Discussion and Applications of Museum Digital Design Based on Human Brain Thinking System for Serving Fundamental Museum Purposes and Humanity

Joowon Lee, Donggang Digital Society, Republic of Korea

John Palfrey, Head of School at Philips Academy says that for human beings, effective use of technology is more important than using it much. Research publications such as The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains by Nicholas Carr, the former Executive Editor of Harvard Business Review report concerns from misuse of technology. A major issue of the reports is the technology’s negative influence on human ‘brain’ thinking system. Are today’s museums’ digital designs safe from the negative influence for their museum visitors? According to the definition of museum by the International Council of Museums (2007), museum environment should serve for the purposes of ‘education’ and ‘study’, and as these purposes are mainly ‘brain’ activities, and as a major issue of negative influence from misuse of technology has been on ‘brain’, studies of human centered design –museum digital design based on human brain thinking system– is needed to prevent the negative influence on the key purposes of museum, and to satisfy the key purposes better. Plus, when explaining ‘education’ and ‘study’ from museum visitor’s perspective, ‘education’ is ‘gaining knowledge’ and ‘study’ is ‘creating’. Brain links old and new memories for ‘gaining knowledge/education’ and brain consumes time to settle the new knowledge for ‘creating/study’ for further developments, but unfortunately, Nicholas Carr says that the linking and time consuming brain operations have been critically affected by misuse of technology (misuse of the Internet), and even brain structure has been changed. That is the reason why the human centered design studies mentioned above is needed highly. This paper will discuss about this issue by taking Donggang Digital Society (DDS) multimedia installation exhibition design as its case study.

Keywords: human brain, museum digital design, education, study, human brain thinking system, multimedia installation

1. Introduction: Why Design Attentiveness for Linear Thinking?

Recent Reports on Digital Technology

The New York Times has reported recently that even Steve Jobs limited his children’s screen time; John Palfrey suggests classes without using digital technology (Palfrey, 2006); Kyle Cooper, Founder for computer motion graphic design company Imaginary Forces wrote that computers have negatively affected on human creativity in the Motion Graphic Design area (Drate, 2006); Jaron Lanier, the former Scholar at Large for Microsoft published a book called You are Not a Gadget to discuss the negative influence of digital technology. It is interesting that the earlier and more people are involved in digital professions, the more seriously they alert the public and the future generation about technology’s negative influence. The negative influences of technology should be discussed proactively so that they can be prevented, and the proper ways of using digital technology to positively influence humans should be found for further uses of digital technology, such as Steve Jobs’ creative ideas or Kyle Cooper’s creative computer motion graphic projects. As the human brain’s neuroplasticity and synapses get stronger or weaker with every physical or mental action that a human makes (Carr, 2011), it is the time to evaluate the choices of our actions for digital technology.

Creativity in the Digital Age for Education

It’s been ten years that I have been teaching art and design major students at universities, and I find that there are creative students who are better when they are off computers (although they do enjoy using digital technologies such as smart phones just like the other students): their works are simply more creative when they work with their own hands. Artificial Intelligence (A.I.) makes people get emotionally involved very quickly though they are not actually emotional; such instant character can be found in the graphic software automatic tools that the students feel as they are working faster with them, but soon, they realize that it was just an instant feeling. There are number of students who struggle with such experiences when using computers, and they do get frustrated because they do not get the creative outcome they aimed for. They need to know the proper ways of using a computer.

The author of the Managing in the Next Society, Peter Drucker (2007) said that in the Digital Age, ‘computer’ and ‘the Internet (online commerce)’ will take the places of ‘steam engine’ and ‘railroad’ of the Industrial Revolution. How then should today’s people work with the major elements of today’s society: digital technologies such as the computer and the Internet, when those have the critical issues that could even weaken talentedhuman creativity? The reason why creativity is important to be discussed here is because not only is it the key purpose of the museum, but also creativity will have the highest value in future society according to futurologists such as John Naisbitt and his Dream Society theory: “Creativity is what the future society aims for.” Naisbitt says that human creativity will have outstanding value because robots will replace the physical labor of human. For example, unlike today’s society, poets will be the top paid job because computers cannot provide creativity like poetry written by humans (Shin, 2007).

