The V&A Digital Weekend

Exhibitions

This weekend I attended the V&A Digital Weekend on behalf of the BBC R&D department discussing the importance people placed on their personal data and the concept of a personal data store.


It was insightful to hear the varied opinions regarding people’s willingness to share their personal information and the significance of using a physical object to hold personal information. The readiness that children had to trade their personal data was a definite contrast to the digitally concerned population made up of tech-savvy individuals in their 30s-50s. It was reassuring to hear how interested people were about re-gaining control of their own personal data and the growth in awareness of what we are sharing online.


A more nuanced idea was that of a personal data store – an on-going project called Data Box. We explored what would happen to the meaning of personal data if represented as a physical object and what the data box could look like. It was interesting to see how people assigned greater meaning to their personal data as a physical object as opposed to being ‘on the cloud’ which was reflected in where they would want to keep their Data box. Several individuals even went to the extent of describing their personal data store as their companion, choosing the dog as their preferred data box. This theme was favourable for individuals across different age groups.


What I have mentioned are points that I learnt from speaking to people at the stall, what the actual data from the survey will be interesting and perhaps different to what I heard. I was lucky to have to time to explore the exhibition and here are a few stalls that caught my attention:


1. Queerskins: A Love Story

Award winning virtual reality (VR) film Queerskins is about a couple who are mourning the loss of their son who dies of AIDS.

In an interview with Illya Szilak, (one of the creative directors for this piece) she explains that the use of VR – a spatial and interactive medium – enables the audience to connect intimately with the topic of HIV and homosexuality through the perspective of the family.


Interestingly their use of VR was not the typical “fun for the whole family” experience. The use of VR enabled emotional engagement and ultimately, empathy for the characters’ personal experiences. A mini-exhibition of objects that were featured in the film also allowed the audience to explore these objects in real life in conjunction to their experience in the virtual world.
I would be interested in doing further research into the influence of VR on empathy in contrast to films shown on a screen. Existing research has looked into the impact of embodied perspective taking and as a result produced campaigns like “1000 Cut Journey” tackling stereotypes and racism.


2. Probe Tools

ProbeTools have created a family of tools including the TaskCam which enables the user to take pictures according to prompts displayed on a camera screen; an example of a prompt being “something valuable”.


The camera is light making it easier to take places, though it does not allow you to look back on the photos you have taken and cannot focus clearly on objects.

Nevertheless, this is an incredible way for designers to research potential topics without demanding the artist to have great written or research analytics skills. As a psychologist, I would be interested in seeing how analysis would occur when identifying themes and meaning in the data generated.


3. Nomad

This project combines immersive and web-based technology to raise awareness of archival Somali objects in their traditional contexts to which they belong using mixed reality (MR). In contrast to VR where you enter a virtual world, MR enables you to see the objects in front of you as a virtual overlay of your everyday environment. In an interview, the project directors explain that MR was favourable to VR because they wanted their audience to experience a juxtaposition between their existing world and the Somali objects within their traditional context.


Initial research involved visiting Somali neighbourhoods asking people to bring objects that they valued and discussing the importance of them. This enabled the researchers to gain audio input that can be heard simultaneously with the Microsoft HoloLens. What I like is that this experience enables the audience to explore the objects which would typically be kept behind a screen in museum cabinets.


This concept is similar to the BBC Civilisations app which used augmented reality to allow users to explore Renaissance masterpieces and the secrets of ancient Egypt using their own mobile phone. Another project at the exhibition called Past Forward showcased Scotland’s Cultural Heritage using augmented reality to show the differences in architecture and landscape across time.


What is also worth investigating is how people interact with artefacts and objects in real-life in order to improve the usability of MR and AR. As a first timer using the HoloLens I felt nervous to walk around the visual overlay of the woman knelt in front of me with her woven bowl. How can we improve usability and confidence to explore objects as we do in real life?

Me losing my VR virginity

4. Emojikken

This was an interactive installation inviting strangers, partners, friends to have conversations using an emoji keyboard with over 1600 different emojis to choose from.

Emojis are growing more and more common. This project gives rise to the cultural and generational differences with emoji-use. For example, the tempura shrimp emoji in Japan is alludes to the dish. Whilst in America, users have coined the shrimp to represent a “salty mood” when they want to curl into a shrimp or to let the other person know they are thinking of them. This highlights the possibility for miscommunication to occur cross-culturally when using emojis in conversation.

Marketing agencies have also jumped onto the bandwagon. You may come across emojis in tweets or on billboards like the one below. Examples of emoji marketing can also be found here. Does the hidden message make it harder for people to understand or increase engagement to depict the message? In this instance the ambiguity and chance of miscommunication works to captivate passersby.


All in all, the V&A has been an exciting experience providing me with insight into the digital world. What an interesting industry to be working in!

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