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We do not conceive educational exhibits in museums without interaction. COVID and its new normal makes us rethink how to generate that interactivity in a safe environment for the visitor without neglecting learning by playing.

Earlier this year, the unforgettable 2020, we were wrapping up our very first exhibit for Palma Aquarium, ‘The blue desert’, to be launched during easter. Together with an amazing team of creators we dedicated a great amount of work to produce a unique story supported by original graphics and illustrations, information cured for curiosity awakening, striking replicas of animals, fun didactic animations, games and much more. Visitor-exhibit interaction and engagement was our main building block for everything we developed.

Then, COVID happened and the world froze inevitably to a new challenging situation. Things paused, then got postponed, and then needed to be re-thought. The need to adapt to a new normal became a ‘must’, not less so for exhibit design.

Clearly, everything we designed then to be touch, manipulated, played with, needs now a second third and fourth thought before implementing. The easy way out? avoid user-exhibit interaction. Not an option for us, so the challenge we face now is: how to design interactive exhibits that comply with health protocols and keep visitors engaged and actively learning?

At the studio we frequently use creative problem solving techniques to find crazy-innovative and adaptive solutions to the design challenges that we are constantly working on – and I must admit I take any excuse to call for a brainstorming session -. So I called this one the ‘Interactivity in times of COVID’ challenge and went on working on it using an attribute listing approach and the SCAMPER tool in the context of the specific exhibit that we needed to adapt at the moment.

Shall we go over the steps together?

First I visually ran through the exhibit plans, identified and listed all the components that required the visitor to engage in physical contact to interact and therefore needed to be re-thought, I classified them as:

  • Language selection buttons
  • Touch screen interactives
  • Object / animal replicas
  • Readers corner
  • Touch games
  • Flip and rotatory boards
  • Magnifying glasses
  • Photo calls

And now they key questions…

Next, I applied the SCAMPER framework to each one of my list components. SCAMPER stands for Substitute, Combine, Adapt, Modify, Put to other use, Eliminate, Rearrange. This 7-step method allowed me to work around each component that needed to be re-thought, posing systematic questions to encourage new and fresh ideas. To see the tool in action I will apply it to the first component of my list:

Component #1 Language selection buttons. Browse through the tabs to explore the questions that came out of the SCAMPER tool in our specific context.

What else, instead of buttons, can serve for language selection?
Who / What else can select the language for the visitor?
Are there other ways language can be selected?
How can we automatize this process?

How can we bring together the visitor and their language?
How can I combine all languages in the same screen / view?

What other situations resemble this one?
What other solution can be adopted for this one?
What could be copied?

Can you change the button for another contactless element?
What features can be maximise / minimise?

What could be other uses?

What can you eliminate from the language selection system?
How can we get rid of buttons?

Can components of the language selection system be interchanged?
Is there another possible layout for language selection buttons?

As you can see, some questions are redundant and some others do not apply so well to this specific component. Yes, that will happen. The value of this tool lies on guiding us systematically and deliberately towards solutions from different perspectives.

Let’s ideate…

Just take the general idea in the previous example, go back to the questions and systematically ask them for each of the attributes that we listed at the beginning. After this you will end up with a good set of potential solutions for each item. 

Very important for ideating: forget about judgement and evaluation at this time, any idea is valid and the more the better. Here is a resume of the ideas that came up during our brainstorming session:

  • Have voice command recognition for interacting with screens

  • Give an armband to visitors for contactless language recognition

  • Substitute hand buttons for feet pedals

  • Movement command recognition for digital interactive games

  • Main language on all elements of exhibit units with translations in the exhibit brochure

  • Have a guided tour where just the guide interacts and shows to the visitors

  • Replicas can be mounted head level and interacted with through pedals to light interest areas

  • Visitors can use their own mobile devices to access information like readers corners and even play games

  • Augmented reality through visitors devices for interacting with replicas in the exhibit area

  • Use holograms instead of objects and replicas

  • Use audiovisual projections instead of objects and replicas

  • Give an interactive object to each visitor to play with along the exhibit

  • Pedal/walk through the virtual exhibit with a hands off bicycle interacting with its elements

  • Play in a loop he different translations on animation screens

  • Have an audio guide device to go through the exhibit on the visitors own language

  • Interact with the objects and replicas using touch gloves that are collected and handled at the end of the tour

  • Interactive actions that imply parts of the body other than hands: bum, elbow, feet, knew

And so it goes… We ended up with a list of ideas of all sorts, some crazier than others, but even sometimes those crazy thoughts opened the door to associations and even more solutions. It is clear that at this point we are playing around as much as we can and opening up to all possibilities, we are ideating and we love it!

The next step is to converge on the best ideas and come back to our reality with them: evaluation. We will now need to take all the limiting factors that might come along into account, which usually resume to time and budget but also other important human factors in the cultural exhibit design context.

There are, of course, other useful techniques and systematic ways to help us during the evaluation phase and surely this will be the topic of an upcoming blog post. For now, I hope you enjoyed the journey of brainstorming together and, if you followed this tool to generate ideas for your own design challenge, feel free to share with us your insights. We would love to hear it!