Paleo Journey

An Interactive Paleolithic Cave Art Experience. Using the User Experience (UX) Design Process to Develop An Interactive and Immersive Paleolithic Cave Art Exhibit Suitable for Children Between Five (5) and Seven (7) Years Old.


Most European caves containing Paleolithic cave art paintings (dating from approximately 10,000 – 50,000 years BP) are no longer accessible to the general public, and their visitor centers often require lengthy travel for tourists. In addition, the interactivity associated with these exhibits largely focus upon computer screens, and not a tactile interface. This Thesis project seeks to create a prototype of a tactile interface on a mock cave surface using projection mapping and motion tracking.

In developing this exhibit, the user experience (UX) design process was used as a methodology for defining, researching and co-designing for a particular user segment. While this Thesis only focuses on the users between the ages of five (5) to seven (7) years old, it can be used as a model for other user segments.

In researching and testing prototypes with children from this age cohort, it was determined that young children have visual-spatial development issues that hinder their ability to identify common animals in static cave art such as lions, rhinos and bison. After viewing the same cave art animals in motion graphics, 100% of all children were able to correctly identify the animal types.


Panel of Rhinos from Chauvet Cave (Ardreche, France) shows additional outlines of the body and multiple horns, an example of proto-animation.


Walk cycle analysis by the author based on photography works of Edward Muybridge. Images were compiled and manipulated in Photoshop and After Effects, then exported as an animated GIF sequence.


Mastadon painting from Ruffinac (France).


European Bison painting from Altamira cave (Spain).


Museums can sometimes be difficult destinations for children. As parents, we want to expose our children to culture, art and history, but the exhibits often fall short of expectations of both parents and children. In an attempt to make the exhibits as widely accessible as possible, information is often watered down so that older children look at it as being, ‘for babies.’ Other exhibits go in the other direction, making exhibits so text and information heavy that younger visitors cannot engage with the material. Still other exhibits, in their quest to be more interactive, rely on interactive gimmicks that have little more educational material than a game of Pac-Man.

Poor exhibit design for children is everywhere if you only look for it. Some of the most common examples include: kiosks and displays that are too high or too low; material written at reading or interaction levels that are not suitable for children, and exhibits that don’t account for the vast range of developmental differences in children. It is as though these exhibits talk down to children rather than treating them as equals.

When a critical analysis of museum exhibits is taken, it is clear that in many cases, the intellectual and emotional needs of the users are completely ignored. Exhibit designers often replace empathic analysis of user needs with their own biased ideas and presumptions. This violates one of the most basic rules of design stated by Frank Chimero, “People ignore design that ignores people.” (Lowdermilk 2013)

This Thesis seeks, in part, to add to the general conversation about the design process for exhibits and use methodologies and strategies employed in User Experience (UX) design. This goes beyond the requisite surveys and demographic analysis to include contextual inquiry, affinity diagrams, paper prototypes, digital prototypes and ultimately resulting in a collaborative co-design process with the intended user group.

Problem Statement

Due to their fragile nature, and the need for preservation, most Paleolithic Cave Art found in the caves of the Southern European continent (modern day France, Spain, Germany and Italy) are not accessible to the general public. As a result, models of the caves have been made into museum exhibits in locations near the original cave sites such as Lascaux in and Chauvet caves in France. (Ministère de la Culture et de la Communication de France 2010) (Ministère de la Culture et de la Communication de France 2016) While this helps to bring these magnificent artworks to visitors, these exhibits are stationary, and most do not travel, thereby limiting access to an immersive experience only to those with the means to travel to Europe to visit the cave museums and visitor centers.

To help bridge this gap, many of these cave sites have online tours available, however they lack both immersive and tactile qualities that visitors, especially children, generally report as being the most preferred and engaging type of museum exhibits.

As an added complication, young children between the ages of five (5) and seven (7) have a wide range of developmental variability including visual-spatial limitations, abstract thinking limitations, and reading abilities which can inhibit their ability to appreciate the artwork or put the artwork into context. As a result, this segment of exhibit visitors would quickly lose any interest in the exhibit.


