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A Concept For Chatbot: “Sanelma”
Building engaging relationship between the work
of art and the exhibition visitor

Sanelma Chat Bot

The Concept – A fictional person to talk to in the museum
Our chatbot is a virtual person, with whom the user communicates in writing (typing on a keyboard) in the context of a museum exhibition. Basically, the chatbot provides background information concerning a certain piece of art in certain exhibition. In the case of the exhibition ”Images of Urban Finland” the prototype of the concept will be tested with Sulho Sipilä’s painting “Skating Rink” from the year 1932.

The chatbot is not a teacher nor a museum guide, but a fictional, yet realistic person belonging to the era of the painting it is associated with. This character is a full persona, posessing her own social networks, personal taste, sharp opinions and activities.
testing the chat bot

Sanelma Technical Specifications
Sanelma compares the user's input with the keys in string vector. First it tries to find a matching pair for the substring of the key. If it doesn't find it, it compares the separate words from the user's input string with the key values. Sanelma has a counter, which checks if the same reply has allready given. While there are different responses to the certain key value, Sanelma chooses the one, which has the lowest counter value. If there is no match Sanelma uses responses from the default phrase list. Sanelma's GUI includes picture data bank, from where it chooses appropriate mood/situation picture if user's input matches to the certain keywords.

Programming Environment
Java 1.4 JDK. Runs as an application in the computer's Java Virtual Machine (JVM) thereby needs Java Runtime Environment (JRE). Application has a graphical user interface (Swing). Artificial Intelligence (AI) Application Sanelma is an educational communication environment and it utilizes vocabulary, which is based on prepared key/value pairs. Definition: Artificial intelligence (AI) is the study of how to create a computer that can "think" like a human being. See also expert systems and machine learning.

Objectives for the application: Attract, Engage, Motivate, Activate and Satisfy
The concept as such consists of a combination of the chatbot and the painting it relates to. This concept can be applied to various different cases: different pieces of arts and different chatbot characters.

The Case of Sanelma
Sanelma is currently designed and its character is developed in a way to engage the target audience of the Finnish museums (especially for the Images of Urban Finland exhibition). This is why Sanelma is a 26-year old woman from the Helsinki of the 30´s. She is a joyful, amusing, intellectual, modern woman. She has a wide social network and she likes to quote other people. Through Sanelma, the viewer is therefore able to “meet” a whole array of different people that made up the crowd of the 30’s in Finland. The viewer can immerse herself in the actual life of the epoch depicted by the piece of art. In that sense, there is a conversation that establishes itself between the piece of art, the chatbot and the user.

The Target Audience and The Context
The chatbot is to be placed in the art museum’s exhibition hall, next to the piece of art that it is related to. The target audience are the visitors of the exhibition, mainly middle aged, well educated women. Defining the target group is based on the user study done by Finnish National Gallery. Other groups, for example schoolchildren, are nevertheless also taken into account, especially when defining keywords for the chatbot.

Educational Objectives – Content
Through the conversations with Sanelma, the user can understand artist Sulho Sipilä’ s main motifs and themes for his paintings, namely, the urban milieu of Helsinki. The conversations with Sanelma illuminate the background of the art of Sulho Sipilä, the urban culture of Helsinki. The city for him was a symbol of youth and freedom. He used to look out from his apartment window in Viiskulma, Punavuori and paint the scenes he saw.

The user can also get an idea of the set of values of 30’ s Helsinki and Finland, as she gets acquainted with Sanelma and chats with her. Hints about the changes in the life of women in the 30’s as well as the changes in the intellectual atmosphere in Finland, transpire through Sanelma’s dialogue. The user, through the conversation with Sanelma, might realise for example how in the 30’s, nationalism turned to internationalism, and National Romanticism had to fade in front of city optimism. These are all themes that also transpire through Sipilä’s painting. The method of providing information: quoting Sanelma’s social network consists of different persons. She has three boyfriends, aunt Hedvig (Hetta) and mother. Sanelma’s neighbour is artist Sulho Sipilä with his wife. By quoting these characters Sanelma tells vital things and details about the life in Helsinki in 1930’s.

