Research project about the user experience design in web museums in Brazil: the case of the website “ERA Virtual”

Pablo Lisboa, University of Goias, Museology, Brazil


This paper aims to present the research project about the user experience design in web museums in Brazil based on a case study on the website "ERA virtual". It discusses the interfaces between museums and web and applications which provide immersion in 360°, so that the user can have a 3D experience. This paper conceptualizes what interfaces are, presenting a plurality of approaches and its respective authors. It defines and disseminates the ERA virtual project in its consistency, objective and activities offered by the website. It presents four theoretical study topics that will fund the completion of the "review" of the website ERA Virtual in the near future. The steps of the evaluation are: information architecture, card sorting, heuristic evaluation and usability testing.

Keywords: web museums in Brazil, usability, user experience design, 360° photos, research project, testing

1. Introduction

This paper aims at presenting the research project scope which examines the case of  Brazilian Websites for Virtual Museums available at From the description of the paths made ​​during the user experience, we present some items including the analysis of interactions with audiences, and compare the possibilities that museums have on the web today.

Importantly, this paper refers to a research project that is in its early stages and has not yet undergone the evaluation techniques that are described in the text. This means, we do not present here any results; this will happen in the near future. The reason we chose the ERA Virtual to accomplish our testing and do our research is the potential that Brazil has in use of the Internet. Brazil now has over 200 million inhabitants. More and more people use the Internet in the country. In research released by IBOPE (Instituto Brasileiro de Opinião e Pesquisa Púclica), in 2006 there were 35.3 million Internet users in the country. In 2012 there were already 94.2 million users, nearly half the population (Ibope, 2012). Bound to the growth of the Internet, museums must increasingly use this platform to achieve their goals and fulfill their missions.

There are still few studies of thematic interfaces between museums and the Web in Brazil, even though museological work on the Internet has seen vast growth in recent years worldwide. In Brazil, web platforms that have the aim of achieving the mission of museums, and have been realized in various ways, and in many cases, without proper technical and methodological care, resulting in digital products that are ineffective with respect to interaction, navigation and informational uses. This is the main feature of Virtual ERA, which we will use for testing our research soon.

The main feature of ERA Virtual is the immersion of the user in a 3D environment with 360° panoramic pictures, where the user moves in a virtual environment that simulates a visit to a museum from digital devices. After fully explaining the ERA Virtual characteristics, we will cover the assessment techniques focusing on analytical results.

The Sistema Brasileiro de Museus – SBM (2012) study found a total of 3,118 museums in the country, of which only 23 are on the Internet. This minimal presence of museums on the Internet made us take a closer look at the subject. The “Plano nacional setorial de museus” (2010/2020) provides guidelines, strategies, actions and targets for the field of museology.

At the sectional axis “image, sound and new technologies in museums”, with regard to the cross-cutting issue 02, “preservation, acquisition and democratization of collections”, the first strategy is to: “Form partnerships between public and private institutions to develop an accessible virtual environment and tools for digital broadcasting (MinC / IBRAM, 2010:120).”If the XXI century museum requires great oxygenation in order to fulfill its task of interaction between society and institution, web museums can function as strategies to engender this process in a qualitative way, since it is not only a channel for dissemination, but also something that adds new experiences between society and its historical and cultural artifacts. For Ulpiano Bezerra de Meneses, museums will no longer be anachronistic institutions but will transform themselves into spaces without nostalgia, without fear of massification. For the author, museums represent, in the course of the century, “[…] places to obtain fulfillment and enjoyment for the formation of critical consciousness, which cannot be ones of mass (Menezes, 2005: 20).”

2. Interface concept

The main themes that underpin the proposal for our research consist, firstly, in the definitions of design, interface, and user experience. Briefly, we consider design as a creative activity that aims to solve a problem. Mortoza (2011: 98) presents the main concepts in design, observing the following characteristics: activity coordination; systemic, creative, cultural and artistic. To reflect upon the design’s innate activities as something wide implies to interconnect the designer, the user, the desire and shape as to be in the world of each person. According to Villas-Boas (2000), the four aspects that support  graphic design are functionality, formality, methodology and symbology, and these elements should always follow this sequence, which corresponds to the core foundation of  design. Interface has not received cohesive definitions over the past years. It is worth mentioning some main ideas on the subject.

According to Royo (2008), interface is a surface that splits machine and user. For Levy (1999), on the other hand, it is a door where communication occurs. Johnson (2001) suggests that the interface is software that forms the interaction between user and computer, and acts as a kind of translator, mediating between the two parties, becoming sensitive to one another. For Manovich (2001), interface is a “sponge”, where graphics, navigation and interaction confirm the creation of new paradigms. According to the author, these should not use the visual metaphors of modern classic. Regardless of the definition, we can be sure that interfaces take into account the cognitive foundations of users. Norman (1993) distinguished between two general types of cognition: experiential and reflective (Preece, 2005).

