Queer Augmented Reality Wayfinding And Identity System For Galleries And Art Museums
Principle Investigator: Linh Dao
Designer & Researcher: Elise Coatney
Developer & Researcher: Chenin Rowe
Timeline: 3 Months
An add-on queer augmented reality learning experience for art galleries and museums, consisting of an identity and wayfinding system as well as a digital archive. The experience blends seamlessly into traditional museum settings, as part of the project descriptions are printed next to artworks on gallery walls, suggesting similar or related works. A variety of queer artworks and artists are featured for onsite wayfinding and offsite exploration, reimagining the traditionally static galleries and museums.
San Francisco's GLBT Historical Society Museum is the first stand-alone museum dedicated to gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender history. Before this museum opened, queer people and people interested in queer art had trouble finding accessible galleries. Many barriers prevented them from participating - lack of interest, money, transportation, and specifically curated content. We wondered if traditional institutions could lessen these barriers using new technology. We began with the research question of whether a wayfinding system can be more than just directional, and if it can establish a contemporary queer art archive externally. Using a compact set of categories, we designed and developed a crowd-funded archive in the form of printed signage and augmented signage extensions. We named our project Amorphous, which means without a clearly defined shape or form. We were able to compensate and mentor undergraduate students with an internal grant provided by California Polytechnic State University's College of Liberal Arts for eight weeks. By the Fall of 2023, the undergraduate students presented their project to the Dean, Associate Deans, faculty, student researchers, and the public during the undergraduate student research week.
Social, Theoretical, and Philosophical Context
On one hand, we look to institutions to provide visitors with adequate information to appreciate the artwork, anticipate their curiosity, and acceptance of queerness (Thaddeus-Johns). On the other hand, we are skeptical of the institutional model (Loiseau 2022), and are interested in alternative methods of displays and exhibitions.
Our project is best suited to the familiar museum setting next to permanent collections, as temporary exhibitions during Pride month or at queer-themed galleries cannot effectively convey their significance and require significant development and interpretive planning buy-in (Middleton 2017). Our project extends existing collections and develops queer-themed programming for museums, thereby strengthening their commitment to queer inclusiveness (Middleton 2017, 81-84). We also provide intentional placement and interpretation as part of the queer narrative interpreted throughout the museum.
Art gallery and museum professionals, as well as historians were involved early and throughout the conceptual inquiry, user study, design production, and evaluation phases.
Our preparations included planning, organizing materials and schedules, and identifying potential obstacles. A literature review collected by the principal investigator was distributed. Expertise outside of our own was sought for the project.
Research and interpretation
In the first and second weeks of the research and design process, we focused on the development of the artist collection and categories. Our collection of queer abstract art was difficult to categorize for a variety of reasons, one of which is the fact that being overtly sexual in the artwork would have exposed them to harassment, discrimination, and death (Moffitt).
During weeks three and four, we focused on design research and conception. Design research techniques were used to survey contemporary design identity and branding examples. We also examined the project's conceptual background. A typographic study was conducted at this stage, along with early sketches of the visual identity and interactive components.
The use of abstraction instead of figurative representation was intended to avoid the troubling trend of superficial depictions of queerness (Moffitt) was decided at this stage. We made this choice to focus on the complex queer experience and expressions, of which sexuality and desire are only a part, in an innovative and oblique way. Our visual approach involves manipulating spatial dynamics, which we discovered to be tremendously helpful in achieving our intended outcome, which is both two- and three-dimensional. The other approach that we used was to reject sensual forms, prioritizing minimalism and control, with decisive shapes and forms (Moffitt). We moved back and forth between these two polarizing approaches while including some forms that referenced queer motifs, such as flag shapes, which communicate clearly.
Weeks five and six were spent developing the visual identity and interactive elements. We conducted and interpreted preliminary tests with targeted audiences to survey the visual appeal, communication clarity, and effectiveness of initial design solutions.