Ironically, between the major elements of the Digital Age – digital technologies such as the computer and the Internet – versus the goal of the Digital Age – creativity, there are conflicts like those the art and design major students mentioned earlier, who should learn computers but are better when they are off computers. Solutions are needed to solve the conflicts so that future society will develop in the way we aim for instead of conflicting or struggling; it would be disappointing to see if the major elements of the Digital Age, the digital technologies, affect negatively the goal of the Digital Age. In fact, the disappointment is not only a disappointment, but also a critical problem because taking away creativity from humans means taking away a big part of human identity.

Creativity in the Digital Age for Museums

How about today’s museums’ digital media design? If today’s art and design major students who intensively deal with digital technology and creativity have experienced a loss of creativity because of digital technology, museum’s digital media does have the possibility of weakening its key purposes, providing an environment for education/gaining knowledge and study/creating, education/gaining knowledge and study/creating activities for the human brain are directly connected to each other (without knowledge, no creation is possible). Therefore, these discussions are applicable to the both key purposes of museum environment. As it is mentioned in A-2, the fact that the museum digital design could weaken their visitors’ creativity is not only against museum purposes, but also against the goal of the future society –human creativity at the highest value–, and against humanity –the Nobel Prize Laureate physiologist Alexis Carrel’s description about human as a creative being (Carrel, 1935).

The Links in Human Brain and Design of Attentiveness for Linear Thinking

Human brain thinks by making links among memories (Carr, 2011), and the majorly discussed negative influence of digital technology is that human learning ability, human brain memory, and human creativity which are directly related to museum environment key purposes (human learning ability is education/gaining knowledge, human brain memory is education/gaining knowledge and study/creating (because memory is at the center of between gaining knowledge and creating), human creativity is study/creating) can get weaken by misuse of digital technology because the misuse brings distractions that break the links in human brain. Though elderly people’s brain activity can be positively stimulated by the way how digital technology (e.g. the Internet) lets them interact with it, but the negative reports continue, and the number of the reports seems to be getting higher (Carr, 2011). Therefore, museum digital media design of attentiveness for linear thinking to prevent distraction is what I would like to propose through this paper. In fact, the linear thinking is what made Renaissance and Industrial Revolution possible (Carr, 2011), but some people say that ‘radial thinking’ should replace the ‘linear thinking’ for human thinking in the Digital Age; linear thinking is about in-depth thinking (e.g. reading a book), and radial thinking is about wide-range thinking (e.g. surfing on the Internet), but whichever the direction is, radial or linear, the point is moving forward far with connectivity (connected links in brain) because it is important for creativity. Without far enough explorations, creativity hardly can be found. The leading successful artists and designers do large amount of sketches of explorations or do mental explorations before finalizing their artwork.

A-5. Definition of Linear Thinking and Attentiveness, and the Important Role of the Museum Content Provider, the Design Executions

According to the Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English, ‘linear’ means ‘of or in lines’, and ‘thinking’ means ‘the act of using one’s mind to produce thoughts (“reflection”), and ideas (a plan, thought, or suggestion) for a “possible” course of action’. “Reflection” shows that ‘thinking’ is an interactive activity, and “possible” shows the creative aspect of ‘thinking’. Therefore, linear thinking means ‘“understanding” and “producing” creative thoughts in line’. On the other hand, as ‘attentiveness’ is defined as “taking” careful “notice”, it is an interactive activity, too. As ‘linear thinking’ and ‘attentiveness’ both are interactive activities, the definitions prove the importance of the role of the content provider, the exhibition design executions. Professor Nelson Cowan from the University of Missouri Department of Psychological Sciences says that there is no limit for human memory capacity, but unfortunately, the webpage design consultant Jacob Nielsen says that when people read, if there is “verbiage” on the page, it can make people read as low as only 18% of what they are supposed to read (Carr, 2011). Their reports support the importance of the attentive role of the content provider for human brain activities such as “understanding” –education/gaining knowledge– and “producing” –study/creating– which are the key purposes of museum environment. Shortly speaking, design of attentiveness for linear thinking is directly related to the key museum environment purposes. This paper will propose multimedia installation exhibition design executions by taking Donggang Digital Society (DDS) as its case study.