Develping this Thesis required intense study of Upper Paleolithic Cave Art, painting practices of that perior and an exploration of potential ways to engage young visitors in ways that would be age and developmentally appropriate for children whose abstract cognitive thinking and reasoning skills were limited.


Sketch and ideation work.


Timeline for thesis development and execution. While most was completed on time, an extra semester was required for writing and the Thesis was completed in December, 2017.

Situation Analysis

Currently there are numerous ice age related museums and cave visitor centers located throughout Southern Europe. Cursory Internet research of existing museum and visitor center websites of this area include: Prehistory Museum (Liège, Brussels), Krapina Neanderthal Museum (Krapina, Croatia), Prehistory Museum of Soultre (Soultre-Pouilly, France), International Center of Prehistory (Les Eyzies-de-Tayac, France), Isturitz, Oxocelhaya and Erberua Caves (Saint-Martin d’Arberoue, France), The Museum of Neanderthal Man (La Chapelle aux Saints, France), Museum of Prehistory (Blaubeuren, Germany), Neanderthal Museum (Mettmann, Germany), Paläon Research and Experience Center (Schöningen, Germany), Archaeopark Vogelherd (Niederstotzingen-Stetten, Germany), Fumane Cave (Valpolicella, Italy), Espai Orígens (La Noguera, Spain), Museum of Human Evolution (Burgos, Spain), Museum of Altamira (Cantabria, Spain), Caves of Santimamiñe and Bizkaia Museum of Archaeology (Bizkaia, Spain), Chauvet Cave (Ardèche, France), Lascaux Cave (Montignac, France).

These museums and visitor centers all share this same problem of needing to restrict access to the very thing that they are entrusted to make available to the public. A traveling exhibit showcasing some reproduction panels from Lascaux cave have been traveling around the world, however, the exhibit has had limited touring of only three (3) locations in North America, and a handful of other locations between 2013 and 2017. The majority of the cave exhibit consisted of installations of model cave panels and accompanying artifacts with a few interactive kiosk terminals. (Dowson 2017) (History 2013) The exhibit did use projection mapping to identify the outlines of artwork, however, it did not use projection mapping as a way to demonstrate animation in cave art nor did it use real time touch interactivity on the cave surfaces with projection mapping.

Thesis Proposal and Modifications

The original Thesis proposal is included in this documentation as Appendix A. The initial proposal was to create exhibit interactions for a range of user groups. However, during the development phase of the project, it became clear that addressing the research and development needs for multiple user groups would become an overwhelming task better suited for a team of UX Designers rather than a single person. For this reason, the scope of the proposal was modified to focus on a single user group (children between the ages of five (5) and seven (7) years of age).

During the initial work children at the World of Inquiry School #58 in Rochester, New York (USA), it became apparent that children in the Kindergarten classes had unique developmental needs that were not observed in children from the 3rd and 5th grade classes. Subsequent literature review and interviews reinforced these as more than just anecdotal findings as children between ages five (5) and seven (7) years of age experience wide ranging and dramatic cognitive differences in brain development, particularly in the areas of spatial perception. Bezrukikh and Terebova point out in their 2009 study that, “All [Visual Perception] components rapidly developed between five and six years of age; considerable changes in visuomotor integration and visuospatial perception were observed between six and seven years of age.” (Bezrukikh and Terebova 2009) idea evaluation and needs analysis The needs analysis began with a review of existing visitor centers, traveling exhibits, and museum associations. Contact and discussions were also initiated with Katrin Hieke of Ice Age Europe (http://www.ice-age-europe.eu), a non-profit network of European heritage sites, museums, visitor centers, and cave art replicas such as the Museum of Altamira, the Neaderthal Museum, and the Ekainberri museum.

