At the GrazMuseum (the museum on cultural history and urbanism in Graz), a web tool for the permanent exhibition “360GRAZ – The Story of Graz” was developed between October 2018 and July 2019. In a design thinking process lasting for several weeks, an interdisciplinary team (staff members from the areas of digital museum practice, exhibition design, cultural mediation, marketing/communication, external experts e.g. for digital museology, urban history, digital storytelling) devised “360Graz Digital” and realised it together with an external partner (MVD Austria) (see credits: https://360.grazmuseum.at/en/ueber-360graz).
In the course of the design thinking process, pre-defined goals and non-goals of the project were specified and target groups were identified to be reached with the new product. After all, the following project was defined in the application paper: “It is of central importance to address differentiated groups of visitors who are difficult to reach for various reasons (disinterest, immobility, other language skills, economic situation, fear of threshold, etc.) by taking into account their diverse needs.” In order to realise this goal, an intensive research and interview phase (e.g.: interviewing focus groups, visitors and non-visitors to the GrazMuseum or the permanent exhibition, analysing the guest book) was an integral part of this process. Subsequently, the digital potentials of the respective objects were determined and ideas for implementation were collected (e.g. zooming/rotating images, audio/video elements). Experts (e.g. for digital museology, Graz city history) were consulted and the survey results discussed in the team, which made it possible to fine-tune questions and objectives.
The web tool developed in this process is divided into five different periods. Each “period space” includes the same modules in which city history is presented in different ways. The “City Development” module consists of five- to eight-minute videos that show the development of the city of Graz in different periods in the form of animated city maps. In the original exhibition, the maps are simply painted on the wall, at certain points contexts are explained by texts. The digital version makes it possible to tell these facts and historical events in an animated way using the voice of a narrator and animations. Subtitles have been included to cater for people with impaired hearing. Audio stations within the videos enable the user to get the history of the city conveyed in smaller portions and to skip certain passages of the city development in the animated city maps simply by clicking on them.
Based on the content of the original exhibition, the animated city maps were prepared and extended by the interdisciplinary team. They can be viewed in German or English. The narrators´ voices are male and female and differ from one another greatly in colour, reflecting the polyphonic approach of the exhibition concept.
360GRAZ - The Story of Graz
By extending the permanent exhibition “The Story of Graz” into the digital space (https://360.grazmuseum.at), the GrazMuseum meets its goal of being a contemporary history museum for all people. The digital offer follows the exhibition from the supposed first mention of Graz in 1128 to 2003, the year when Graz was European Capital of Culture. Detaching itself from the museum space not only makes the GrazMuseum more accessible, but also opens up other connections and thus new, individual ways of following Graz’s city history. City history is no closed process, but is composed of multi-layered perspectives on the respective present. Following this basic idea, “The Story of Graz” offers several ways to explore the history of Graz, for instance by watching the animated City Maps in the section "Urban Development" in each time period of the webtool "360GRAZ - A History of the City" (see: https://360.grazmuseum.at/en/epochen/1128-1600/#urban-development).
The epochs give an overview: What do we learn from history for our lives in Graz today? The maps of the city development illustrate the following: What does it mean to live in a city and how has the city of Graz become what it is today? Emphases on the themes of Project of the City, Images of the City, Diversity and Gender Roles enable differentiated viewing: Who shaped the city and the urban community, to whom was it open, who made history and what enters commemorative culture? As a platform of the vibrant history and of lived openness of the GrazMuseum, the digital content of “The Story of Graz” will grow continuously. In this way, new possibilities for exploring the history of the city of Graz keep emerging.
Thanks to financial support from the Federal Chancellery of Austria – Division II: Arts and Culture, it was possible to develop and implement a supplementary or extended web tool based on the permanent exhibition “360GRAZ – The Story of Graz”. The webtool “360Graz digital“ can be accessed on the GrazMuseum website at https://360.grazmuseum.at as from 12 July 2019.
