Reverse information architecture How is exploration manifested in online collections of museums?

When visiting cultural collections online, the term of exploration seems to gain more and more currency. But what does it promise exactly? And how is it implemented into the web-based interfaces of digital collections of museum? To answer these questions, reverse information architecture brings together several methods for examining page elements and navigation topologies meant to support exploration.

People

Year
2015-2017

The project started in 2014 as part of the course “Visualizing Cultural Collections”, with the aim to examine the current state of existing interfaces of digital collections of museums. In digital collections, objects are prepared and presented particularly for the Web and the ambition is to provide the entirety of a physical collection. Assuming that more and more museums are providing digital collections online, the project started with an initial analysis and overview.  It was revealing that with the aim of making the rich and comprehensive data sets accessible, a so called explore mode was increasingly offered across most websites. Soon, the questions of what this explore mode meant precisely and how it was manifested in the structure of the digital collections appeared.

In the following research phase, a more concrete conceptualization of the term “exploration” was developed and four functional principles in support of exploration in digital collections were defined (view, movement, contextualization, and participation). Furthermore, a new methodology to analyze how the function of exploration is manifested in the structure and interface elements of digital collections was devised. With this unique method, the given content was investigated to examine to which degree and in what manner the functions of exploration are implemented in digital collections. The working base for the study were screenshots of eight well-known museum collections worldwide, which were analyzed with the new method we call reverse information architecture.

The method works with the visible elements and the structure of the digital collections and focuses especially on the correlation between content, design, and function. It works reversely (concerning the composition of a website) to unfold the exploratory structures and design patterns of collection websites. One part of the analysis is focused on the webpages by categorizing the individual page elements using a graphic program, while another part is working with the navigation structure of the websites and the positioning of singular elements on the pages. The outcome is not only a novel method but also a detailed analysis of the current state of digital collections of museums.

Publications Associated Publications

Tracing exploratory modes in digital collections of museum websites using reverse information architecture

— First Monday. 22:4 2017
Museums are broadening their program beyond the physical institutions by providing digital collections online. In digital collections, objects are prepared and presented particularly for the Web and the ambition is to provide the entirety of a physical collection. To make these rich and comprehensive data sets accessible, an explore mode is increasingly offered. The present study considers this mode, first by making sense of the term “exploration” and suggesting four functional principles in support of exploration in digital collections — view, movement, contextualization, and participation. On this basis, we compare eight well-known museums with regard to the explore modes for their digital collections. We have devised a three-part methodology, reverse information architecture, to address the question: How is the function of exploration manifested in the structure and interface elements of digital collections? With this unique method we use the given content to investigate how far the four principles are implemented in explore modes of digital collections and, broadly said, how explorable they are. The introduced approach to studying digital collections could be opened up to other fields to analyze a variety of Web interfaces in general.
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Museale Bestände im Web: Eine Untersuchung von acht digitalen Sammlungen

— in: Konferenzband zur 23. Berliner Veranstaltung der internationalen EVA-Serie: Electronic Media and Visual Arts 2016
Museen erweitern ihr Vermittlungsangebot immer mehr über die physische Einrichtung hinaus, u.a. durch die Bereitstellung Digitaler Sammlungen im Web. Digitale Sammlungen zeichnen sich dadurch aus, dass die in ihnen gezeigten Objekte speziell für das Web aufbereitet und präsentiert werden. Der Anspruch besteht dabei darin, die Gesamtheit der musealen Sammlungen zur Verfügung zu stellen. Um diese umfassenden Datensätze zugänglich und ein Schlendern durch die Bestände zu ermöglichen, wird innerhalb der Digitalen Sammlungen zunehmend ein sogenannter Explore-Modus angeboten. Auf der Basis einer Untersuchung des Begriffes der Exploration wurden im Rahmen dieser Arbeit acht bekannte Museen im Hinblick auf die Explore-Modi ihrer Digitalen Sammlungen miteinander verglichen und analysiert. Es wurde eine dreiteilige Methode mit dem Namen Reverse Information Architecture entwickelt, um die folgende Frage zu beantworten: Wie manifestiert sich die Funktion der Exploration in der Struktur und den Interface-Elementen der Digitalen Sammlungen? Mit der entwickelten Methode wird der Inhalt der Websites analysiert, um zu untersuchen, inwiefern Konzepte der Exploration in den Digitalen Sammlungen umgesetzt werden.
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People
Sarah Kreiseler
Viktoria Brüggemann
Marian Dörk

Year
2015-2017

Website