Ms. Hieke stated that network members have access to traveling exhibits, and are always looking for ways to reduce expenses, improve portability, increase visitor engagement, and find new ways to improve exhibits. While Ice Age Europe was not involved in the development of this Thesis project, these constraints were used as a basis for development. (Parrillo 2016) subject matter research

The literature review produced a wealth of information about the history and controversies surrounding cave art discoveries, and the eventual authentication of the artworks during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Renowned archeologist Jean Clottes focused his life’s work to Paleolithic art and archaeology and has two seminal treatises on the subject including a large full color book aptly titled Cave Art which covers both carved objects (portable art) as well as cave art (parietal art). (Clottes 2010) Now retired, Clottes summarized his lifetime of discoveries in a 2011 book recently translated from French to English and simply titled What is Paleolithic Art? (Clottes 2016)


The initial Thesis proposal ideation idea worked solely with flat screen projectors that would provide a visual narrative of the exhibit.


The project later developed into a projection mapped interface on a fabricated wall surface.


Screenshot from the online interactive cave exhibit for Lascaux. The exhibit allows visitors to take a virtual walk through the caves, but the quality of the experience is limited by the technology that was available at the time of the original scans in the late 1990s.

User Experience (UX) Process

Comparative Analysis

In researching the existing museums and visitor centers of Europe specializing in Cave Art, there were none that offered a tactile interactive approach to the exploration of cave art. Most caves are under strict control, and are often owned and/or controlled by government agencies such as the Ministry of Culture, as is the case with both Lascaux and Chauvet caves located in France. (Ministère de la Culture et de la Communication de France 2010) (Ministère de la Culture et de la Communication de France 2016)

In most cases, separate reproduction models of the caves were constructed to provide visitors with the experience of exploring the art. However, these are expensive undertakings costing millions of Euros (Jones 2015) and requiring visitors to travel to often remote areas. In addition, many of the cave websites offer online video tours, but are difficult for users to see details up close, and don’t allow for users to interact with specific art panels for additional information. (Ministère de la Culture et de la Communication de France 2010) (Ministère de la Culture et de la Communication de France 2016)

In addition, a small scale touring exhibition of Lascaux traveled the world to ten locations (Bordeaux, Chicago, Houston, Montréal, Brussels, Paris, Switzerland, South Korea, and Japan) between 2013 — 2017. However, the exhibit only featured a few reproduction panels and does not have any interactive components. (Dowson 2017) (History 2013)

Within this space, lies an opportunity to make art more accessible, more portable, and interactive through the use of projection mapping an interface onto a cave wall surface.

User Research

Debra Gelman has been working with children in developing interfaces since 1993. In her book Designing For Kids: Digital Products for Playing and Learning, she advises dividing user groups for children by age:

2 — 4 years old

4 — 6 years old

6 — 8 years old

8 — 10 years old

10 — 12 years old

(Gelman 2014)

Subsequent research and experience working directly with children viewing cave art in this Thesis Project has shown, however, that a refinement of these categories will be necessary in order to accommodate the unique visual-spatial developmental needs of children between the ages of 5-7 years old.

World of Inquiry School #58, Rochester, NY

The administration, faculty, parents and students of the 5th, 3rd, and Kindergarten classes at the World of Inquiry, School #58 in Rochester, New York agreed to participate in the process of researching and designing an interactive cave art exhibit. Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) and The Rochester City School District (RCSD) have a master agreement for students performing research, and proper documentation of this research was provided to the school administration from RIT. All work, research and computer interface testing was performed in the classrooms, and under the guidance and supervision of New York State certified teachers Meghan Delahanty-Reddington, Amy Martin, Elizabeth Dauksha, and Principal Sheelarani Webster. Per the agreement, students were not allowed to be video recorded or photographed, and no personally identifiable information was allowed to be collected. The participating teachers selected students that represented a broad representation of the classroom’s socio-emotional, racial and ethnic backgrounds as well as educational aptitude.

