This is your feedback on the first prototype

The first thing to note is that virtual reality does not yet seem to have become widespread in the private sphere in Germany. The majority of the audience we reached did not have a VR headset themselves and had little or no previous experience with VR. The ones who had experience, mostly got it at other institutions and commercial providers (e.g. in other museums, in gaming events at the city library or youth center or at VR escape rooms and arcades).

Virtual reality therefore still has a strong event character for the majority of people. In our experience, this ensures that all age groups find the media effect of virtual reality very entertaining and impressive.

This has also shown that it works well to activate different interest groups, from annual pass holders to non-visitors, to engage with the museum and its themes in new ways through their interest in the technology. The combination of new technology and a prototyping, participatory approach enabled us to quickly break down the different barriers to different groups during the discussions.

We also gained valuable experience on how to develop digitalization and other transformation processes in museums in an agile and user-oriented way and how to deal with possible tensions that can arise in the team and with users in a communicative manner.

Interesting discussions about museums in general and art museums in particular, what people expect from them today and what they want to experience and do there or not, arose throughout the whole project environment.

In practical terms, of course, we also learned a lot about what it takes to offer events with VR, both materially and in terms of the instructing and supervising staff.

For example, a lot of time must be provided per user, as it is particularly important to make this service as low-threshold and open as possible. User support must be sensitive to individual needs, as VR headsets can otherwise easily create a feeling of confinement, isolation and loss of control when using them for the first time.

Young users up to the age of 20 find all our levels of complexity easy to use. They are noticeably used to drawing on their knowledge of communication symbols and operating mechanisms from other technical applications in order to decode both in an experimental way in unfamiliar applications.

People aged between 40 and 60 can usually also draw on this type of technical knowledge, but are noticeably more reluctant to experiment with it. This is why they need a longer introductory phase and are less likely to solve problems or hurdles independently, but rather avoid them.
Users between 20 and 40 fall between the two upper groups in their use of technology. Here, however, the abilities appear to be less consistently oriented to age and more to individual fluctuations in previous experience.
Although people over 60 need more intensive guidance and, in any case, direct personal assistance at hand at all times, on average they are sufficiently familiar with the operation of the Virtual Kunsthalle to enjoy it. Here in particular, providing elements with different levels of difficulty that can be run through together with the user according to the individual learning curve has proven to be a great added value.

However, this aspect applies in principle to each of the age groups, they just tend to start at different points on the curve. It was also repeatedly confirmed to us that the need for a learning curve in operation isn’t necessarily negativ; as long as the Virtual Kunsthalle offers exciting content and activities, people are prepared to come back repeatedly in order to be able to use and see everything.

Video of the first prototype

In general, feedback from users has confirmed that a special feature of our Virtuelle Kunsthalle is that we adapt museum interaction as a combination of technical and social components in the digital space. Especially in the room with the Chladni figures, we were able to see how well it is received by users to be able to create something together in virtual space. (You can take a look at the first prototype in this video). We have seen that it is essential for users to be able to actively interact with the content and artworks in a self-determined way, to receive information directly through ‘doing’, to become creative themselves. However, different intensity levels must be provided, as in our first prototype. This became clear to us time and again as we introduced very different people to the technology.

The room in which you can choose between different musical soundtracks to accompany the images was very popular. The room with the same picture motif on different wall colors was also popular. These rooms were popular both with and without our company. The enthusiasm for the space in which you can create your own work with Chladnian figures, alone or together, arose mainly in the situations we guided. (In this video you can take a look at the first prototype). This confirms that two aspects should be at the center of our planning: 1. the form of interaction and the content to be conveyed through it should be as intuitively connected and easy to use as possible. Abstracted content that users have to go through several steps to understand is too much for people to handle in combination with the technology. 2. the virtual experience of art and space is completely different despite replicating real proportions and it is essential to consciously create an atmosphere that is tailored to this. User feedback confirmed the thesis that the appeal and special ability of virtual reality in the museum environment lies above all in breaking up the classic museum scenography, i.e. creating a combination of a new spatial experience, other forms of social and creative interaction between users and the works of art themselves that is not possible in an analog setting. This is reflected in repeated comments such as: it seems bare and cold, more content must be included, more immersion should be created through multi-sensory experiences, the emotionality of the works should come across more.

Against this background, one can question whether it makes sense to transfer the physical appearance of the Kunsthalle Bielefeld virtually 1:1 into virtual space, or whether this is not playing to the strengths of virtual reality as a medium. During the creation of the prototype, it was quickly realized that certain problems of curating the analog space were also transferred to the curation of the virtual space. However, discussions with users confirmed that the unique spatial experience of virtual reality is not necessarily diminished if it is based on our physical architecture. It depends more on how they are filled. In fact, familiar landmarks such as stairs and walls seem to help newcomers in particular to familiarize themselves with the unfamiliar technology. Known architectural space markers could also be a reason why our users almost never reported motion sickness despite having little previous experience with VR. It was also observed that the parallels between the analog and virtual building make it clear at a low level how different the two spaces feel. This was an uncomplicated way to reflect on the specifics of both virtual reality and analog museums. In some cases, this has led to a new understanding of both. This has reinforced our theory that the non-photorealistic look can even enhance the effects just mentioned if it is consciously recognized and used as a stylistic device. The same applies to the 1:1 reproduction of spatial relationships when they are deliberately played with in order to maintain and break them up.

