Capturing Visitor Experiences for Study and Preservation

  1. 1. Georgina Guy

    King's College London

  2. 2. Stuart Dunn

    King's College London

  3. 3. Nicolas E. Gold

    University College London

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The Courtauld Gallery occupies a unique
position in central London as a university art
museum and key facilitator for collaborative
opportunities between research academics and
curatorial practitioners. Given the context of
the gallery as an institution housed within a
building not purpose-built for the function of
exhibition, the ways in which the gallery space
acts as a directive on visitors’ viewing patterns
is of particular interest. This paper introduces
a methodology of documenting and visualizing
those patterns.
The research is approached from the perspective
of a performance specialist (Guy), investigating
the curated gallery as a place for performance
and the visitors’ role within such exhibition
spaces. This has led to the generation
of questions vital to new methodological
approaches for exploring data only existent in
the form of events, and to future processes of
gallery operation and evaluation.
This paper focuses on the empirical aspects of
this work, reporting on a project to create digital
objects, displayable in Virtual World platforms
such as Google Earth, from the experience
of visitors to the Courtauld Gallery, London.
The digital objects consist of visualisations in
virtual space and time of visitor experiences,
documented in KML, and represented using the
Google Earth platform.
1. Studying Visitor Experiences
To date, the evaluation of exhibitions has
largely been based on attendance numbers,
with very little attention given to actual
visitor behaviours within gallery environments.
Traditionally, where visitor behaviours have
been observed, methods for achieving this
have been based on pen and paper recording
using methods such as those developed by
Space Syntax (Space Syntax, 2010). Capturing
this data in digital form will allow a more
thorough and formal analysis of the ‘success’ of
exhibitions by permitting the replay in both time
and virtual space of visitors’ behaviours and
their interaction with staff, other visitors, and
gallery exhibition materials. More specifically,
we are concerned with:
patterns of movement within gallery spaces
specific pathways constructed by individual
visitors through the museum
duration of engagement with individual
actions and interactions of gallery visitors
This information makes possible an analysis
of how visitors explore exhibitions that is
not preconceived but observed. Anonymous
representations of visitor behaviours can
be offered back to the gallery prompting
curatorial assumptions to be validated or, where
appropriate, reconsidered in light of evidential
data about real patterns of visitor behaviour.
This, in turn, can have important implications
for maximizing public engagement within
exhibition contexts and ensuring efficiency
of interaction between staff and visitors, as
well as other aspects of social and economic
exchange. Using geovisualization techniques
to generate the interactive maps based on
individual experience raises questions about
how possible it is to produce and manage the
documentation of human behaviour.
2. Technological and
Methodological Issues
Ideally, visitors would be totally oblivious to
the data capture process or at least, such
technological means as are necessary for
capture would be non-intrusive. The demands
of the research problem require high fidelity of

location, orientation, and behaviour making the
technological issues more complex than simply
determining approximate location. Borriello et
al. (2005) report that GPS systems do not work
reliably inside buildings, wi-fi systems require
calibration and achieve accuracy of only about
3 metres, and others require infrastructure
installation. This is rarely possible in protected
buildings such as the Courtauld, especially
on a temporary basis. Consequently, the
method described below was developed (related
approaches will be discussed in presentation).
A pilot study was carried out prior to the main
observation period in the Courtauld’s Frank
Auerbach exhibition (Courtauld Gallery, 2009).
3. Data Capture Method
The method used is predominantly based
on field observation in two forms. These
approaches are influenced by the observation
methods used by Space Syntax, a company with
an established history of evidence-based design
and evaluation for buildings and urban spaces.
Space Syntax observations are undertaken using
pen and paper.
The first method involves a human observer
tracking the movement pattern of visitors
around parts of the gallery in order to observe
particularized routes specific to individual
visitors. This is facilitated by the use of Tablet
PCs and custom-developed software which
displays an editable floor plan of the gallery,
divided into map tiles based on the gallery
rooms. In the case of the Courtauld, the map
tiles are 610x365 pixels. The actual room size
in the pilot is approximately 1290.5cm x 772cm
= 12.9x7.7m. By moving the digital pen around
the image the pathway of an individual can
be recorded on the map and the movement
documented with an x,y pixel reference and a
timestamp. Duration and location are recorded
both when the visitor is moving and stationary.
Additional coding concerning, for example,
the activity undertaken at any given moment,
such looking at a map or signage or taking a
photograph, can also be coded against points on
each pathway.
The second method involves participants being
asked to complete an exit questionnaire
detailing their familiarity with the specific
gallery and exhibits as well as more general
experience of exhibition environments. This
information is cross-referenced to the trace of
each visitor’s pathways.
A screenshot from the software can be seen
in Figure 1, showing a gallery floorplan with a
partial trace. Figure 2 shows the simple comma
separated values (CSV) data produced by the
trace activity in realtime (the fields being
visitor activity
, and
map file used
The system defaults to tracking movement as
the pen is drawn across the screen, however, the
observer can simply switch the “mode” of the
current point by selecting one of the buttons to
the right. Where data about interaction with an
exhibit is necessary, the point of the observee’s
interest can be noted by simply pointing at
it on the diagram after selecting either “Sign”
or “Exhibit” as the object of interest. The
final system was developed in Borland Turbo
Delphi with early prototyping undertaken in
For the Courtauld case study, the maps are
scaled such that 1 pixel is approximately 2cm2
of real gallery space. The maps are converted
from architectural plans and the location and
size of furniture in the gallery included from
measurement in the galleries themselves. Visitor
location is recorded as a relative pixel position
from the top left corner of the image. After
capture this data can be transformed to generate
real visitor positions in the room for subsequent
Figure 1: Screenshot from Data Capture Application

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Conference Info


ADHO - 2010
"Cultural expression, old and new"

Hosted at King's College London

London, England, United Kingdom

July 7, 2010 - July 10, 2010

142 works by 295 authors indexed

XML available from (still needs to be added)

Conference website:

Series: ADHO (5)

Organizers: ADHO

  • Keywords: None
  • Language: English
  • Topics: None