During the initial information gathering and research phase of the project (January — May of 2017), students engaged in card sorting and were interviewed in pairs and presented with open ended survey questions so as to promote discussion between the students. This allowed for more open dialogue as the students would engage in conversation with each other rather than “performing” for an adult as suggested by Steve Portigal in his book, Interviewing Users: How to Uncover Compelling Insights.

Initial Interview Questions and Developmental Discovery Informing the Direction of the Thesis

The initial survey and card sorting activities were designed to gauge awareness and interest in Paleolithic Cave art, interaction preferences, and preferences for museum environments. The children were asked to provide a level of interest using a Likert scale (ranging from ‘Very Interesting’ to ‘Boring’) for various types of exhibits typically found in a museum (Egyptian Mummies, Explore a Pawnee Lodge, Explore a Paleolithic Cave, Medieval European Armor, Traditional Native American Dress, and Tribal Masks of the Pacific Northwest). Children were also asked about their experiences visiting museums, zoos, and other cultural attractions. This followed traditional User Experience (UX) best practices. (Spencer 2009) (Buley 2013)

This survey fell directly in line with common known psycho-social child development patterns for children in this age cohort. (C. Wood 2007)

Younger children (Kindergarten) were interested in more concrete types of exhibits such as Egyptian mummies and Medieval armor. Older children (3rd and 5th Graders) who have a more expanded view of the world and greater abstract thinking abilities were interested in the social and cultural exhibits.

In general, positive interest towards potential exhibits varied depending upon exposure and familiarity with the subject matter. Many of these topics were chosen with the knowledge that some of the potential exhibits were previously studied in the school curriculum.


During the Pre-Questioning phase, students were asked about their familiarity with various types of exhibits and museums they have expereinced. This presented a baseline understanding of the mental model children were using.


To better understand subject familiarity, a card sort study was performed where children in groups of three discussed their favorite types of cultural exhibits. Because of the developmnetal issues surrounding abstract thinking, all exhibit examples focused on physical spaces or physical objects the children could see up close.


This tracing of “The Sanctuary” of Trois Frères cave located in Ariège, France contains a number of different animals hidden within. Working with the kindergarteners provided an excellent opportunity to have them play a very challenging game to find the different animals (or body parts).


Based upon the work of Azéma and Rivère, it was theorized that perhaps the young students would respond better to animated images of the animals.


Using the photographic work of Edward Muybridge, a series of animated gifs were created to better study animal movements such as trotting and galloping to better understand how to animate the linework frame by frame.

Visual-Spatial Desvelopment Issues in Kindergarteners

In looking at the pictures of cave art with the children, some unexpected comments came up over and over with the Kindergarteners (all of whom were 5 years old) that did not arise at all with the 3rd (mostly 7 — 8 years old) or 5th graders (mostly 10 — 11 years old). The children in the Kindergarten often expressed great difficulty in deciphering the type of animals in the art (ie. rhinos, horses, bulls and deer). Instead, many children responded that they did not see any animals at all or else responded with incorrect answers. These stray comments would effectively change the course of this Thesis project and form the basis for the interface and interaction design patterns developed.

In discussing this anomaly with veteran current and former Kindergarten teachers Gail Garrett, Meghan Delahanty-Reddington, and Sheelarani Webster, all three agreed that their personal experiences working with children led them to believe that there are unique visual-spatial perception issues related to child development in Kindergarten age children.

Additional research on this topic revealed that developmental psychologists had, in fact, identified that between the ages of five (5) and seven (7) years of age, children’s brains undergo an intense development of visual-spatial perception. (Bezrukikh, Morozova, and Terebova 2009) (Bezrukikh and Terebova 2009) (Bütün Ayhan et al. 2015) In the responses received from the Kindergarteners at World of Inquiry, it appeared that the specific perception issues related to the texture of the rock against the artwork as well as an understanding of the line art as a representation of a known object. In graphic design terms, this would seem to relate to the gestalt concepts of figure-ground and closure as well as dominance and priority.