B. Applications: Multimedia Installation Museum Design of Attentiveness for Linear Thinking

B-1. DDS Overview and Its Goal

DDS, located in the Museum Specialized Zone of Korea, Yeongwol County, started in May, 2012 as an experimental offline digital museum that exhibits with beam projections only. Its 230-square-meter exhibition room walls are filled with digital artifacts such as artwork images (Figure 1).

Figure 1: panorama photo of the DDS exhibition room. Display option 1 (above): Every wall has different exhibit topics. / Display option 2 (below): One topic covers the entire walls. Exhibition title: <Collection of Illustrations by Mark Langeneckert>. Dimension of the room: 7.2 x 22.5 x 2.5 meters.

Though the size of the exhibition room is very small, as digital technology allows adding unlimited number of contents, DDS can turn the space into an art museum or to a science museum, or to a lecture room, etc. at any time simply by opening different digital files for new wall displays. Even the file choice can be made by individual visitors just like choosing a menu at a restaurant.
Futurologists predict that people in the future society will do much more parts of their everyday life activities at home such as getting education (going to school), getting medical service, traveling, etc., and they say that spatial (room) digital display will be used for such activities (Shin, 2007). DDS has adapted the idea into the DDS exhibition environment. For example, the <On the Terrace> by Pierre Renoir digital image exhibition displays the artwork image at the same size of the original artwork to make it look as if the original artwork is hung in a gallery.
The digital image of <On the Terrace> is the licensed image from The Art Institute of Chicago where the original artwork is its collection of. As the general public may skip viewing the details of an artwork even when they are viewing an original work though the small details may have interesting parts as well along with the visually major part of the artwork; such enlargement is meaningful because it can provide more information to visitors through guiding viewers’ viewpoints to the enlarged animated detail sequences throughout the entire artwork (Figure 2) which has more clear guidance for the details than original artwork exhibitions. The enlargement execution can be supportive for professional artists as well who need to see details of masterpieces such as color or brushstroke skills to learn from them, and this exhibition is satisfying the needs though the visitors are not even in front of the original artwork (Figure 2). Lastly, having the exhibit of the masterpiece in the countryside, Yeongwol, is meaningful because only minor works of master painters could have traveled to metropolitan areas of Korea so far. Digital technology has allowed this expansion of education opportunity from major big cities to a small town, from general public to professionals, and from major part of an artwork to smaller details of the artwork. Finding digital design executions that allow digital exhibitions provide what original artwork exhibitions cannot provide by using digital technology as a tool with our focus to the essential purposes of museum (e.g. expansions of education opportunity) is the goal of DDS.
The following are DDS design executions created based on Principles of Design, Graphic Design, and the Linear  Creative Process. They will be discussed based on specific design principles, science (e.g. medical studies), and graphic design theories.

Figure 2: images of DDS <Reading Woman by Edouard Manet> exhibition. Left: full view / Right: enlargement view. Dimension: 70 x 60 centimeters each.

B-2. Design of Attentiveness for Linear Thinking: Keep Organized

‘Keep organized’ means to get things be ready for visitors to focus well to the point where they should focus to.

B-2-1. Contrast

  • Definition/Explanation: Contrast stresses the visual differences, and it directs viewer’s attention to specific areas of information (Resnick, 2003).
  • Design Concept: By turning only one wall on, and the other walls turned off (shaded), it becomes easier for visitors to pay attention to the wall that they are supposed to focus to. The shaded walls are not completely hidden so that viewers can know what to expect next (Figure 3). The shaded parts in one wall are not completely hidden either so that viewers can know what to expect next (Figure 4).

Figure 3

Figure 4: Image of DDS <On the Terrace by Pierre Renoir> exhibition. Dimension: 2 x 3 meters.

