Title:Designing a “No Interface” Audio Walk
Authors:Anders Sundnes Løvlie, Edith Terte Andersen, Anders Sundnes Løvlie
Publication:MW2019: MuseWeb 2019

Audio-based locative media (Tuters and Varnelis, 2006), sometimes known as "audio walks" (Cardiff and Miller, 1991), "placed sound" (Behrendt, 2012), or "situated sound" (Fagerjord, 2011) can be used to offer educational material outside the museum—effectively creating audio guide-like experiences in public spaces. However, such experiences raise concerns that have long been discussed in relation to mobile devices in museums: that they may take too much of the user's attention, resulting in visitors focusing only on their mobile screens (Woodruff et al., 2001; vom Lehn and Heath, 2003; Wessel and Mayr, 2007; Løvlie, 2011; Behrendt, 2015). While this is a long-standing concern in the museum world, it also matches current trends in interface design suggesting that "the best interface is no interface" (Krishna, 2015).

This paper presents a research-through-design exploration (Zimmerman, Forlizzi, and Evenson, 2007) of this problem through the development of an audio walk conveying the history of the 1970’s squatter movement in Copenhagen. User tests demonstrate that the absence of a visual interface allows users to ignore their mobile screens and navigate simply using the audio while observing their surroundings. Some users report great pleasure from this experience: "The feeling of only listening, instead of looking at pictures, and then looking at reality, I really liked it—it was wonderful!" However, the experience also relies on the user's ability to imagine the past and to understand the differences between the contemporary urban environment and the historical period in which the events unfold.