The primary aim of the project was to open or extend the exhibition “360 GRAZ” into digital space. Because a digital representation of museum collections offers advantages and possibilities that the concrete space does not allow:
- > Limitations of the exhibition space dissolve: For example, a larger number of objects can be displayed on a theme, exhibits can be presented in different contexts, and content can be offered in multiple languages or language levels
- > Higher information density: The communication of information on topics and objects, different perspectives on contents/objects and a strong cross-linking of content becomes possible
- > Enhanced multimedia presentation, interconnection of different media forms (image/video/audio/texts/links) and increased interactivity
- > Content can be updated, adapted, expanded at any time and without great effort (no fixed printed work)
- > Permanent availability: Use is possible at any time, at a place with Internet connection for all (democratization and distribution of knowledge and information)
- > Accessibility: Content can also be prepared in a low-threshold way or, thanks to multimedia presentation, can be listened to and viewed simultaneously—easier comprehensibility/reception through the inclusion of different sensory channels
- > Content can be used by users at their own pace (e.g. no visitor crowds in front of objects)
- > Content can be shared by users (e.g. via social media).
The web tool can be used for different devices (smartphones, tablets and personal computers). It is modular and expandable and can be filled/used/played by the editorial team of the GrazMuseum—independent of the implementation partner. The information provided can be used as preparation or follow-up for a visit to the exhibition, but users can also click their way through the contents of “360Graz Digital” at their own pace, independently of a visit to a museum, so it is also an offer for digital flâneurs and cultural snackers. Although the basic concept of the original exhibition was taken up for the concept of the digital version, it is no duplicate. It cannot and should not be a reproduction of the permanent exhibition (e.g. a virtual 3D tour of the exhibition), but the web tool is something independent and can therefore be filled, expanded and shaped independently of the original exhibition. “360Graz Digital” allows users who have already visited the exhibition in the GrazMuseum to get an idea of the basic concept of “360 GRAZ” with its matrix structure behind it, and thus allows references between the exhibition and the digital web tool.User-friendly – Layout and Navigation:
The modular structure of 360GRAZ (five also “spatially separated” periods in time, various display levels) was excellently suited for being translated into a digital format: “360GRAZ Digital” is thus divided into five periods. Each “period space” includes the same modules, which convey city history in different ways.
For “360GRAZ Digital” an innovative form of navigation was developed and an intuitive (self-explanatory, easy to understand) web interface for an optimised usability experience of the users was created. Here the requirement was a clear, concise design that guarantees that users can always find their way around the website (where am I and where can I navigate?) and that they can explore the site by themselves, enjoying it. This is ensured by a clear arrival situation (front page) with clearly limited choices and a subtle, intuitive introduction to navigation through the design. The main navigation bar at the top right allows you to jump between periods, while the sub-navigation bar on the left allows you to jump between modules within a selected space. The arrows in the respective modules indicate a possible (recommended) “driving direction” to the user. In addition, there is a clear, concise page structure and module structure, which each main page (epoch room, e.g. https://360.grazmuseum.at/en/epochen/1600-1809/) as well as subpage (object detail page, e.g.: https://360.grazmuseum.at/en/objects/aeltester-erhaltener-siegelstempel-der-stadt-graz-obj-05-00666/) follows—the structural and navigation concept is learned subconsciously and remains the same throughout.
“360GRAZ Digital” aims to make information accessible to a larger audience through good usability and rather small modular content/learning units (manageable text units, many illustrations for visualisation), thematic bundling of content, information is offered in different forms, e.g. as audio, animation/video). This, too, was defined as an objective in the application: Users are “guided by intuitive, appealing design to move through the history of Graz at their own reading and learning pace (selecting, skipping, reading/viewing in depth, etc).”
