Design meets artificial intelligence to create a new visual search engine


New methods of searching the collections of galleries, libraries and museums across the country may soon be revolutionized by a visual search platform designed in collaboration with the University of Northumbria.

As the global industry moves towards presenting collections online, the Deep Discoveries project was launched to explore ways to create a computer vision research platform capable of identifying and matching images to through digitized collections nationwide.

The expertise of Dr Jo Briggs and Associate Professor Jamie Steane, of Northumbrian School of Design, were recruited to contribute to the collaboration between the National Archives, the University of Surrey and the V&A Museum.

Rather than typing a keyword into an empty search box, Visual Search uses a query image and computer vision artificial intelligence (AI) to match similar images from scanned collections based on properties such as color, pattern and shape.

Northumbria’s design team – consisting of Jo, Jamie and talented graduate Andy Cain – joined the project at a later stage to help with information sharing and user experience development.

Their challenge was to find ways to visually demonstrate AI reasoning and explain the platform’s search criteria.

Regarding the design process, Jo said, “We have developed animations to be shared via video calls to inform discussions on how best to represent fairly complex search functions in interface designs. “

Bernard Ogden, research software engineer at the National Archives, built the platform prototype.

He said: “The design process allowed us to reach a common understanding that allowed us to create a live prototype, taking into account the different perspectives between the teams involved in this multidisciplinary project. “

Jo and Bernard recently attended the annual conference of the Digital Research Infrastructure for the Arts and Humanities (DARIAH), this year on the theme of “Interfaces”, to present their results.

Project leader Dr Lora Angelova, head of conservation research and audience development at the National Archives, added: AI for the benefit of our audience.

Deep Discoveries is one of eight projects funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) ‘Towards a National Collection: Opening British Heritage to the World’ program. The five-year initiative aims to benefit the public and researchers by making heritage collections more accessible to all.

A short video to explain the design process was created and a prototype of the research platform has been developed.

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