Visual Exploration of Australian Prints and Printmaking

Ben Ennis Butler, Australia

Published paper: Visual Exploration of Australian Prints and Printmaking

The Australian Prints and Printmaking website ( provides a gateway for information on printed images from Australia and Pacific region. The website contains rich data on more than 48,000 works; 20,000 artists, 8000 exhibitions, 3000 galleries and over 9000 associated references. The works are predominantly from the National Gallery of Australia’s collection. Access to this vast collection has traditionally been through a search based interface.

This paper will present a set of recently launched experimental interfaces that encourage open-ended exploration within this collection. These novel web based tools aim to support exploration, discovery and interpretation in this culturally significant collection. They draw upon previous work with archival and museum collections and demonstrate alternatives to the dominant search-based paradigm of collection access. These tools encourage discovery by emphasising relationships within the collection and providing displays that are denser and richer than conventional web pages.

In setting out to create rich visual interfaces to a large digital collection, the project uncovers a number of challenges and considerations. It operates in a field between dynamic web design and online visualisation, where techniques and practices are still forming. A “data dense” display challenges conventions of API development, while delivering in the browser presents both opportunities and risks.

This work is part of a conceptual context that Mitchell Whitelaw characterises as ‘generous interfaces’. Whitelaw argues that ‘the task-based paradigm embedded in information retrieval is increasingly out of step with our ever-more-ubiquitous, casual, and everyday experiences of information systems’. This view is shared by Marian Dörk, who introduced the ‘Information Flaneur’ model as an alternative approach to task-based information seeking, one that leads to more positive information experiences. The ‘information flaneur’ is able to curiously and critically move through information landscapes and creatively construct meaning as they go. The leisurely curiosity of information seeking is increasingly important and we value play and pleasure in support of engagement and discovery.

Dörk, M., Carpendale, S., & Williamson, C. (2011). The Information Flaneur: A Fresh Look at Information Seeking. Proceedings of the 2011 Annual Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (pp. 1215–1224). Presented at the CHI 2011, Vancouver, BC, Canada: ACM.

Whitelaw, M. (2012). Towards Generous Interfaces for Archival Collections. Presented at the International Council on Archives, Brisbane. Retrieved from