The Cooper Hewitt Experience

When purchasing admission tickets to The Cooper Hewitt Museum, I was asked “would you like the Pen?” To which I was a little confused having not visited the museum before. The ticketing agent was kind to demonstrate the use and functionality of the Pen and left me with a greeting “happy exploring!”

The concept for the interactive Pen originated from Local Projects working with Diller Scofidio + Renfro and was designed to enhance the Cooper Hewitt experience by allowing visitors to “collect” objects from around their galleries. All visitors receive a Pen with their admission ticket containing a dedicated web address corresponding to their visit where they can access all the objects they have collected from their visit. Visitors may press the flat end of their pen to a ‘+’ icon on the museum labels to collect objects and explore them in more detail at interactive tables situated around the museum. The Pen combines two technologies where its interface with interactive tables employ conductive materials common to touchscreen styli and its interface with museum labels employ near-field communication technology. The interactive tables, designed by Ideum, allows visitors to explore and manipulate the objects they have collected, discover related objects, retrieve contextual information, learn more about the designers, design processes and materials, watch and share videos and even sketch their own designs.

According to Jake Barton, principal and founder of Local Projects, “[f]inding the right balance between digital and physical was really an iterative process developed over time together. Here is the Pen, it’s going to make visitors active, it’s going to reinvent the museum experience and turn audiences into participants, but it won’t do it at the expense of the traditional galleries, which will remain artefact-based and without digital technology” (Wright, 2017, p. 123).

In thinking of employing the digital in museums, it is important to consider what the right balance of the physical and the digital would be for the institution. Where can digital technologies be employed, and where it should not be? What level of comfort do different aspects of the museum have in delivering a digital experience? And, most importantly, what is the nature of such digital experiences?

With regards to the Cooper Hewitt, the Pen has become synonymous to their museum experience as it is interwoven into most aspects of the institution. The ticketing agents spontaneously encouraged visitors to use the Pen, even personally showing young children and elderly visitors how the Pen is used. The Pen encourages discovery, has a low barrier to entry, part of the ecosystem of the museum and is an important tool to accessing information in the museum (Bove, Crow, & Husney, 2014, p. 17). The Pen also seeks to ensure a ‘look up’ experience where visitors can be compelled enough to engage with the exhibits without need to use their mobile devices to take photos with. During my visit, I observed only a handful of visitors were taking photos, though not often, and promptly putting their phones away to continue with their use of the Pen. Having become a ubiquitous part of a visit to the Cooper Hewitt, the Pen is unlike the mobile apps / guides of other museums that visitors might be unlikely to adopt and cannot achieve large-scale transformation to a digital experience. 

The interactive tables offered visitors an opportunity to “play designer” where they could view their collected objects, were prompted “what will you design” and “what will inspire you” where they could then draw, manipulate and explore the museum’s collection to their liking. There was ease to the use of the interactive table however it seemed intimidating too. I observed visitors hesitant to use it at first but were encourage by museum staff to simply discover the functionalities of the interactive table. 

As I returned my Pen to leave the museum, I was reminded once again that I could revisit all the objects I have collected on the Cooper Hewitt website. Having accessed the website with my designated code, I found some objects to lack the images and metadata I had seen on the interactive table. This was a little disappointing as I was hoping to show my family overseas what I had seen in the museum. According to Chan, new loan forms and donor agreements were negotiated and by the time objects began to arrive for installation at the museum in 2014, all but a handful of lenders had agreed to have a metadata and image record of their object’s presence in the museum (2015). As such, these constraints do limit the post-visit experience of using the Pen.

Considering some of Norman’s design principles (2013, p. 72), 

  1. Discoverability — The Pen’s flat side has the same ‘+’ symbol as those on the museum labels. As such, it is possible to determine its possible actions however not explicitly obvious, aided by guidance from museum staff. 
  2. Feedback — When saving an object with the Pen, it lights up and vibrates when the action is complete, proving immediate feedback when an action is executed. 
  3. Affordances — The Pen afford holding like any regular pen and is helped with a wristband to prevent visitors from dropping it.
  4. Constraints — The Pen is limited to 2 actions—saving objects and drawing on the interactive tables. Its design allows ease for this interpretation.

Recommendations / Reflections

Though I found the overall experience of using the Pen throughout the museum to be positive, the layout of the museum was confusing and did inhibit my discovery of exhibits. No doubt the Carnegie Mansion is a beautiful setting for the museum but the narrow doorways and lack of signages made it difficult to navigate. The only indication of what exhibitions were showing was located in the stairwell. The museum could consider adding a map to the interactive table to aid in navigation.

While using the Pen, I thought of accessibility issues as the use of the Pen requires sightedness and is not user-friendly to those who are not. The museum had many other accessibility services available like assistive listening devices, reduced rate tickets, passenger elevator and large-print labels. However, I found it a shame that the technology vital to the Cooper Hewitt experience was not accessible to all.

Overall, the Cooper Hewitt provided a successful example of how digital technology can be employed by museums to enhance visitor experience and their exhibitions where at every stage and aspect, the Pen is interwoven into how the museum is operated.


Bove, J., Crow, A., & Husney, J. (2014). The Pen Process. Design Journal. November 2014, 15-17. 

Chan, S. (2015). Strategies against architecture: Interactive media and transformative technology at Cooper Hewitt. Retrieved from

Norman, D. A. (2013). The design of everyday things. New York, NY: Basic Books.