The production and iteration of two- and three-dimensional assets took place during this time, bringing many hand-sketches to life. In some ways the design for this experience is very much following the tradition of sculpture, and allow the space itself to reveal, but it is unique in the way it cannot be seen from all around, but only slight on the sides, and in the front, yet occupying the physical space as seen on a mobile device. The world inside of the the device, is altered, and unique in a few ways. In some ways the design for this experience is very much following the tradition of sculpture, and allow the space itself to reveal, but it is unique in the way it cannot be seen from all around, but only slight on the sides, and in the front, yet occupying the physical space as seen on a mobile device. The world inside of the the device, is altered, and unique in a few ways.
In weeks seven and eight, the remaining digital elements were built and augmented reality experiences were implemented. The digital archive was prototyped and expanded with individual pages for each artist. At this point, some visual assets like meshes and textures were redesigned and optimized, along with the interactive component. In addition, we have gathered and organized research and design documents.
We designed an interactive wayfinding system that incorporates augmented reality. We also developed a responsive website for a collection of 100 queer artists. Young queer survey participants responded mostly positively to our initial internet survey. Testing heuristics showed that maintaining augmented reality displays depends on the device's proximity to physical signage. Our testing led to findings that were not available anywhere else regarding blurring the line between the digital and real worlds using the latest technology.
The addition of another artwork category is essential as we recognize how our categorization system can easily be mistaken for pigeonholing artwork. A more comprehensive guidelines for submission will also be developed, similar to how the People of Graphic Design Archive limits its archive to ten years and older to allow users to reflect on why their uploads are worthwhile. We imagine that there could be a collection inside of this collection, in which curators and participants can vote to highlight the most relevant works.
The response of art galleries and museums was a major concern during the ideation and conception of the project. Though they are interested in new technology integration, there were concerns about othering existing artworks. Others were concerned with the practicality and usability of the QR code implementation resulting in a low-response rate. Since our system also includes other visual expressions like icons that are simpler to understand, we worked on the specific and installation layout and locations to approach that issue.
There are many technologies currently able to deliver this experience. With the software available to us, we found some unique features. We found that our initial plans for installation and labeling, which is a major part of our wayfinding system, required additional time to develop. They were extensively tested to meet our users' needs.
The project has two major limitations that we perceive to be critical: Firstly, due to the limited budget and time, the project has not yet undergone extensive user testing. Secondly, the project requires the recommendation of an art gallery or museum professional in order to further develop an artist collection. The existing artist collection is a starter archive, selected from the literature we have access to, which requires professional assistance to grow into a one-of-a-kind democratic and centralized hub. Third, getting materials on the design or development of wayfinding AR solutions is difficult, with little interest in wayfinding at museums or galleries. There has been similar use of technology, but little knowledge of how to specifically design signage.
We produce a highly competent, practical, and extensive creative and scholarly project centered on serving people of color, with disabilities, belongs to LGBTQ+ community, or any otherness. The opportunity helped participating students connect to their community of choice, solve a real-world problem, and develop resilience, and empathy, which are highly sought after soft skills in the workplace.
We plan to continue working on the project to test, iterate, and refine the visual outcomes to produce a research paper. The paper will be written with our student researchers, highlighting their contribution and roles in the design and development, methodological support, and data analysis and interpretation of the project.
Designer/Researcher Elise and developer/researcher Chenin presenting our project to the dean, associate dean, faculty, and students at the College of Liberal Arts on October 13, 2023.
Campbell, A. (2019). Queer X Design: 50 years of signs, symbols, banners, logos, and graphic art of LGBTQ. Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers.
Collection. Whitney Museum of American Art. (n.d.). https://whitney.org/collection
The collection: Moma. The Museum of Modern Art. (n.d.). https://www.moma.org/collection/works
Getsy, D. J. (2016). Queer. Whitechapel Gallery.
Pilcher, A. (2018). A queer little history of art. Tate.
Reviews. Artforum. (n.d.). https://www.artforum.com/print/reviews
Summers, C. J. (2004). The Queer Encyclopedia of the visual arts. Cleis.