The first one involves a mental state in which we perceive and act, whereas the second one involves thinking, comparison and decision making. Both are critical for analysis of interactions between humans and computers through the interface, also called the GUI (Graphical User Interface). Garrett (2003) through his book, “The Elements of User Experience”, proposed a theory that defines five layers between an abstract level and a concrete plan. The five layers are: strategy, scope, structure, skeleton, and surface (visual design). Another tripartite subdivision proposed by Garrett (2003) distinguishes interface design, navigation design and information design. For the author, interface design regards the visible elements of interface; navigation design refers to the way information is presented using, in both ways, information design, which establishes effective communication with the user (Lauzer; Fragoso, 2011).

3. Context of museums and web

Museums on the Web are primarily supported by the communications of their physical counterparts, but in the past few years the novelty of the internet has made cyber museums incorporate a unique way of disseminating their collections beyond mere advertising. “The creation of museum sites proliferated from the 90s, with the advancement of the Internet […] and many of them have websites whose unique purpose is just to provide contact information for the institution (Henriques, 2004)”.

The Internet has opened possibilities to major museums, because they are today some of the most successful cultural enterprises, especially when we mention the great museums (Oliveira, 2007).

In her master’s degree dissertation in Museologia e Patrimônio of UNIRIO (Brazil), Magaldi (2010) presented a case study analyzing the Museu da Pessoa (Brazil). The author reflected upon the category of Electronic Virtual Museum, Webmuseu or Cibermuseu, and its existence only on the Internet. Within this same thesis, Museu Temporário da Mudança Permanente (Temporary Museum of Permanent Change), located in Salt Lake City, Utah, USA, was studied as a museum which is neither on the Internet nor in a single, permanent physical location.

The first discussions of the intersections between museums and the Internet have gained strength since 1997 in Los Angeles in the annual event “Museums and the Web”, whose 18° edition will be held in 2014. The publications of the proceedings of this event serve as a theoretical source for the development of our research on the user experience in web museums. Some authors who understand that the approach between new technologies and museums is necessary are: Garcia (2003), Muchacho (2005), Griffiths (2003).

The latter defines virtual museum as a computing environment characterized by a hypertext structure and a system interface which allows navigation, or by the possibility that the visitor’s actions interacting with the context can also modify it.

According to Muchacho (2008), by visiting museum websites, the visitor can experience things that are not possible in the traditional museum space.

Such a statement highlights the distinction between the physical museum and its virtual equivalent, which ultimately generates new expectations on the part of the user for the web-based museum to be something new, even to preserve the identity and information architecture of the physical museum.

Lisboa (2010) considers visitor interaction with space, both in its real dimension and in its cyber dimension, of great importance, since meaning-making requires recognition of the structure of the message, and this produces the interpretation understood by the recipient (Montfort & Cabrillana, 2005). For these authors, before accessing the content, the user needs to understand the logic of interaction with the interface at hand.

In real spaces, we must take into account the space, the lighting, the pace, the signs, the association between objects and aspects relating to scenography of the exhibition. All these aspects, which part of traditional museology and now have their projections in virtual space, require breaking some of its analog principles to suit to the principles of format and technology, as well as navigation within the new environment (Monfort & Cabrillana, 2005).

In 1996 Maria Piacente categorized three distinct types of digital museums. The first type is the “E-Brochure”, which aims at presenting the museum and disseminating information regarding the institution. The second type is the “Museum in the Virtual World”, which features more detailed information about the collection, reproducing the physical museum through virtual visits. The third type concerns “Interactive Museums” which present the contents of the museum in a unique way, by shedding its logical physical equivalent (Teather; Wilhem, 1999). Various tools and strategies are used by museums on the web so users can have a full experience.

We use pictograms (in Virtual Museums) to allow users to make choices intuitively, because this strategy is an effective way of displaying content on small screens on mobile phones. In regard to color-blind users, we designed a plan for accessible color to the page. To improve visibility and readability, the plan is to avoid using red and green, magenta colors as well as blue, and use color with tone differences. After drawing a background color that corresponded to the needs of people with color blindness, and also to potential color changing depending on brands and models of mobile phones, the design is tested by running a simulation. To ensure visibility and readability outdoors and to prevent additional colors becoming an obstacle to usability, the difference in brightness between colors is increased (Fushimi, 2011).

We notice that web museums can be optimized if produced to operate on various platforms starting, as suggested in Ethan Marcotte (2011), on “mobile first”. This means, from the smallest to the largest. From the “mobile” to bigger devices reaching notebooks and desktops, the web museum will have more scope expanding the possibilities of access to the information desired by users.