With this new information, the focus of the Thesis project now included a new set of complications for this specific user group. How do you teach children about Cave Art when their natural development limits their ability to see the images?

A Solution Within the Art Itself?

At another point working with the Kindergarteners in the Spring of 2017 at World of Inquiry, the entire class of approximately 20 children were presented with 11” x 17” copies of a complex cave art scene from a cavern known as “The Sanctuary” of Trois Frères cave located in Ariège, France. The image is a disarming scene with different animals in various positions, and no discernible “up” or “down” to the scene.

Children were instructed to work together as a group and circle any identifiable images they saw in the reproduction drawing. Adult facilitators assisted by writing notes on the papers as to what type of animal the children found. Most children found this activity very difficult, however, often one child would identify an animal and point it out to other children. When the specific image was pointed out, other children would agree and could then make out the image.

This activity reinforced the assumption that complex scenes of static cave art would likely prove to be frustrating and ultimately futile in engaging young visitors.

While thinking about the issues of perception in the user cohort, additional research into cave art continued and and uncovered recent work by anthropologists Marc Azéma and Florent Rivère, who theorize that many cave art images suggest an early attempt at animation on the part of the cave artists. Azéma and Rivère state in their writings that the flickering glow of torch lighting would provide an optical illusion that cave art images were in motion. This, they argue, is the reason why many quadrupedal animals were drawn with more than four legs extended in various positions of a walk / run cycle. (Azéma 2008) (Azéma and Rivère 2012b) (Azéma and Rivère 2012a)

This line of research led to an insight that perhaps the children would better respond to the artwork if it were animated. Perhaps an animation of the animals walking or running could force the perception and allow the children to see the artworks. It would also make an interactive cave exhibit more interesting to see animals in action rather than stationary images.

Affinity Diagrams

With the initial surveys performed and documented, Affinity Diagrams were created to help determine user sentiment. In this process, all comments were written on pieces of sticky paper and subsequently arranged and grouped so that particular ideas could be brought together and analyzed. In this way, unique ideas and concepts that initially seemed unrelated can be brought together and connections can be made. (Holtzblatt and Beyer 1998) (Holtzblatt, Wendell, and Wood 2005) (Holtzblatt and Beyer 2014)

User Personas

Following industry best practices, user personas were developed based upon previous research and surveys performed with children from the World of Inquiry, School #58. These documents helped to formalize and document the specific socio-emotional and cognitive needs and limitations of the user group. (Buley 2013)


The most important factors to understand the user personas was to fully understand the changing social, psychological, emotional, and educational needs of the children.


User Journey

With the user surveys, affinity diagrams and personas completed, it is possible to develop a model for the User Journey. This is a graphical representation of the social, emotional and intellectual issues a particular user group faces during an experience. While typically this is used for user interfaces, it is also apt for experiential and exhibit design. (Lichaw 2016)


This User Journey model focuses on the aspects of: Thinking, Feeling and Doing as children would enter the exhibit and interact with the artworks themself. Special attention was paid to the 'acclimation' stage that all children experience when faced with a new and strange environement (even if they are excited about it).

Exhibit Design and Flow

Design Solution: Creating an Immersive Environment with Projection Mapping

To best solve the needs outlined above, the final design solution proposed is to create a series of interactive surfaces using projection mapping. A version of this technique was previously employed by the Metropolitan Museum of Art to display the lost colors of hieroglyphics on Egyptian art. (Barone 2016) While this particular example was not an interactive display, the use of projection mapping provided visitors with a new appreciation and a new perspective on the artworks. By incorporating visual tracking software such as Kinect or Open CV, the exhibit could be made interactive. (Giorioebrary, Inc 2013) (Segal 2009)

By using projection mapping onto a mock cave wall surface, users could interact with the cave images without concern for degrading the artwork. Use of motion tracking could also be used to determine movements within the exhibit. The exhibit could be programmed to have animals follow visitors through the exhibit, and react to visitor movements.

