Escaping the search box : developing digital interfaces that encourage exploration and discovery in cultural heritage collections

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


Over the past decade there has been a huge push by cultural institutions to digitise their collection material and facilitate access to it on the Web. In the process of doing this, many galleries and museums have taken their existing catalogue style systems and replicated them online. Most rely on a keyword-based method that is targeted at a user who already knows collections, understands how they are structured and how to search them effectively. There is little room for the non-specialist, the visitor who just wants to have a look around, to browse, explore and play. I ask, is it possible to create a digital collection access interface that allows exploration and discovery to occur? Taking advantage of new technologies I have created six innovative and experimental interfaces using data from the National Gallery of Australia’s Australian Prints + Printmaking website and combined data visualisation techniques with modern web design methods to create new ways of accessing the collection. They emphasise relationships within the collection and provide displays that are denser and richer than conventional Web pages. Results from a mixed-method evaluation study show how the interfaces allow for serendipitous discovery and free-form exploration to occur in ways that are beneficial to the user. In the development of these rich visual interfaces the research project addresses a number of challenges and issues, from the reliability of data to the limits of the Web browser and traditional evaluation techniques. The research project demonstrates that it is possible to develop effective Web-based generous interfaces that encourage free-form exploration and serendipitous discovery within digital cultural heritage collections.
Date of Award2016
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorSam Hinton (Supervisor), Mitchell Whitelaw (Supervisor) & Geoff Hinchcliffe (Supervisor)

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