Jenkins (2011) points to the existence of not one but several “black boxes”: that is, closed and complex systems in which the internal structure is unknown or is not taken into consideration in its analysis, thus merely measures the input and output relationships. Currently marketing competition among big technology corporations has led to a divergence of hardware platforms, which can be resolved through the production of responsive designs (Marcotte, 2011).

The convergence is occurring between content and not between devices because to access the same content in different locations and situations, one needs different platforms and different behaviors. Jenkins (2011) states that “Convergence occurs within the brains of individual consumers and their social interactions with others.” In the whirlwind that is the Internet, research projects aimed at deepening the understanding of the user can respond effectively to the social demands of users, and web Museums are part of this context.

4. Examples of applications in 360°

Panoramic photo slideshows or videos in 360° have been a novelty well received by the general public due to the immersion that users experience during the route. “Google Street View” can be considered the best known and most used 360° system today. Among the companies that act or have acted in this context, we can cite Yellowbird, based in the Netherlands and with branches in London and Goiania, in Brazil. According to an article published in “O Globo” by Teixeira (2011), it was “Immersive Media” who sold the technology of “Street View” to Google. The IM ( is a global company that works with 360° visual products. Consider in the following figure, the app “im360” running on the iPad with immersion in the US Maritime Museum.

With Android OS 4.3, Samsung installed on 3S, we can use a tool to capture panoramic photos in “Photo Sphere” mode. On the Google website can get the instructions to capture environments using the software to create panoramic photos, create a 360 degree panorama and save the image in jpeg format (Google, 2014).

With the “Yellowbird” for iPad app, we can see videos recorded at 360°. On Youtube, Chan presents a video that explains how to produce panoramic photos (Youtube, 2011) using a camera with only one lens. However, there are more cameras with lens that make the task of capturing multiple images, at the same time facilitating the assembly process of immersion in 360° (Youtube, 2010). We see in the following figure, the “Yellowbird” app running on the iPad.

App "Yellowbird" running on the iPad on the homepage. 300w, 1500w" sizes="(max-width: 409px) 100vw, 409px" /> Figure 2: App “Yellowbird” running on the iPad on the homepage.

Based on analysis of these applications, we list below some of the technologies involved in this research as a way of investigating with specificity each of the tools contained in the processes of construction of 360° immersions. The software includes: PTGui Pro Panorama, Review, Flash Player, Cloth 2VR, Photoshopp CS, the LadyBug camera and 360 smartphones and tablet devices.

5. Website

The Virtual ERA project has three main proponents. The founder, Rodrigo Coelho, the museologist, Celia Corsino and executive producer, Carla Sandim. The project consists of views from the perspective of a real visitor through 360° around the public space of the museum with the option of virtual visitation through the same immersive navigation. Navigation is available in up to 4 audio languages​​: Portuguese, English, French and Spanish. The virtual visitor can also view details during the journey as information, zooming, and 360° perspective of some area. Below we can see the figure of the ERA Virtual homepage.

The ERA Virtual consists of a catalog that enables 360° virtual tours to 16 Brazilian museums subdivided by states. Nine (9) in Minas Gerais: Museu de Artes e Ofício; Museu do Oratório; Museu Casa Guignard; Casa Fiat de Cultura; Museu Casa Guimarães Rosa; Museu Histórico Abílio Barreto; Museu do Diamante; Museu da Inconfidência; Memorial Tancredo Neves. Four (4) in Rio de Janeiro: Museu da República; Exposição Energia Nuclear Casa da Ciência; Exposição Carlos Chagas Filho; Biomas do Brasil Rio + 20. Two (2) in Santa Catarina: Museu Victor Meirelles; Museu Nacional do Mar. One (1) in Goiás: Casa de Cora Coralina. Since 2008 ERA Virtual provides web accessible collections to the institutions involved, these are widely used by schools. In the figure below, we can see the moment where the user interacts with Museu Casa de Cora Coralina with 360° immersion.

One of the problems faced while browsing captured images taken at ERA Virtual website is the fact that the virtual tour of the museums can only be done if the device has a Flash Player installed. If the user wants to view the museum from a mobile device such as the iPad for example, he will not be able to because Apple’s mobile operating system does not support Flash.

6. Methodology for assessing the ERA Virtual

The research methodology adopted for this work is the case study. During the process of searching for information about the construction techniques of 360° immersion, we will aggregate qualitative research that aims to generate solid information for new projects that  are put into practice.

The analysis of the user experience will feature a group of students of Museology from Universidade Federal de Goiás. They will interact with the website of the ERA Virtual. The evaluation techniques we present here will be applied. Their navigation will be recorded by a software that captures audio and video. The data will be tabulated and then presented in the form of reports, articles and papers in seminars and conferences.

The analysis of the design of the user experience will feature two types of analysis proposed by Costigan (1999): the first concerns the ability to search and retrieve information in databases; the second refers to the ability to interact with cyber artifacts (Fragoso, 2011). An evaluation of the ERA Virtual website will be done in stages: 1: Card Sorting, 2: Heuristic Evaluation and 3: Usability testing.

