Designing Interactive Transparent Exhibition Cases @ PATCH ’14

Last week was the third international ACM workshop on Personalized access to cultural heritage (PATCH ’14). Given our current work with the Winnipeg Art Gallery on interactive cases for Inuit Art, we sent a short paper describing the design framework we are using to design such cases. Unfortunately, none of the authors could travel to Haifa (Guo and me are are processing our Canadian residence permits and Pourang is in a leave of absence) and therefore could not present the paper, nonetheless the organizers made it public and so we can discuss it here.

I think using transparent displays at exhibitions is one of those things that is plain cool. And it’s even kind of obvious, it’s not hard to find most transparent display manufacturers touting their displays as perfect appliances for showcasing products. However, we believe their is more than simply putting the object inside the case. The goal of our paper was to uncover those aspects that need to be taken into account when designing such systems. To do so, we did a series of studies at different museums which led us to define a of requirements for transparent exhibition cases. The requirements include:

  • To support exploration from as many angles as needed by the artefact.
  • To link information to objects in accessible ways.
  • To present information in unobtrusive and intuitive ways.
  • To facilitate information scaffolding around the notion of interpretation layers.
  • To support collaborative interaction.
  • To enable open-ended explorations.

Based on these requirements we scanned the literature of previous projects, talked to other researchers, analysed existing installations, etc… and consolidated all of this information into a design space definition. I think this is the most important contribution of the paper, and it can be used by anyone designing this type of systems:


As you can see the framework presents dimensions that guide very specific design decisions. I really like, for example, display coverage, which indicates that not all sides of the case have to be used for visual output but also purely transparent sides are actually convenient in order to support other non-interacting visitors. As an example of the kind of cases that our design framework helps design, we presented two mock designs:

Figure 4 in paper: Two sample interactive exhibit cases that satisfy the six requirements. A) Cylindrical case, insert shows IR LEDs and ultrasound proximity sensors. B) Wall case, text is aligned.

You can get a copy of our paper here. The following is the abstract to our paper:

Interactive technologies in museums enhance the visit experience
by providing contextual information and fostering collaboration
and participation. In this paper we revisit the design of the
ubiquitous transparent exhibition case from a museum learning
perspective. Transparent cases with interactive properties can
complement other museum technologies and mitigate some of
their shortcomings, such as the group isolation caused by audio
guides and mobile devices. This paper focuses on the design of
interactive cases and makes three contributions. First, based on
field observations and interviews we present a list of requirements
for interactive cases. Second, we propose a design space with
dimensions grouped around the themes of hardware, interaction
and information design. Our design space suggests interactive
cases which present collocated information at increasing levels of
detail, facilitate social interaction, and integrate with other
technologies. Third, we demonstrate our design space through
sample case designs and discuss the general technical challenges.


  • Hincapié-Ramos, J. D., Guo, X. and Irani, P. 2014. Designing Interactive Transparent Exhibition Cases. Proceedings of the third international ACM workshop on Personalized access to cultural heritage (PATCH ’14). February 2014. ACM.

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