With the addition of other sensors and microphones, the animals could also react to quick movements and loud noises with herd dynamics such as flocking. This would create a dynamic experience for visitors and engage younger visitors with a kinesthetic experience.

Early test for creating a projecton mapped animation using a combination of After Effects, Olga Panels, and MadMapper Software.


Ideally, a stratified exhibit would have interactables for children at lower levels, and those for older audiences at higher levels using progressive disclosure of information as appropriate for age corresponding to height.

Interactive Cave Walls

One of the most common problems with exhibits designed for children is that the touch points of interactivity are very often not located at heights accessible to small children. In some cases, it would seem as though exhibit designers have completely overlooked the physical needs of the specific group they are intending to design for.

In this proposed design solution, interactivity touch points would be designed at various heights and in accordance with the specific user needs. This would, for example, have interactivity areas for children between the ages of 5 – 7 years old at various heights that would be natural to that specific age group. This would mean that the design of the interaction patterns and reading levels should be in accordance with the specific user group, and distributed according to height. Specific usability accommodations such as a ramp should also be afforded for those in wheelchairs as well as persons of short stature. In addition, interactivity touch points should be designed to be dragged and moved up or down so that they may be shared.

Framer Prototype Testing

In December, 2017 a new group of Kindergarteners at World of Inquiry were asked to test a prototype interface built in Framer (framer.com). (n.d.) The prototype was divided into four specific sections: Cave Art Animals, Cave Art Animation, Making Paint and Hand Stenciling Techniques. Three of the sections included several animated GIFs of cave art in motion as well as explanations of the other related topics such as how to make of cave art paint. There was accompanying text explaining the images, however, none of the children were able to read. In all cases, the accompanying text was read to the children by the author.

The prototype was tested with fifteen (15) Kindergarten children all aged 5 years old. The prototype contained images of 9 different animals, with most reproduced from actual cave art. One part contained static animals including: a bear, a mammoth, a group of lions, a rhino, an owl, and a camel. Three animals (a bison, a horse and a group of two rhinos) were shown first static, and then as looped animated GIFs. The bison ad horse animated GIFs were drawn from Eadward Muybridge’s photographs of walk and trot cycles. (Muybridge 1957) The rhino were simply shown with the head moving up and down.

Children were asked to identify animals or to interpret the actions of paint making and hand stenciling, and their responses were collected. It should also be noted that the images were placed over a background image of a rock texture. This was done to make the images both more realistic and more complex for interpretation rather than a solid background.

User Testing and Analysis

Twelve children (all aged five (5) years old) participated in testing the interface. Seven (7) were male and Five (5) were female. In the ‘Cave Art Animals’ section, only static images of a bear, mammoth, lions, rhino, owl and camel were used. The average accuracy of identifying the animals was 45% with a median score of 45% In some cases deference was given if the child could describe the animal but could not remember the name, or where the identified animals were generally analogous (ie. tiger as opposed to lion).

In the ‘Cave Art Animation’ section, three different images were shown of a bison, horse, and rhinos respectively. First the static images were shown and then immediately afterwards, the images were shown with the animals running, walking, or with the head in motion. The bison and horse were drawn from modern photographs, and the rhinos were drawn from a painting at Chauvet cave in Ardèche, France.

For the ‘Cave Art Animation’ section, data was collected based upon animal identification accuracy for both the static picture, and the animated motion graphic. The average accuracy rate for the static images was 47% with a median score of 33.3%. The accuracy rate after viewing the animation was 100%. While the sample size is small, these results give a very strong indication that the use of animation in complex and somewhat abstracted images significantly improves image perception in five (5) year old children. This discovery further bolsters the argument for the use of moving images in any cave art exhibit where visitors include children between five (5 ) and seven (7) years of age.

Though a small sample size, 100% of all Kindergarteners were able to identify the animals when motion was used vs. when the images of the Cave Art were static. This shows the power of animated images upon young children who normally expereince visual-spatial perception issues at this age.