Card sorting

The Card Sorting consists of a type of formulation of “mental model” from little cards containing words. Card Sorting is a usability method that aims to collect information about how users organize information, indicating the most appropriate structure to the “mental model” of users. Card Sorting will be used to evaluate the information architecture of ERA Virtual.

Agner (2009) presents authors and theories related to the topic, and this will be very important to the success of the analysis of structures of informational websites. The focus of the information architecture is structures that provide users with resources to transform their needs into actions and to achieve their goals successfully (Agner, 2009). Well-resolved information architecture makes users feel free to browse and confident they can easily return to previous screens (Nielsen, 2006).

Information architecture is moment where the user navigation is conceived and it should be taking into consideration the paths, the paths that users make during the interaction experience. In terms of design, the use of wireflows helps the designer or the team view with clarity and detail the ways provided by the navigation interface. In this context, the most traditional and simple requirement for the production of good information architecture, according to Nielsen (2000), is the need that designers have to answer three main questions User: Where am I? Where I’ve been? Where can I go? (Memoria, 2005).

All questions are based on the idea that the user’s memory has value for the definition of any project that aims at human-computer interaction. Information architecture can be structured in various ways in webs, hierarchies, facets, linear structures and emergent structures (Kalback, 2009), all relevant categories of analysis to this research.

Heuristic evaluation

Perceptions about the evaluation methods based on discussions of virtual museums will be conducted primarily in accordance with Kalbach (2009), who proposes two methods of web design review: Heuristic Evaluation and Usability Testing focused on the task. The Heuristic Evaluation is often executable in a day or at most two with qualitative, rapid methods. It responds to a low investment cost and the results to be obtained are subjective, requiring an experienced interpreter for analysis.

In a heuristic evaluation, three phases are necessary: 1. preparation, 2. execution, and 3. consolidation. In the preparation phase, we will choose who conducts the review. We become familiar with the key pages, determine the principles of assessment and chose a set of screens. It is impossible to judge an entire portal. In the implementation phase, we look through the site, focusing on one principle at a time, take notes and capture copies of the screens, and for each heuristic provide varying grades 0-4. On the consolidation phase, we discuss the findings with other reviewers, recommend actions to resolve the problem, make a presentation and develop a plan to resolve the problems. We realize that in step 2, implementation, the range of notes for evaluation is required. This track must pass the following parameters Rating: 0 (zero) – no problem; 1 (a) – cosmetic issues only; 2 (two) – minor problems for some users; 3 (three) – Bigger problems; 4 (four) – Catastrophic and non- usable for almost all users.

Usability testing

After heuristic evaluation, we will work with usability tests, which meet an existing demand from the large Internet popularization of the past century.

The emergence of usability testing in laboratories since 1980 is an indicator of the profound shift in attention to the needs of the user. Traditional managers and developers resisted at first, saying that usability testing was a good idea, but the pressures of limited time and resources prevent performing such procedures (Shneiderman; Plaisant, 2005).

According to Nielsen (2006), one of the greatest compliments you can receive on a website is when it receives no comments on its structure. A navigational design evaluated positively will always show users the current location of the route and the information desired by users, and ways to proceed to enjoy the website, in our case the ERA Virtual.

7. Preliminary research findings

From the evidence obtained in the pre-production presented in this paper, we intend to perform tests so that next time we are able to present consistent data on User Experience. With the evaluation phase of the ERA Virtual website finalized, we will interpret the findings of the user experience.

Research connected to the Internet lies in the broad field of social applied sciences. Soon, museums on the web can be considered one of the objects of study of this field of knowledge. Since the present design relates to a study of spaces on the Internet, a careful approach to the area is necessary. However, studies of the Internet as well as their scientific procedures exist in a field that is constantly changing (Jones 1999 cited FRAGOSO et al, 2011: 27), and which will require some flexibility.

In the context of Brazilian Social Sciences, studies about the Internet are often associated with studies of cyberculture, as well as studies of human-computer interface (HCI), among other perspectives and approaches (Fragoso, 2011).

Since the studies of the Internet are a developing field, there is no single and finished theory on the methodology to be applied in this project. Therefore, it is our duty to keep developing our study in the context of research into traditions of media and technology (Baym 2005:232 apud FRAGOSO et al, 2011:32) with the greatest possible flexibility.

The questions presented in this article are intended as reference for the analysis of web Museums in Brazil. It is hoped that the analysis techniques presented here can serve as a basis for the development of museums on the web and the expansion of the disclosure of these museums in Brazil.


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Cite as:
. "Research project about the user experience design in web museums in Brazil: the case of the website “ERA Virtual”." MW2014: Museums and the Web 2014. Published January 14, 2014. Consulted .

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