Museum Experience Redesign

Redesigning the Children’s Museum — to create interactive learning experiences in a fun and compelling way

Note: This is entirely a concept design for a class project and is not affiliated with any specific museum


The concept design

Note: The scenes in the video are staged for visual purposes and is not actual.

Introduction

Children’s museums really understands the needs of children; they are doing a great job on this learning process. Their mission is to create extraordinary learning experiences across the arts, sciences, and humanities that have the power to transform the lives of children and families.

In one of the museums we researched at, there was a space, the Planetarium that was essentially an IMAX movie theater in a dome that felt dated and was definitely being underutilized. This is the space where we wanted to work.

The concept of “building your own world” grew from this idea of “Play.” Play First, and learn through the process. When kids play, they run, jump, climb, paint, draw, sing, they’re very, very creative, very expressive.


But, a problem we found at the Museum was a disconnect between what was written in instructions, and what kids actually did.

The Design Process

Research

Research Goal

Contextual Inquiry

We performed a session of contextual inquiry (Contextual inquiry is a semi-structured interview method to obtain information about the context of use, where users are first asked a set of standard questions and then observed and questioned while they work in their own environments. Source — usabilitybok.org) to understand how children at the museum space actually interacted with the artifacts around.

Some of the research insights are as follows —

  • Kids tend to play in groups even if they don’t know each other.
  • They like to explore things, especially physical things(touch, smell, break, climb, play even destroy), compared to digital screen.
  • They have very less patience for too many exhibits.
  • Most visitors come as a family where there are usually more than two kids. A few group visitors were present as well.
  • It is difficult for parents to pay attention to the exhibits because they are busy at looking after the kids.
  • Parents need more support with guiding the kids.

Key Informant Interview

Key informant interviews are qualitative in-depth interviews with people who know what is going on in the community. The purpose of key informant interviews is to collect information from a wide range of people — including community leaders, professionals, or residents — who have first hand knowledge about the community. (Source: healthpolicy.ucla.edu/…/tw_cba23.pdf)

We conducted an interview with a graduate student majoring in Museum Studies. We aimed at understanding the nitty-gritty that goes behind designing exhibits and what drives certain design decisions.

Our major insight from the interview was that museum exhibits design decisions are made by working in tandem with local educational institutions that specify the curriculum for kids of different age groups. Based on the curriculum the exhibits are designed to match their learning in school.

Affinity Diagramming

We went back to our drawing board after the initial few rounds of research and decided to map each each designer’s insights and understanding as a team to visually represent and organize our ideas.

A section of our huge affinity board

Based on the research we arrived at a few goals for the project.

Project Goals

  • Improve the Geo-literacy of museum patrons — the ability to use geographic understanding and geographic reasoning to make far-reaching decisions
  • Deliver learning through play driven, implicit instruction — curiosity driven discovery
  • Catalyze information sharing and engaging exchanges between child and adult.

Design Insights

  • Most parents attempt to direct their children towards a specified area in the museum, with the hopes of educating them in the process.
  • Children are highly engaged with the presence of a live volunteer.
  • Exhibits with a physical narrator capture their attention.
  • Parents are largely responsible for maintaining peace between children that are being unruly or uncooperative with other kids.
  • Some adults are disinterested in being with their children at every exhibit, but prefer to watch from afar (someplace comfortable).
  • Volunteers make up nearly half of the museum staff and are active contributors in keeping visitors engaged and interested in the exhibits. They want to be utilized to help children learn and have fun.
  • Parents are more likely to join their children in an exhibit, when there is a stationed space for them to sit.

Design Ideation

After visiting the museum and getting an idea of the space, we formulated a strategy to ideate and sketch concepts.

Strategy

We aimed to explore the space of play — to create an inclusive, interactive and immersive environment that helps to create an experience that envelops one’s complete attention in a museum. We aimed to recreate an environment that is not only interactive but also conducive to learning.

A few of the problem spaces explored in the domain of play are as follows:

  • Adaptable surface that can shape-shift and create an environment that can replicate any given terrain.
  • A holographic display that can render places/monuments in a 360 view where one gets to view how the object looks from all directions.
  • Replicating architecture that brings wonders from across the world into a museum under one roof.
  • Creating an environment that responds to movement through kinetic stimuli and provides feedback through haptic responses.
  • An interactive guided tour of museums that are not just verbose but a simulation of events that occurred at the place that would create a felt-like experience as opposed to just hearing the events from a tour guide.
  • Use the depth of the space as timeline to show the history as a story

Sketches

We went crazy with our ideas and sketched out multiple redesigns of the existing space. Each concept had a unique selling point and also certain drawbacks which made us drop a lot of excellent concepts.

Below are a few sketches and concepts explained in the caption.

Sketch 1

Concept 1: A concept where the terrain shifts shape based on the changing controls. The controls would change the texture, shape and feel of the ground below them based on the settings made by the user on the control panel.


Sketch 2

Concept 2: This concept is similar to the first, except that the visitor does not physically experience the changes, rather just witnesses the formation.


Sketch 3

Concept 3: This concept aims at imitating the different atmospheric levels by taking the visitor in an elevator that elevates slowly to space. Through-out the journey in the elevator, visitors get to see various geological formations such as deserts, tides, land-formation, mountains etc.


Sketch 4

Concept 4: This concept aims at educating the visitors about the science of geomorphology. The space consists of four interactive desks that explains the formation different temperature patterns such as polar climate, temperate, tropical and so on. To actually experience and understand how the formation occurs, there are specific incubators that let users to step in, understand and actually feel the changes. The controller panel helps in setting various parameters that could possibly act as influencing factors that directly reflect the change in climate.


Sketch 5

Concept 5: This concept creates a 4D environment where the visitors get to play with tangible elements such as soil, water bodies, sand etc. The environment changes based on parameters which change over a set period thereby explaining all possible variations and climatic conditions. This sort of change educates the visitors about the factors that affect changes.


Sketch 6

Concept 6: This is the concept we decided to proceed with. This design encompasses a central globe and various individual terrariums. The visitors play with tangible objects that imitate soil, water, wind, and terrain surface. These are a part of individual terrariums where they also get to see the change and impact of their actions in a central area that consists of shape-shifting pistons that help mirror how land mass would change. These settings that are controlled in the terrarium is reflected onto the central globe. This central globe encompasses land masses created from all the terrariums thereby showing a complete picture and impact of the created areas on the globe as a whole.

Detailed Sketches

Taking concept 6 further, we sketched out the finer details of the terrariums and the central globe.

Terrarium Concept Design — Side View
Terrarium Concept Design — Top View
Terrarium Concept Design — High-fidelity
The complete exhibit — Multiple terrariums, the central globe. We decided to get rid of the central kiosk in our final design outcome.

Interactions

Designing the interactions was the most challenging portion of our design as we were shooting for a seamless interaction design that catered to attracting kids at the same time teaching them a few things about the environment.

Please watch the video above to understand all the interactions as we have very clearly explained how they take place in addition to the rationale for choosing the different objects that we did for enabling tangible interactions with the terrarium.

Storyboard of the different interactions

The interactions on the Terrarium

3D modeled space of the exhibit — the terrarium and the central globe.

Thank you for reading

Concept design by Adhithya, Kyle, Daisy and Yi Nie.

I am a grad student at Indiana University pursuing Masters in Human-Computer Interaction/design. You can follow me on Twitter — @adhithyarkumar or check my work at www.adhithyakumar.com