B-2-2. Sequence

  • Definition/Explanation: Longman Dictionary of Contemporary Art (1990) defines sequence as a group of things that are arranged in an order, especially following one another.
  • Design Concept: Generally, sequential design is easier for viewer’s viewpoint to follow than two-dimensional artwork because connection from one scene to the next scene is clearer than the visual path in a two-dimensional work. Figure 5 is the enlarged animated sequence of <A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte> throughout the entire artwork image.

Figure 5: sequence order: from left to right, top to bottom. Image of DDS <A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte by George Seurat> exhibition. Dimension: 2 x 3 meters.

B-2-3. Information Graphic-1: Map and Table of Contents

  • Definition/Explanation: Information graphic is a generic term applied to graphic design projects required to communicate complex data or information (Livingston, 2003).
  • Design Concept: The museum map and the table of contents (Figure 6) are applied to organize viewer’s mind better for their attentiveness to focus to what they are supposed to focus such as the artwork image by telling them where they are positioned within the exhibition place wise through the museum map and time wise through the table of contents.

Figure 6: image of DDS <A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte by George Seurat> exhibition. Dimension: 2 x 3 meters.

B-2-4. Information Graphic-2: Numbering

  • Definition/Explanation: (See B-2-3.)
  • Design Concept: Numbering can be a simple way of navigation; it tells how many artwork images viewers have seen and how many artwork images they are expected to see.

Figure 7: image of DDS <Cell Phone Drawings by Sungzin Chae> exhibition. Dimension: 2 x 3 meters.

B-2-5. Information Graphic-3: Timeline

  • Definition/Explanation: (See B-2-3.)
  • Design Concept: History of seeds is designed as an animated timeline (Figure 8). A timeline help organizing large amount of information that has an timely order.

 Figure 8: image of DDS <Seeds for Life by Dr. C. J. Nelson> exhibition. Dimension: 2 x 3 meters.

B-2-7. Grid

  • Definition/Explanation: Layout device used by graphic designers and typographers to achieve a visual order and consistency (Livingston, 2003).
  • Design Concept: Grid is applied for better organization of viewer’s attentive view (Figure 9).

Figure 9: image of DDS <On the Terrace by Pierre Renoir> exhibition. Dimension: 2 x 3 meters.

B-2-8. The Linear Creative Process

  • Definition/Explanation: “Design is process”, the famous quote often used by professional designers shows the importance of process for outcome of design. I have seen many cases that student work turns out better when they go through the Linear Creative Process (Figure 11). Because today’s society tends to be fast and instant, most of students are not familiar with being patient to sit down and spend a long time for linear thinking, –having the quiet time for creativity (Carr, 2011)– but it seems that the essential stages of creative process need to be went through at some points anyway for creative outcome no matter which process they go through. The Figure 11 is the linear creative process of essential stages for creating a graphic design work.
  • Design Concept: Figure 11 also shows the simplified linear creative process. By integrating the linear creative process of Graphic Design to the DDS exhibition design by simplifying it, this new approach can be a way of satisfying the museum key purposes, providing an environment of education/gaining knowledge and study/creating because the linear creative process of Graphic Design includes education and study parts already; ‘Research’ stage is the ‘education/gaining knowledge’ stage, ‘Brainstorming’ stage is the first part of the ‘study/creating’ stage listing out words based on the information from the ‘Research’ stage, ‘Mind Map’ stage is the second part of the ‘study/creating’ stage listing out interpreted words based on the ‘Brainstorming’ stage word list, and ‘Finalize’ stage is the producing part of the ‘study/creating’ stage. By working on this execution, I could expect the much possibilities of integrating various areas into exhibition design area for satisfying museum purposes because using digital graphic design editorial skills seem to have more freedom for the exhibition space design than conventional exhibition designs with physical elements.

 Figure 10: the linear creative process of Graphic Design example (student work).