The users also noted that the focus on the art in the recipient experience is currently still rather lost because the technology demands a lot from you when you start, both in terms of control and in processing the impressions. However, this is not necessarily a bad thing. If you are aware of this, you can use it in a targeted way to encourage people to reflect on and break with old patterns of reception and communication. In addition, users have told us that the design can demand that repeated use is necessary in order to see, try out and understand everything. The only important thing is that it is fun enough to work around the content and technical entry problems. We also asked users what they would enjoy seeing and doing in the Virtuelle Kunsthalle in the future. Here is an insight into the most frequently mentioned points:

  • the content should change at regular intervals
  • a reference to the content of what we currently exhibit analogously would be nice, but not the main thing
  • The most important thing is to show things here that cannot be seen in analog (rarely or never exhibited works from the depot/works that are too fragile or works that cannot come to Bielefeld in analog form, strong zooms into the details, information from the restoration, etc.).
  • you should be able to interact directly with the works and immerse yourself in them
  • There should be an exploration goal to counteract disorientation and excessive demands
  • More diverse contextualization should be offered, in which individual focal points of knowledge can be selected
  • one could archive past exhibitions of the Kunsthalle here

The fact that the Virtuelle Kunsthalle enables direct social interaction was generally rated very positively. Both the fact that the avatars can meet and talk to each other directly, as well as the two rooms in which creativity can be lived out together and works of art can be created, were repeatedly identified as reasons for increased interest. However, work still needs to be done on the appearance of the avatars. Many people find it difficult to read the cube avatars as living persons and to perceive the cube hands as their own and accordingly to internalize the use of the buttons as hand movements. Alternatively, clearly identifiable feedback on success and failure must be created in other ways via the controllers when certain functions are used. In addition, the placement of the buttons is sometimes not suitable for people with motor impairments. Operation (i.e. which button/combination triggers which action) also needs to be made more intuitive. Users have suggested various ways of achieving this: different button assignments, more intuitive labeling and explanation of interactive elements or by using an individually activated trigger to initiate more automatic processes.

The users also rated it very positively that they can move around our virtual building completely freely using various methods. They experienced dizziness very rarely. There is much to suggest that this is due to the fact that, depending on the person and situation, a choice can be made between physical movements, teleport and joystick, and that familiar visual orientation points exist. In any case, the latter have made it easier for us to help users with uncertainties. However, it caused considerable irritation when the teleport led unplanned through walls and floors, whereas flying through the sculpture park and over the building, which was also not actually planned, was great fun.

Another repeated suggestion was improved graphics: more detailed, sharper, more realistic. When it came to prioritizing between photorealistic graphics and the greatest possible simplification of controls and various interaction options, however, the majority of users opted for the latter.

Video of the first prototype

These are the main findings from our discussions during the events we held with the Virtuelle Kunsthalle. Here we have also summarized these meetings statistically.

While we develop our next prototype, we continue to hold events. If you feel like dropping by: Click here for the dates.


A room whose walls are covered with bookshelves up to the ceiling. Scattered around the room are four white people with VR headsets on their heads. There are two children and two young women.
Let's get real event on International Museum Day, 19.5.2024, photo: Kunsthalle Bielefeld
Four people of different ages and skin colors, standing and sitting on stools, wearing virtual reality headsets. On the wall behind them, you can see which computer application they are currently testing.
Virtual art museum put to the test, International Museum Day 2023, photo: Kunsthalle Bielefeld
Cube figures and colorful patterns of different sizes can be seen on a screen on the wall. Two young women stand in front of it with VR headsets in front of their eyes. They appear to be moving their arms in gestures.
The screen in the background shows: Colorful patterns are being enlarged here. In the Virtual Kunsthalle, users can change objects and get creative together. Photo: Kunsthalle Bielefeld
Two people are standing in a room with shelves of folders on the walls. The girl and the man can be seen from behind. The man holds a VR headset in front of his eyes.
Let's get real at the Bielefelder Nachtansichten, 27.04.2024
Two white women are standing in front of a bookshelf. The one in front is wearing a VR headset and gesticulating with her hands, in which she is holding controllers. The woman in the back seems to be talking to her and is smiling.
Let's get real at the Bielefelder Nachtansichten, 27.04.2024
Eine junge Frau in einem Kunstmuseum. Sie trägt ein Virtual Reality Headset und schaut in unsere Richtung. Sie hat gute Laune.
Let's get real. April 2023, Photo: Kunsthalle Bielefeld
A white woman and a white man hold VR headsets in front of their eyes and a controller in each of their left hands. They are standing on a wooden floor in front of a wall with a screen attached to it surrounded with blocks of text.
Preparations for the launch of the Virtuelle Kunsthalle on 3.5.2023, photo: Kunsthalle Bielefeld