Phygital museum experience: a communication medium of heritage museums’ collections in the Gulf

E. Nofal, Rabee Reffat, A Vande Moere

Research output: Chapter in Book/Conference proceedingConference contributionpeer-review


Communication is one of the primary functions of museums and heritage environments. Museum artefacts possess vast amounts of information, which has to be communicated to the general public. This information ranges from explicit knowledge which is easy to document and to convey (e.g. names, dates, numbers, etc.), to more qualitative information and tacit knowledge which is more challenging to document, to measure and to communicate. However, the latter is more valuable because it provides context, experiences, practices, and competences. For communicating this type of information, museums apply different methods, ranging from oral narrative, to more embedded interactive technologies for storytelling such as virtual and augmented reality applications.
Nevertheless, museums recently began to design and deploy Tangible User Interfaces (TUIs) in order to physicalize the experience with museum objects. For instance, tangible smart replicas have been used in museum exhibitions to provide an additional layer (narrative content) of story-telling on top of explicit information presented on text labels next to the original objects. Also, anecdotal evidence shows that the touch and manipulation affordances of TUIs in interactive exhibits tend to attract more visitors, even persuade them to explore further and deeper. According to the museum communication model of Hooper-Greenhill, we consider that tangible interaction approach is as a promising communication medium for enabling museum visitors to turn from passive receivers to active users by interpreting their experiences according to a set of individual and social factors.
This paper therefore introduces the concept of “Phygital Museum Experience” (PhyMEx), the integration of digital technology ‘into’ physical reality, as a potential medium for more enriched and playful communication of heritage values and qualities. We propose that PhyMEx should enable the exploitation of typical advantages of both digital and physical reality, and that distinct categories of phygital can be recognized based on: 1) the level of physical affordance; and 2) in how far the technology is integrated into the physical reality.
We argue also that this approach has several objectives; (a) it makes the museum experience more collaborative and enhances social interaction, (b) it actively engages young museum visitors by allowing them physically explore the museum collections, and (c) it stimulates subtle learning experiences by communicating heritage information during interactions and experimentations.
The paper offers a proposed approach of PhyMEx as a one step forward towards achieving an effective communication with heritage museums’ collections in the Gulf. The future implementation and application of the proposed approach will be tested by museum visitors at selected Gulf museums. The findings, analysis and required refinements of this approach will be reported accordingly.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationConference of Museums in Arabia 2017
Place of PublicationManama, Kingdom of Bahrain
PublisherMuseums in Arabia
Publication statusPublished - 2017


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