Figure 11

The eventual goal of this linear thinking creative process exhibition design is for visitors to create <One and Only <On the Terrace> by Me> after viewing the <On the Terrace by Pierre Renoir> digital exhibition. The questioning part of this digital exhibition video (Figure 12) is the Education Program of the exhibit. Visitors get the creative process question paper (Figure 13) when they enter the exhibition room, and work on the paper when the video plays the questioning section.
Some say that such specific methodology guidance (the stages) is not proper for creativity (not proper for free way of thinking), but as ‘thinking’ is an interactive activity as defined in the section A-5, providing guidance through the stages can help creativity.

Figure 12: the question paper question design for the wall screen of the <On the Terrace by Pierre Renoir> exhibition. Dimension: 2 x 3 meters.

Figure 13: question paper. Size: A4. Text of the question paper:

  • Stage 1: List out words that you remember the most from the <On the Terrace> artwork. For example, ‘flowers’, ‘a girl’, ‘a lady’, ‘trees’, ‘houses’, ‘vibrant colors’, etc.
  • Stage 2: Now, list out interpreted words based on the Stage 1 word list. For example, from a girl to a daisy, from a lady to a handbag, from trees to rain, etc.
  • Stage 3: Now, draw the things that you wrote for your Stage 2 word list. Layout the components nicely as much as you can. When you are done, that is YOUR <On the Terrace>!

B-3. Design of Attentiveness for Linear Thinking: Understand Color

Color is an important element for human centered design because of its scientific aspects (e.g. physics, psychology, physiology) in relation to how human body reacts to color. For example, restroom sign designs focus to its color than shape because human reacts faster to color than shape; the reason for traffic light colors, having red for stop sign instead of green, comes from the scientific fact that human reacts to red faster than green; surgeons wear green uniforms because when human eyes get exposed to a color too much (red from blood for surgeons), their eyes might not see things well temporarily, and that is the reason why green which is the complementary color of red gets used for their uniforms so that the surgeons’ eyes can get adjusted to the normal condition (Yun, 2008).

B-3-1. The Blue Light

  • Definition/Explanation: According to the Harvard Health Publications website (2012), exposure to blue light emitted by electronics has negative influence on human health. They suggest wearing blue-blocking glasses if you have to use a lot of electronic devices.
  • Design Concept: As the DDS multimedia installation exhibition design is a screen (electronic) based design, having less blue such as using yellow, the complementary color of blue (Yellow = Red: 255, Green: 242, Blue: 0), should be better and easier for visitors’ eyes to pay attention than other colors with ‘blue’ included. Figure 14’s golden yellow is the major scheme color, and it has been used for the entire exhibition design.

Figure 14: image of DDS <On the Terrace by Pierre Renoir> exhibition. Dimension: 2 x 3 meters.

B-3-2. Cool Colors versus Warm Colors

  • Definition/Explanation: Cool colors appear farther in depth than warm colors (Zelanski, 1996).
  • Design Concept: Green which is cooler than yellow is used for the map in Figure 15 instead of the map’s original golden-yellow color so that it would not distract visitor’s attention toward the other wall whose video is playing with the golden-yellow scheme color. The arrow guides viewer’s attention direction to the wall whose exhibit video is on.

Figure 15: image of DDS <On the Terrace by Pierre Renoir> exhibition. Dimension: 2 x 3 meters.

B-3-3. Yellow versus White

  • Definition/Explanation: Yellow appears stronger than white though value wise, white is higher than yellow according to Albert Munsell (Yun, 2008).
  • Design Concept: The white texts in motion on the surrounding areas of the artwork still do not distract the yellow-tone with the artwork image, the major part of the exhibition design, though Figure 16 has more white texts than Figure 14.

Figure 16: image of DDS <On the Terrace by Pierre Renoir> exhibition. Dimension: 2 x 3 meters.

B-4. Design of Attentiveness for Linear Thinking: Play with Unexpectedness

Unexpectedness holds viewer’s attention (Zelanski, 1996).

B-4-1. Size

  • Definition/Explanation: One way some artists solve the problem of holding viewers’ attention is simply by making their designs huge. Anything unexpectedly large makes people pause to look because they are somewhat awed by it (Zelanski, 1996).
  • Design Concept: As most of people have seen historical masterpieces at certain sizes (generally at small sizes in books or calendars), the unexpectedness by enlargement can be an effective way of taking viewer’s attention for this digital exhibition (Figure 17).

