Multi-touch tables – what is the research telling us? Part 2

tables 2This second post [Part 1 is here] about multi-touch tables, reports on a 2013 paper by Creed, Sivell and Sear, Multi-Touch Tables for Exploring Heritage Content in Public Spaces, that outlined a case study of the design and use of a touch table for The Hive, Worcestershire, UK. It contains a great literature summary and a useful set of principles to keep in mind when designing for tables, noting that multi-touch tables provide opportunities for collaboration, group tasks and for visitors to interact digitally with precious objects.

Literature review

The authors found relatively few studies researching use of tables in heritage settings. Overall, their literature review found that:

  • Although tables provide opportunities for collaborating this rarely happens – could be due to the content is arranged coupled with the design of the interface
  • Different ages affect use of table – some feel uncomfortable interacting with “strangers” and making their interactions “public”
  • Shared control may lead to frustration with adult and children using tables differently and interfere with each other’s use
  • Tables provide opportunities for social learning with visitors’ learning through observing others

How do visitors approach tables?

  • People become more interested when they see others using the table
  • Approached by wide range of visitors – singles, couples, groups, strangers, varying ages
  • Using a large vertical screen attracted people to use the table (although could this have the uncomfortable stranger/public effect noted above?)
  • Children “dive in” and use straightaway, adults tend to hang back
  • Need to alert visitors that it is an interactive, not static display
  • Visitors will use it as an actual table for bags, drinks. books etc. – they must be robust, waterproof and able to withstand rough usage
  • Tables needs to be about interactions, not large screeds of text that can’t fit on the wall
  • People preferred playing with the table itself – visuals and opportunities to interact dominated over content
  • Few visitors use tangible objects in conjunction with tables – they can be easily damaged, misplaced or stolen
  • People try out a range of gestures, will usually use both hands and will use gestures in a fluid way – they will also use gestures based on the technologies they regularly engage with – swiping, scrolling, enlarging
  • Use is not always intuitive
  • In multigenerational groups children usually take control

Operational Issues

Once they installed the table in The Hive and observed visitors, the authors made the following useful practical suggestions:

  • Due to the size and nature of tables the design and placement needs careful consideration, but also locate the table where visitors are
  • Tables make use of hands to manipulate content – therefore cleaning must be factored in daily
  • Need adequate circulation space
  • Place near a power outlet
  • Good Internet connectivity is essential
  • Need to tell visitors the table is there and what to do with it
  • Consider lighting
  • Installation can be tricky with many people required – designers, hardware supplier, interface designer, IT plus a heap of strong people to lift it!
  • Training is needed in turning the table on and off, and it may need to be reset regularly
  • Security needs to be considered (hiding the keyboard and USB connections)
  • Prototype, prototype, prototype – it’s hard to spot technical problems until visitors actually start interacting with the table

The authors provide a summary of main lessons learned on pp. 17-19 which is worth checking out.

Overall they concluded that ‘… multi-touch tables have the potential to engage, educate, and enhance interactive heritage experiences. Future work now needs to focus on how to make best use of this technology to create innovative and effective applications that help heritage organisations fulfil this potential’ (p. 20-21).

[PS – you can download a copy of this paper if you are a member of – it’s a great article and I highly recommend it!]

One final post worth mentioning is Jeff Heywood on the “Novelty” and “Honey Pot” effects of multitouch exhibits, which echoes much of what I have written about in this series of posts, viz:

  • the “Novelty Effect”: Multi-touch tables are still relatively new technology for many people
  • the “Honey Pot Effect”: Visitors enjoy the table’s hands-on and interactive nature which they could control

He concluded that tables need to have:

  • fresh and current content
  • active connections to the subject matter
  • encourage self-directed interaction with many levels of exploration
  • software that allows updates in-house

All food for thought which, taken together, provide guidelines for use when thinking about multi-touch tables in exhibitions.


4 thoughts on “Multi-touch tables – what is the research telling us? Part 2

  1. lyndakelly61 says:

    Got this reply via Facebook: @MareeHume “I think these multi-touch tables are awesome. I work with special needs kids/adults who have proved in so many ways, this is the way to go for them .. never get rid of them”. This is certainly one aspect / visitor group that I hadn’t thought of – thanks Maree!

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