This is made possible by the web tool´s innovative representation of the matrix structure of the original exhibition, which allows both vertical and horizontal navigation. Users can scroll through the modules of a selected period from top to bottom in the usual way. But also jumping over the period boundaries on the respective module levels (areas of interest/topics) from left to right is possible.City History from Many Angles—The Modules in the Web Tool:
“360GRAZ” on the web, like the original exhibition with its various modules, offers different readings and speeds of reception. The special feature of the exhibition lies in its polyphonic conception, which is not only dedicated to the history of Graz, but is also able to present an approach to history and historiography. It is sometimes about history as a construction of the respective present, about the mediation of “historical expertise”. The contents of the web tool illustrate repeatedly that it is important to question hi/stories in order to form one’s own judgement: Thus, it is not an online history course in the sense of a constructive chronology of facts in a row, but an applied course in the reflection and assessment of historical events in different contexts and taking into account political, cultural, social, economic, gender-relevant and other implications. This was achieved, for example, by moving the display levels of the original exhibition to several modules with their own narrative and functional modes. Each of the five period spaces consists of the same modules, arranged in equal rows, which refer to the different display levels of the analogue exhibition:
- 1) THE PERIOD (https://360.grazmuseum.at/en/epochen/1128-1600/): The short text gives an overview of the most important historical events in the chosen period. This text is also available as an audio file.
- 2) Key objects (https://360.grazmuseum.at/en/epochen/1128-1600/#key-objects/): The most important works, which stand for the respective period. So-called focal points, marked details on the images, provide explanations of these. If users click on the key work, they can view the object in detail. A zoom tool allows you to view the object in great detail. Additional texts and further illustrations enrich key works with further information.
- 3) Graz and Europe (https://360.grazmuseum.at/en/epochen/1128-1600/#graz-and-europe/): Here the user can see what was going on in Europe during the respective period and what influence these developments had on Graz. An introductory text, markings on the map and the map legend contain this information and can be selected by the users according to interest without a given sequence.
- 4) Urban development (https://360.grazmuseum.at/en/epochen/1128-1600/#urban-development/): One animated city map video per period, which can be viewed, and the corresponding explanations, which are presented as audio files and/or texts (subtitles), tell the complete city history. Focus stations within the animated maps make it possible to skip content that does not interest the user at the moment.
- 5) Emphases (https://360.grazmuseum.at/en/epochen/1128-1600/#emphases/): Along the thematic threads “The Project of the City”, “The Shape of the City”, “Diversity” and “Gender History”, users can set different thematic priorities and click through the history of the city on the basis of objects representative of the respective thematic field. If users are particularly interested in an object, they can select the object detail page and view more information about the object.
- 6) History through architecture (https://360.grazmuseum.at/en/epochen/1128-1600/#history-through-architecture/): This module shows the building stock in the city, which was erected in the respective period and still exists today, in its present form and gives brief information about the respective building.
Depending on their interests, users can move within and between the content presented. Following the sections “THE PERIOD” and “Key Works” results in a “fast run” through essential events of Graz´s city history results (users remain, so to speak, at the surface of the flow of information). The deeper they click into the web tool, the more detailed, richer, denser and more complex the information content becomes. Thus, the various modules allow users to immerse themselves and to discover the history of the city in different ways (e.g. through animated city maps) or in different thematic focuses, e.g. along the thematic threads “The Project of the City”, “The Shape of the City”, “Diversity” or “Gender History”.
With regard to the thematic threads, the implementation of “360 Graz – The Story of Graz” for the web is particularly beneficial and felicitous because the thematic tables in the centre of each room of the “real-life” permanent exhibition are closed off by the spatial conditions. Only the floor markings give visitors the opportunity to follow the threads through all periods. This problem of restricted space does not exist in the digital world, so all the above-mentioned thematic threads run through all the rooms and users can click through/wipe through the objects on the respective thread from the first period space (1128-1600) to the last period space (1945-2003). Dealing with the different thematic threads allows for different perspectives, power relations become visible. Just like the real-life exhibition, the web tool will also contribute to eliminating prejudices and stereotypical attributions and thus make a contribution to a cosmopolitan and democratic society.
Users can grasp the presented content at their own pace (faster, slower, stations/modules), e.g. there is the possibility to stop the videos of the animated city maps or to display the spoken texts as subtitles. Accessibility was also a fixed goal, for example subtitling of the videos offers deaf people the possibility to understand the spoken audio content of the animations. In a follow-up version, the texts are to be made available in plain language and thus further barriers are to be removed.
An editorial team which remains in place will regularly maintain the web tool and add new content to it. We are working on version 2.0: New period spaces, objects, thematic threads and other ideas are being planned or are already being implemented.