Wright, L. (2017). New frontiers in the visitor experience. In A. Hossaini & N. Blankenberg (Eds.), Manual of digital museum planning (109-130). Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.

INFO 601-02 (Assignment 3 / Observation) – Jamie Teo

Fellows Colloquium—Tracing Objects: Translation and Transmission

The Met Fellowship Program draws leading and emerging scholars and practitioners from fields such as museology, academia, archaeology, education and scientific research. Since the program’s inception in 1951, the fellows’ research has deeply examined The Met collection and have significantly added to ongoing discourse in their fields.

This spring, current fellows present their research and explore related scholarly topics in a series of nine colloquia. I attended one of these sessions with the topic “Tracing Objects: Translation and Transmission” on 15 March 2019. The colloquia featured fellows Krisztina Ilko, Tommaso Mozzati, Max Bryant, Brian Martens, Georgios Makris, Maria Harvey and Chassica Kirchhoff.

New Evidence on the Original Materials, Former Construction, and Late Collecting History of the Patio of Vélez Blanco

Tommaso Mozzati, Andrew W. Mellon Fellow, Department of European Sculpture and Decorative Arts

Patio from the Castle of Vélez Blanco, from The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Retrieved March 21, 2019, Image in Public Domain.

Mozzati’s research examines the marble patio originally part of the Castillo de Vélez-Blanco, now housed in the entrance of The Met’s Thomas J. Watson Library to showcase the museum’s Italian Renaissance statues. The Patio of Vélez Blanco was built at the beginning of the sixteenth century by Pedro Fajardo y Chacón and remains a matter of conjecture today. Mozzati’s archival investigation led him to an unpublished drawing from 1805 that shows the patio’s original composition, in situ in the Spanish fortress. Reflecting on this drawing, Mozzati highlighted questions of authenticity as with little to no archival records before, the changes made over time with the movement of the patio can only be supposed. The drawing differed significantly from the patio in The Met with various additions and shifts, emphasizing the compromised state of the original and the mutability of art to fit the whims of the owner. Mozzati thus brought up the idea of ‘trans-content’ with regards to the patio’s importance in the context of early modern Spanish architecture and its new meaning and significance now that it is situated in Fifth Avenue.

In addition to archival research, Mozzati examined the provenance of the marble used in the current iteration of the patio seeking to use scientific analysis to determine the structure of the courtyard before its sale in 1904 to French dealer J. Goldberg. I found Mozzati’s research particularly interesting in his multifaceted approach in studying the history and authenticity of the patio. Mozzati lamented that the patio is now a mere reminder of the original though still prized for its sculptural and architectural value in the context of the Spanish Renaissance. It is often taken for granted the role of museums to present authenticity and truth. There is much to learn in constantly questioning the information I am presented with even with respectable organizations and institutions.

Imported Art and Design in the Early Practice of the Adam Brothers

Max Bryant, Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Curatorial Fellow, Department of European Sculpture and Decorative Arts

Dining room from Lansdowne House, from The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Retrieved March 21, 2019,
Tapestry Room from Croome Court, from The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Retrieved March 21, 2019,

The Adam brothers created exemplars of design, composite period displays that were an important stage in the development of modern museum culture. Bryant studied two of their displays from late-eighteenth century London: the tapestry room from Croome Court and the dining room from Lansdowne House, now being reconstructed in The Met’s new British galleries. Period rooms afford the museum visitor a chance to experience the furnishings, objects and decor within as related to each other in time, place and style in a way that isolating them cannot. Though many such rooms were originally designed as a proof of opulence, the objects within might not be curated well but fulfilled the aesthetic requirements.

Museums now question the contemporary resonance of such period rooms, if aesthetic quality or historic quality takes greater precedence. A moral element has now emerged that raises issues of populism, imported luxury and the attachment to the past.

To Conclude,

Many of the fellows had brought up issues of the transmission and translation of art between cultures in their presentation, befitting the overarching theme of the event. Their research took in depth studies of The Met’s collection in relation to various themes, locations and histories. As such, misinformation seems a underlining hindrance to their research with either little archival resources or when the translation of art could have had more verification.

Adorno states the authentic is a judgement of value and a manichean one that pits unobjective concepts against each other and leads to constant hairsplitting (Adorno, 1973). The criteria of authenticity is not necessarily objective where the museum seems an inauthentic device trying to frame ‘real’ or ‘authentic’ objects and ideas within contexts determined by them. Museums might argue that they are the last guardians of the past, in possession of relics for the benefit of scholars to study and people to view, where their reconstruction of historical sites can now be easily marveled all under one roof.

The event has opened my eyes to various museology and art history issues that I think also apply to information science where information verification and authenticity have become large issues in the community.


Adorno, T.W. (1973). The jargon of authenticity. Evanston: Northwestern University Press.

Bruner, E. M. (1956). Cultural Transmission and Cultural Change. Southwestern Journal of Anthropology. 12(2): 191-199.

Hede, A. & Thyne, M. (2010). A journey to the authentic: Museum visitors and their negotiation of the inauthentic. Journal of Marketing Management. 26(7-8), 686-705.

Hooper-Greenhill, E. (2000). Museums and the interpretation of visual culture. London: Routledge.

INFO 601-02 (Assignment 3 / Event Attendance) – Jamie Teo