Interactive technologies have created a ubiquity of digital arts and culture on the Web, offering visitors unprecedented access to museums around the world directly from their personal devices. Despite the enormous potential of these systems to facilitate education, cultural mediation, entertainment, or even interpersonal connection, research has demonstrated that users have difficulties deriving meaningful experiences from the digital museum visit due to a poor or incongruent user experience (UX). Among these challenges are a lack of integration between the online and on-site visit, as well as a disconnect from human-centered and participatory design methodologies increasingly embraced by contemporary museological practice. Insofar as museums are spaces of meaning-making, whether through aesthetic experiences, historical embodiment, or other phenomena, developing a deeper understanding of meaning and its implications for experience design in museum contexts may enhance the UX of museum technologies, particularly for the Web. Meaning has recently become an important conceptual focus of research in human-computer interaction (HCI), but additional work is necessary to connect theoretical advances in meaning-making to the cultural sector and to translate them into actionable design recommendations, which are the primary aims of the present work.
This dissertation reports on five mixed-methods studies that address notions of meaningful design across three interrelated dimensions of UX analysis — the user, the system, and the context. For the purposes of this research, these dimensions have been adapted to the museum experience, thus becoming the (digital) visitor, (digital) cultural heritage, and the (digital) visit, respectively. The collection of studies contributes to a deeper understanding of meaning in and around museums through an analysis of museum memories, emerging information behaviors, public co-creation of digital technologies, and experience design strategies to bridge the on-site and online visit. While each study investigates individual facets of meaningful interaction between museums and their visitors, taken together they establish a fundamental interrelation, orienting designers and cultural professionals to embrace them as a coherent whole.
The five studies presented in this work address individual dimensions of museum meaning and conclude with a framework of meaning to support museum experience design (MXD). The initial study provides insight on the (digital) visitor through an analysis of casual leisure information behaviors during navigation of an exploratory museum collections interface called rich-prospect (N = 30). The second is a co-creation study (N = 12) that introduces meaningful interaction through the design space of digital cultural heritage. The third study documents the #MuseumAtHome movement that emerged during the global COVID-19 pandemic, providing insights on meaningful design for the (digital) visit by integrating the on-site and online contexts. Finally, the fourth study combines an experience narrative analysis (N = 32) and a subsequent validation study (N = 354) on museum memories to establish a systematic understanding of the content of meaningful interaction in museums.
This dissertation advances theory and practice in HCI by extending research on the psychology of meaningful interaction into a largely novel context, museum experience design. Each study contributes to a deeper understanding of the different facets of museum meaning-making and their relation to experience design, while the aggregate lays the groundwork for an integrated approach. The primary findings include new insights into the psychological factors of meaning in museum contexts, subsequent design recommendations for the online and on-site visit, and a suite of tools to support meaningful design in the cultural sector.