The Art Pedagogical Objectives

The goal is to engage the user to find out the facts from the background of the art work.

Pedagogical Point of View – Problem based learning
The user has the feeling that she/he is creating a sort of mental image of how the epoch of the painting was. The interaction with the chatbot provides a personal relationship to Sulho Sipilä´s art. The user gets the feeling of leading the conversation. Using the chatbot technology the dialogue between the user and the chatbot is natural, as haphazard as the live speech of human beings. Through associations, the user creates new information. The user gets to understand, that Sanelma is a neighbour of Sipilä and therefore knows him well. Sanelma might very well be one of the characters in Sipilä’s paintings.

The Characters and their “missions”

The characters are well defined and they have clear missions in their life. Mission means here their motivation, their raison d’etre. The Epoch, becomes evident trough explicit characters. For example, the city-optimism of 1930, urban culture with jazz, silk stockings, rhythm, machines, as well as the change in the meaning of art: from the creator of national unity to individualism, modernism, kubism.

Sanelma’s mission is to make up her mind, getting married or not and choosing the husband among three boy friends, Olavi, Armas and Imari. Sanelma is 26-year office employee. She has a professional training, 3-year school of economics. Sanelma is socially aware, modern young woman. But she respects her elders too. Sanelma lives with her auntie Hetta in Punavuori. Sanelma had a right to vote in the election for or against prohibition in 1931 (she voted against - Alcohol shops opened in the spring 1932).

Explicit characters, who represent certain values and ways of life
Hedvig or auntie Hetta
: Hetta is a widow who has an apartment in the same building as Sulho Sipilä and his wife. Auntie Hetta loves Romanticism in art, golden era of Finnish art, beautiful landscape scenes. There is nothing worth painting in the city, she think. Hetta is worried about Sanelma; a girl of that age should get married.

Sanelma’s mother is a widow and lives in the country. She has asked her elder sister Hedvig to take care her daughter.

Olavi, one boy fiend is a dandy, journalist. He has published small essays from Paris and Berlin. He has given silk stockings to Sanelma and taught her to smoke, to love jazz and dance. Olavi is dark haired with small moustache. He uses hair crème with cotton club style. Olavi loves kubism, Modernism, he is a close friend of modernist writes like Mika Waltari (Sinuhe, the Egyptian) and literary group called Tulenkantajat.

”Jazz. Banjos, drums, saxophones...Blacks with grins on their faces... Refrains praising Tahiti, Congo, and Batavia, brown Dinah, and black Bimba...(...) Jazz was playing bare backs and arms and silk stocking covered legs; - red flames before eyes blurred by bare skin and a flask splashing in the backpocket. Jazz played a big question for the young: will you take this? Will you experience me and become my lord? Will you take it?... - And a miracle happened. Jazz started to play a victory fanfare!" -- Olavi Paavolainen Nykyaikaa etsimässä (In Search of the Present, 1929)”

Armas, another boyfriend is an engineer, rich heir, machine enthusiast, radio amateur, total abstinence, sport minded. Armas works in Hietalahti dock. He has a new car. He is also a member of a skating club and just now he had asked Sanelma to join him to skating rink.

Ilmari, the third boyfriend is a poet, student of philosophy of art, studies Russian formalism and admires Marc Chagall (like Sulho Sipilä didas well). He speaks about modern poetry, translates poets to literary journals (is the way to earn some money). He will probably enter to work in a publishing house or at a school.

Working group MediaLab, UIAH:
Concept Design: Joanna Saad-Sulonen, Marjo Mäenpää, Tarja Toikka
Eva-Kaisa Nojonen, Teriina Lindblom
Script for dialogue (draft): Joanna Saad-Sulonen,
Marjo Mäenpää, Tarja Toikka
Adviser, dramaturgy, chatbot technology: Leena Saarinen
Technical design and programming: Jyrki Heinonen
Visual design, UI drafts: Joanna Saad-Sulonen, Tarja Toikka
Project coordinator: Marjo Mäenpää
Adviser, keywords for the teenage users: Tuuli Mäenpää (13 years)

contact working group:


Ongoing and coming


History, news:



Finnish National Gallery:
Sulho Sipilä