Preference engines guide us daily as we move through the world. They suggest products, services and information. They give shape to our experiences, behaviours and choices. The news you read, the music you listen to, the clothing you buy, the video you watch, and the information you seek were probably offered by a preference engine. In this sense, we have all become data within a massive artificial intelligence that tirelessly monitors our activities with the intent of gauging our interest and engagement.

Curiously, most art galleries and museums have actively avoided the type of monitoring that is required to make accurate predictions around visitor preference. Some galleries monitor attendance and ticket sales—occasionally taking user surveys or consulting with focus groups—but artificial intelligence provides us with some new options.

We commissioned Creepers as a tool to track visitor movement and attention in this exhibition space. As visitors enter this portion of the exhibition, they are tracked by human detection software that assigns them an individual number and colour; and their movement is tracked and displayed on a nearby monitor with a coloured line that marks their path in real time. When they stop to look at an object or image, a slowly growing concentric circle marks the place and duration of their pause. With this simple tool, we can easily gauge visitor behaviour: do people look at everything in the room or only a few select things? What’s the path of their movement? Do they pause to look at an artwork or read a label? How long do they stop? Which works attract the most attention? Which attract the least?

Text To Speech

This interactive encounter with visitor tracking is the result of a collaboration with Vancouver’s Centre for Digital Media, under the direction of Larry Bafia. Graduate students in this program worked as a team to design, program and produce this wall.

Many thanks to that talented team:

  • Mary Wilson: Project Manager, UI/UX Designer
  • Shruti Sharma: Project Manager, UX Designer
  • Yuri Wu – Artist / UX Designer
  • Cindy Shi – Software Programmer
  • Min Kyu Choi – Software Programme
  • Jason Elliot – Faculty Advisor

  • Cindy Shi contributed additional post-production programming support.

    The Centre for Digital Media was founded in 2007 and is a unique graduate program whose degree is imprinted with the seals of its four partner institutions: University of British Columbia, Emily Carr University of Art + Design, Simon Fraser University and British Columbia Institute of Technology.

    Creepers, 2021–22, interactive data visualization installation