Figure 17: image of DDS <On the Terrace by Pierre Renoir> exhibition. Dimension: 2 x 3 meters.

Figure 18: image of enlarged mustard seeds on a finger for DDS <Seeds for Life by Dr. C. J. Nelson> exhibition. Dimension: 2 x 3 meters.

Figure 19: image of enlarged sesame seeds for DDS <Seeds for Life by Dr. C. J. Nelson> exhibition. Dimension: 2 x 3 meters.

B-4-2. Illusion

  • Definition/Explanation: It is to create the illusion of three dimensions by a two dimensional work (Zelanski, 1996).
  • Design Concept: As the original artwork of Figure 20 and 21 have elevations, this digital exhibition looks even more three dimensional than the digital exhibitions with flat two dimensional artwork. The artwork image sizes are the same sizes as the original artwork.

Figure 20: image of DDS <Synthetic Fabric and Wood Series by Charles Hinman> exhibition. Dimension: 2 x 3 meters.

Figure 21: image of DDS <The Gem Series by Charles Hinman> exhibition. Dimension: 2 x 3 meters.

C. Closing: Choice Making in the Digital Age – The Responsibility

The 3D printing is the cutting edge issue of today’s society. While appreciating and enjoying its positive influence onto human, we should be aware also about the possibility that any new technology including the 3D printing can be the same case as when the motion typography software came out; people were fascinated by it, but soon after, as the software got improved (became easier for broader users to use just like most of how technologies improve), no creativity (uniqueness) was found for design outcomes created from the software which made the users disappointed because their design works were no longer creative (no longer differentiated to the others’).
The hierarchy of museum digital design should not be on what is new but on the essence of museum in selective collaboration with what is new. The point is where the museum visitors’ attention is driven to; is it to the essence of museum – content communication, or is it to the trend – digital technology experiments? Any attention taking components of digital design that are not supportive for the main content communication is not only unnecessary, but distractive. It is the same as when parents keep interrupting what their child is doing, the child becomes a distracted person. When I served as the Multimedia Installations Jury Chair for The American Alliance of Museums Annual Meeting and Museum Expo – Media and Technology MUSE Award this year, I found that though there were projects that were highly interestingly experimenting various digital technologies, the judging result by the twelve jurors somehow turned out after all that the projects that focused to the content communication in the harmonious collaboration with digital technology got the most votes than the ones that focused to digital technology experiments.
Betty Edwards (2012) says that even non-art major people can make drastic difference to their drawing skills even in a week by the way they use their brain (The Figure 22 left image is before instruction, and the right image is after instruction about right hemisphere oriented brain use). Plus, the discussions about the human brain neuroplasticity and synapse, and about the scientific aspects of color in relation to human reactions toward color discussed in this paper shows how scientifically human brain does get influenced by environmental stimulations, and the results from them can be positive, but it can be negative also. It is the social responsibility of museums to find the positive influences of digital technology, but also to prevent the negative influences from it onto human such as losing creativity. Kyle Cooper thinks that today’s (my generation’s) design is not creative enough (Drate, 2006), but I do not recognize; I think that my student’s (the next generation’s) design is not creative enough, but they do not recognize; maybe, humans are even losing the ability of evaluating our own creativity, and some of the reasons is by using computers. Researching digital technology such as how to use them with human at its center and applying the information to everyday life including museum digital design is highly needed.

Figure 22: left: Maria Catalina Ochoa’s drawing before instruction on May 30, 2010 / right: the same person’s drawing after instruction on Jun 3, 2010.


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Cite as:
J. Lee, Discussion and Applications of Museum Digital Design Based on Human Brain Thinking System for Serving Fundamental Museum Purposes and Humanity. In Museums and the Web Asia 2014, N. Proctor & R. Cherry (eds). Silver Spring, MD: Museums and the Web. Published September 15, 2014. Consulted .