@MarDixon Passionate about culture internationally. Run remixing events, workshops, create solutions, and an international speaker. Over sharer and Mom who loses arguments to a teen. Projects created: @CultureThemes @lovetheatreday @AskaCurator @MuseumSelfieDay @TeensInMuseums @52museums
  • Researching @GoogleGlass at the National Gallery London @NationalGallery #wearabletech

    August 15th, 2014mardixonCulture, International, Tech

    The National Gallery LondonAs many of you know I’ve been a Google Explorer since December 2013.  My original focus was to see how Google Glass could work within the cultural sector.

    For months I used projects I was working on to share Glass – to instigate dialogue and consider how people would use Glass should they own a pair.  As time went on my focus shifted from the cultural sector in general to, more specifically, accessibility. It became apparent the more I experienced the use of Glass with others just how many of those experiences that Glass provided generated examples of how this new technology could impact on people’s lives for the better.

    It was during MuseumNext that my research came full circle back to Glass in museums.  There was a lot of discussion on innovation and technology at MuseumNext, but I challenged the discussion by suggesting that the word innovation is being used to loosely and freely, is what many Museums doing innovate? Is an App still ‘innovative work’ just because it’s….an App?  This initiated another discussion from a few follow up posts which lead to me mentioning that I’ve had Glass for a while now, making it very public and offering it for research or experimentation to the Museum sector however at that point NO museum had taken me up on the offer.

    Joseph PadfieldFrom that initial discussion a few museums contacted me, one of which was Joseph Padfield from the National Gallery.  Joseph was interested in Glass and its possibilities within the National Gallery from the museum aspect but also conservation. We decided on a visit the National Gallery and we would run a two-day research project to see if Glass really did have potential there.

    Initially we arranged for a brief ‘consultation’.  I came in, demonstrated Google Glass and let a few of the staff members have a go, albeit briefly.  We covered in this initial meeting;

    • What Google Glass looks like
    • How it works (physically)
    • How to operate it
    • Some of examples of accessibility that it could be used with.

    The meeting allowed for 3-4 staff try on Google Glass and briefly experiment to ascertain if a two-day research project would be worthwhile.

    The answer was yes.

    Joseph and I arranged for me to come back on July 14 and 15th.  It’s probably true to say that neither Joseph or I had any definitive idea of what or where this project would bring us in terms of assessing Glass in Museums and galleries, but the important point was we were creating a starting point.


    Trying Google GlassIn honesty, we had none.*  I realise this leaves the outcomes very easy to achieve but any target would make this structured and prescribed and we wanted the outcomes to be as organic as possible, leaving the experimentation with Glass to set its own path. Through its possibilities, its limitations and the creativity of those using it.

    One important aspect of this research project was that we didn’t concentrate on ‘the public’ instead we worked with staff behind the scenes and how Glass could facilitate their day to day working in a positive and innovative way. While there is more research to be done by narrowing our scope it allowed us to focus on an area not yet explored with wearable tech.

    *The main target for the National Gallery  was to determine if this was a technology they wanted to spend more time and resources investigating. Though not ‘very’ expensive (compared to other new technology) the National Gallery wanted to get a good sense of its potential before buying one for further testing.


    We really didn’t have strict guidelines but did develop the following:

    • I would provide a demonstration to each area trialling Glass
    • We would be as hands off as possible, allowing exploration without structure.
    • One of us would be with the staff member to answer questions and assist where required.
    • We would try not to lead with any suggestions, allowing their experience to be as organic as possible.

    These guidelines ensured no one was under any pressure to use Glass a certain way.  This in turn allowed us to gain important research also, through listening and watching the users.

    Areas that used Google Glass included:

    • Conservation (longer test)
    • Scientific (longer test)
    • Curatorial (longer test)
    • Exhibition
    • Education
    • Photographic
    • Web Team

    Areas that were shown Google Glass included:

    • Buildings
    • IS
    • Art Handling

    What they did:

    • Screen Shot 2014-08-15 at 08.10.37Wore Google Glass and activated the video camera
    • Talk through the steps and materials they were using  for conservation;

    o   brushes

    o   hardware

    o   paints

    o   procedure

    • Use additional equipment with Glass;

    o   Magnifier

    o   Own glasses

    • Take photographs

    Staff used glass with video recording:

    PRO:  Filming from the staff’s point of view was a main advantage. This could potentially lead to less and/or more efficient paperwork in the future.  Also allows for accountability.

    CON:  Battery (of course).  Also hard to get proper angle as it’s ‘off’ a little bit.

    Talking through steps while video recording:

    IMG_1411PRO:  Along with less paper work (see above) teaching videos could easily be created (again, from staff’s point of view).  Can also be used for Ask a Curator Day/events.  [See videos at end of article.]

    CON: Battery (again) and they sometimes forgot to talk through steps or talked too much.

    Using as a camera

    PRO:  Quick and efficient

    Con:  Quality isn’t high but passable depending on usage (eg not for Print but ok for documentation).

    What was learned?

    There are significant uses for Glass to be used in a museum and art gallery behind the scenes. Although at this point and time things are not ‘innovative’ and fluid, this was a substantial push in the right direction.

    We set out with no real outcomes or objectives other than to create a base-line for further research (should we even get that far).  Over the two-days it became clear that there is a use for Glass in the cultural sector, certainly behind the scenes. We might be a way off from the public bringing them into the museums/galleries (just!) but by allowing staff to use and learn how this technology works could and should lead to further innovative developments with wearable technology.

    Next Steps:

    Using Google to search while working on projects/paintings

    For Developers:

    During the course of the research, I took notes on expectations of Glass that we can’t do currently. These included:

    • Complex, bespoke websites need to be re-designed for the Google Glass interface, for example http://research.ng-london.org.uk/projects/exhibitions/the-sunflowers
    • Being able to bookmark urls
    • Use Google Goggle to look at a painting with Glass (top priority for me)
    • Using ultra HD gigapixel
    • Video to picture to xray
    • Input touch tap – a way to call up a keyboard
    • Eye tracking zoom to interaction (head based now)
    • Live streaming from Glass to share


    While in its current form it isn’t going to replace or change anything currently being done, it has made staff think how certain aspects could be modified to include Glass in a positive way.  It goes back to ensuring the behaviour shift required is fluid and worthwhile and not gimmicky.

    From Joseph Padfield, National Gallery:

    The general consensus was that the device had a lot of potential, we are very interested in seeing how it develops and we are hoping to acquire one for further experimentation.

    Final Thoughts

    Tony from DCMSDuring the research, Tony Harris from DCMS also came over to the National Gallery to see if Google Glass would be a viable option for their needs. While it wasn’t a true activity for Tony, he did state he saw the potential.  Tony and Joseph have decided to try to collaborate and work together with potential further research.

    My personal goal will always be to get more collaboration not just with museums and galleries but across sectors.  I’m fortunate to work with culture, publishing, tech, digital, children, young people and other sectors.  This allows me an insight to where cross-over can and should happen.  As we’re all having to tighten our belts that much more with the economic situation, isn’t it about time we try to share resources?


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