability. The goals always being achieving visitor experience and audience goals concurrently to ensuring resource sustainability and scalability in perpetuity.
CMHR Mobile Application
As described in the accessible design section of this portfolio, one of the primary drivers for the CMHR mobile application was my intention to make static and built museum content accessible (such as artefacts in cases, framed photos, built scenography and content, wall and label texts, etc. to people who couldn’t see them, read them, etc.). That said, there were other objectives the mobile app was designed to address. Self-guided tours are an important staple of museum experience design which are accommodated by the app. These self-guided tours are available in English, French, ASL, LSQ, and described English, and described French. The mobile app also provides supplemental interpretative content (rich media – text, image, video, audio), wayfinding, sentiment tracking, and several other key content and service modules.
The app was created like an armature so that it would remain scalable in both breadth and depth, function and content. As such, temporary exhibitions are easily added and removed as needed, and content and experience evolutions within the Core Exhibitions can be easily added as well. The app was designed for both iOS and Android platforms, and iPods Touch devices are available for loan from the museum’s visitor services, while headphones are available as well.
The panoramic module allows visitors to explore geo-positioned historical human rights stories overlaid across the city in augmented reality; the interactive maps contain gallery-positioned story and content spotlights as well as wayfinding services; the Mood Meter allows visitors to register their moods and track their experience over their journey, as well as plot their feelings alongside those of other visitors; and virtual 3D artefacts are available for exploration in detail that is not always possible with physical versions due to conservation requirements. Finally, the mobile app remains a key component of the Universal Access Points as described here.
Enterprise Content Management System (ECMS)
The impetus behind the Enterprise Content Management System (ECMS) was to design a solution that would ease the resource spends for content production, and importantly, content reproduction in perpetuity. The concept of the ECMS was simply that of almost any Content Management System, but rather than applying this concept to a web site, it was designed and applied to an institution at large. In this case, the ECMS at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, treats all information as standards-compliant data. It is a CMS, a DAM (Digital Asset Management System), and an ALM (Archives, Library, and Museums Collections Management System), thesauri, and an enterprise search appliance, all combined into 1 modular system of components. As such, it facilitates data aggregation, finding, sorting, sharing, and publication across the entirety of a museum enterprise (in gallery, various installations, exhibitions, web sites, mobile apps, digital signage, back-of-house, reference centre, used by museum staff, etc.). It accomplishes this through field mappings and by creating installation specific APIs.
Storing content once and referencing it often, and ensuring a strict separation of content from presentation, the ECMS helps ensure that resources (human, financial) are spent on producing new content, instead of repurposing old (valuable) content, while also ensuring a strict semantic and standardized organization of all content (digital, physical) for preservation, collection, and any usage.
Virtual Learning Environment (VLE)
The Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) provides an opportunity for museums across Canada to easily contribute structured information and media assets in the form of standards-compliant learning resources through remote software interfaces. These resources can then be disassembled, reassembled, aggregated, annotated, and created into new standards-complaint compositions by educators, and shared back to other educators. The virtual learning environment also contains a set of tools (Blog, Wiki, messaging, video conferencing, assignment delivery and tracking, etc.) to facilitate collaborative working among museum educators, teachers, and students.
The design of the project from concept, through research, architecture and design, and development included strict evaluation and prototyping phases with educators and students. The prototype of this system included 6 Canadian museum collaborators who helped prove out the design through the development and testing phases, as well as contributing the inaugural content.
The system includes a simple yet robust back-end interface for professional museum use. This interface facilitates the uploading of rich media assets (video, image, audio) and text, and ensures a strict adherence to semantic standards and controlled vocabulary. Once a structured upload is complete, the system auto-generates a search-engine optimized presentation version of the content, adds this to the suite of software components, and it is made publicly available. Educators can then browse, print-off, and use the resource, or log in to the system for free, create classes, mix and mash-up content from various learning resources like lego blocks, and all the while semantic standards, copyright, intellectual property, and rights management in general are preserved, with all assets (museum content) remaining clearly identified.
The software has been used by over 150 museums from across Canada. The project was published by the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) SIGGRAPH. I was invited to present my work on this project at the ACM SIGGRAPH conference in 2007.
Community Memories Digitization Software
The Community Memories Digitization and Cataloguing Software facilitates the structure digitization and cataloguing of Canadian cultural content. Step-by-step interfaces guide users through digitization and/or import of content, cataloguing of these assets (image, video, audio) using standards compliant controlled vocabulary, the option to aggregate assets into annotated stories (creating narratives), and finally, the software facilitates the sharing of this structured content publicly. The output serves as the only digital content presentation for many small museums in Canada, while it also substantially adds to the creation of Canada’s digital cultural content repositories.
The easy-to-use software has an interface design that specifically addresses users who many not be familiar or comfortable with technology. The resulting digital compositions are uploaded to the Virtual Museum of Canada, can remain present in situ in kiosk form, and can be burned to DVD / added to thumb drives and sold in gift shops.
The design process included an extensive requirements definition process in which I worked with approximately 1200 museums from across Canada. The software is available from the Canadian Heritage Information Network. Primarily intended for small museums, the software has now been used by over 800 museums in Canada.
VMC Portal: Data & Collections Aggregation
The Canadian Heritage Information Network (CHIN) is an organization that administers a complex distributed network of digital content contributed from over 3000 museums and cultural organizations geographically spread across Canada. CHIN provides services (such as capacity building), programming opportunities (including investment), and is chiefly responsible for digital preservation, digital collections management, and information management across Canada’s museum and cultural sector.
The Virtual Museum of Canada (VMC) includes a virtual learning environment where museums contribute structured learning resources and educators use web applications to create custom lesson plans, a Google Mapping guide to over 3000 museums, museum profile pages which serve as the only web presence for many Canadian museums, and nearly 1000 virtual exhibits. CHIN’s Professional Exchange is a place for museum professionals to seek advice, take courses, access standards, engage in dialogue, and learn from CHIN hosted research projects. As part of the Professional exchange, CHIN houses Artefacts Canada, a massive database that stores object records and images of artefacts from across the country in any and all museums and cultural institutions.
The scope of this project included redefining the way in which CHIN operated (addressing 40 years of legacy product and business practice) becoming a truly digital-first organization, aggregating and connecting museum collections to national and international audiences in efficient, scalable, and cost-effective, standardized sets of interfaces. The project included 4 different software development sub-projects, the procurement, customization, and implementation of an enterprise search appliance, retro-fitting single-sign on to 6 existing products, and large volumes of data aggregation, management, and migration (one product alone contained over 6 million records and 600 000 images).