The use of digital technologies is deeply affecting our engagement with the archaeological record and reshaping cultural heritage encounters. However, the creation of digital resources for specialists and non-specialists alike is rarely informed by design theory and practices, even though design is deeply embedded in archaeological practices and in the way archaeologists and heritage professionals produce and share knowledge. My work within the Erimi Archaeological Project focused on the application of 3D technologies and the creation of 3D models and interactive digital media for research and public engagement, through an iterative process of user experiences design, evaluation and implementation or redesign based on users’ feedback and insights gained through each iteration.
I carried out the first design iteration, as part of my PhD research. I created an interactive 3D model of the Middle Bronze Age site of Erimi-Laonin tou Porakou (Limassol, Cyprus), presenting the area in its actual state and the hypothetical reconstruction of the built environment based on the interpretations made over the years by the Erimi research team (Dolcetti and colleagues 2017).
Then I presented the model to both specialist and non-specialist audience to evaluate how they perceived and engaged with it and collected their feedback through interviews, focus groups and questionnaires (Dolcetti 2020). These feedback were used for the second design iteration, when I redesign and implemented the 3D interactive model for the exhibition Cyprus. Crossroads of Civilizations (Musei Reali, Turin, Italy June 2021-January 2022) in collaboration with Patrick Gibbs and James Osborn at the University of York. For this exhibition I curated the thematic session “Turin in Cyprus. From fieldwork to virtual reconstruction: 3D models and immersive experiences”, a multimedia interactive journey into Erimi through the stories and lives of three objects found at the site: a pendant, a spindle whorl and a terracotta vessel shaped as a goat. Here the interactive 3D model was displayed on a touchscreen along with 3D printed replicas of the objects and interactive tablets (Dolcetti 2021; Dolcetti and Bombardieri 2021).
Here, the original 3D model was refined and enhanced using users’ feedback gathered during the previous iteration. People, for example, expressed criticisms about the use of academic jargon in the text descriptions and reported the feeling of disorientation while interacting with the mode, suggesting the adoption of a story as a recommended path of exploration. Based on these feedback, the exploration mode was redesigned, providing a predefined exploration path to avoid the sense of disorientation. The content was revised and layered so it can be accessed if desired, without being overwhelming or disruptive of the visitor experience. I also developed a narration to accompany the exploration of the 3D model: a story about the objects from Erimi, their symbolic meaning and importance for the Erimi community. Finally, the 3D model was populated with animated characters and complemented by a natural and human soundscape, to provide a sense of a lived place and a multi-sensorial experience.