Hi, I’m Ben Ennis Butler (aka beneb) and I’m a PhD candidate in the Faculty of Arts and Design at the University of Canberra. My research revolves around building interfaces that encourage open ended exploration and discovery within cultural heritage collections. You can find aspects of my research and website development work on this site. Enjoy.

It’s done!

Finally, after 4.5 years, I have submitted my PhD! More information will follow after it has been examined, but in the meantime, here is the title and abstract:

Escaping the search box: Developing digital interfaces that encourage exploration and discovery in cultural heritage collections. 


Over the past decade there has been a huge push by cultural institutions to digitise their collection material and facilitate access to it on the Web. In the process of doing this, many galleries and museums have taken their existing catalogue style systems and replicated them online. Most rely on a keyword-based method that is targeted at a user who already knows collections, understands how they are structured and how to search them e ectively. There is little room for the non-specialist, the visitor who just wants to have a look around, to browse, explore and play. I ask, is it possible to create a digital collection access interface that allows exploration and discovery to occur?

Taking advantage of new technologies I have created six innovative and experimental interfaces using data from the National Gallery of Australia’s Australian Prints + Printmaking website and combined data visualisation techniques with modern web design methods to create new ways of accessing the collection. They emphasise relationships within the collection and provide displays that are denser and richer than conventional Web pages. Results from a mixed-method evaluation study show how the interfaces allow for serendipitous discovery and free-form exploration to occur in ways that are bene cial to the user.

In the development of these rich visual interfaces the research project addresses a number of challenges and issues, from the reliability of data to the limits of the Web browser and traditional evaluation techniques.

The research project demonstrates that it is possible to develop effective Web-based generous interfaces that encourage exploration and discovery within digital cultural heritage collections.

Here I am looking very pleased…


Explore nominated for DH Awards 2015

Exciting news!

My PhD work, Explore Australian Prints + Printmaking, has been nominated for a 2015 Digital Humanities Award.

It’s in the ‘Best Data Visualisation’ category, which is interesting in itself because I’ve always considered the interfaces to combine data visualisation and web design techniques rather then be considered a strict data visualisation. Nonetheless, it is nice to see the works sit amongst so many other great sites.

It’s listed as ‘Centre for Australian Art: Australian Prints + Printmaking’.

Voting is open until the 27/2/2016. You can vote, and see the other nominees, here.

The Timeline arrives

Following on extremely quickly from the Subjects Explorer comes my 6th, and final, generous interface for the Australian Prints + Printmaking collection. Presenting the Timeline…


The Timeline provides the user with an overview of the life of an artist or gallery, with their work, exhibition and reference data all available on the single page.


The three column display presents the exhibitions and references on the far right, the year alongside it and the works in the right column.


Clicking on a work thumbnail will open a larger view of the work whilst allowing it to be viewed within the context of other works from that period.


Clicking on an exhibition opens a detailed exhibition view. Information displayed includes: works by the selected artist; works by other artists; gallery information and a list of names of other artists in the show. Clicking on a name will allow you to refocus the timeline on that person.


See the timeline in action here: printsandprintmaking.gov.au/explore/timeline/

Technical information
Data is from the Australian Prints + Printmaking collection at the National Gallery of Australia. I retrieve it from AP+P using a custom API I’ve written specifically for this interface.
Website is built with AngularJS, HTML and CSS. Some useful grid help care of the Angular UI Bootstrap.

Subjects Explorer

The Subjects Explorer is live!

explore-subjects explore-subjects2 explore-subjects3

You can view it at: http://printsandprintmaking.gov.au/explore/subjects-explorer/

The Subjects Explorer is the 5th of 6 interfaces produced as part of my practice-led PhD at the University of Canberra. The interface allows the user to explore artworks from the Australian Prints + Printmaking collection based on the subject information contained within their catalogue reference. This information would normally only be visible upon accessing the individual work item. The Subjects Explorer aims to bring this rich information to the forefront, encouraging new ways of accessing the collection and allowing new discoveries to occur.

During the production and testing phase I was amazed at how many works appeared that I had never seen before. It’s great fun!

Technical information
Data is from the Australian Prints + Printmaking collection at the National Gallery of Australia
Website is built with AngularJS, HTML and CSS. Some useful grid help care of the Angular UI Bootstrap.