Sensing History

Designing sensory-based interactives for museum storytelling. A prototype exhibition that aimed to prompt the discovery of knowledge, and create the opportunities for the senses to play a role in learning through digital media.


Design an exhibition interactive that tells the 16th century stories embedded within boxwood prayer beads.

Cultural museums today face interesting challenges: the preservation of artifacts, and the curation of experiences. With about 10% of artifacts ever on display, the impact of digital media has opened up the opportunities for digitization to allow for an open access to artifact collections, and the introduction of digital experiences.

In response to the visual nature of museums, this prototype exhibition aimed to use DIY methods of physical computing to create interactive reproductions of artifacts, that revealed digital stories and content upon discovery. Sensory-based interactions -- smells released upon opening an object, holding an object for an extended period of time, holding and revealing an audio-based experience -- allowed visitors to use all of their senses to engage with artifact-specific stories and knowledge.

The overarching goal was to create multisensory points of entry into cultural stories, and allowing the subjectivity of the senses combined with the discovery of content through interaction to forge an access into learning.

Further, this prototype illustrated the lens of storytelling on bridging the digital and physical divide -- by hinging on narrative and experience design. In a world where digital and physical exist together, 'Form Follows Narrative'; digital media and physical media both informed by a narrative experience.

In 2016, the project and co-authored papers were presented, through the Synaesthetic Media Lab at Ryerson University and Georgia Institute of Technology, at the TEI'16 (Eindhoven, NL), MWXX (Los Angeles, US), and DIS'16 (Brisbane, AU) conferences for human-computer interaction.

"Sensing History: Contextualizing Artifacts with Sensory Interactions and Narrative Design" (DIS, 2016) - Co-Authored Paper / Demo
"Sensing Context: Reflexive Design Principles for Intersensory Museum Interactions" (Museums and the Web, 2016) - Co-Authored Paper / Presentation
"Grasping Cultural Context through Multisensory Interactions" (TEI Work-in-Progress, 2016) - Co-Authored Paper / Demo

  • Category: Research Project (Masters of Digital Media, Ryerson University)
  • Date: September 2015
  • Team: Dr. Ali Mazalek (Supervisor), Melanie McBride, Daniel Harley, Jean Ho Chu, Oliver Zhang