NuForm, 2021–2022

NuForm is a two-year research project funded by Germany’s Federal Ministry of Education and Research. It deals with human interaction and communication between physical and virtual spaces.
Together with Berlin’s Museum für Naturkunde (Natural History Museum), we want to develop new forms of hybrid interpersonal communication that will transform museum experiences in a sustainable way.

In recent years, digital technology has revolutionised many areas of society. Now museums are also looking to digitalise their institutions. They want to win over new visitors and establish innovative communication platforms that will accommodate digital participation and presence on all levels. Museums allow us to discover and learn new things. In their rooms, we can get up close to collections and artefacts that have been preserved, researched and put on show to educate and create experiences. Being public places, museums also provide us with an opportunity to socialise, to meet people and to share thoughts.

NuForm is therefore not only focussing on what we can achieve through digital media. It also aims to find out what makes a trip to the museum a shared experience. We want to know what forms of social interaction are the key to this. Furthermore, we are looking for ways to interconnect physical and virtual aspects. This will allow us to create new interpersonal communication platforms where you can enjoy museums without actually walking into a building.

Until now, if you wanted to explore a museum, there was a clear boundary between digital and physical experiences. True hybrid formats and technical infrastructures that link the real and virtual worlds to enable shared experiences do not exist (yet).

This is where NuForm comes in as we sound out how far museums can be turned into hybrid entities that combine physical locations, virtual experiences and venues for social interaction. How can we enable groups of people to experience exhibitions without being in the same place at the same time? How can we still feel proximity to each other? How can we feel the atmosphere of the museum via digital media? How can we make use of virtual visits to enhance spaces and objects and make them accessible in new ways?

Working closely with the Museum für Naturkunde, we are investigating and developing technological concepts in iterative processes while user groups try out prototypes. Our experiments are also being monitored methodically by an ethnographer and being evaluated from a social science angle. We have approached this project with interdisciplinary designs that revolve around the users. The resulting solutions are being trialled in regular museum operations.