Thursday, July 19, 2012

The Questions We Ask

The questions we ask determine the answers we get.

The importance of questions seems pretty straightforward, but this week I've been working with teachers at the New York Hall of Science to help them come up with the best questions to ask their students to start design projects.  (We call the "prompts" or "frames.")

It's hard to come up with good design activity questions, but here are some tips I've gathered from working on the "Design Lab" project at the NY Hall for the past two years that are helpful when I'm thinking about framing exhibit experiences as well:

• Keep it short.  It's harder for visitors or students to respond when they're trying to hack their way through a tangled forest of words.

• Real world is really good.   If your framing questions have a real-life context, your visitors or students will become more easily engaged in the design problem or challenge.

• Start at the finish.  How will both you and users know whether they've been successful?  Having clear criteria helps students or visitors determine how they want to go after a design challenge.

•  Frame problems for divergent solutions.  Really juicy design or exhibit prompts offer end-users the opportunity to come up with many different types of good solutions instead of one right answer.

• Layer content, don't dump it.  There is a tendency for some teachers and exhibit developers (especially when dealing with science or technology related prompts) to "dump" all the content on the user right at the beginning of a design activity. 

A well-crafted design problem "layers" in opportunities for students or exhibit users to discover or seek out content information to help complete their problem solving.

I'm moving on to a new set of exhibit projects, but working with the entire Design Lab crew at the Hall of Science these past few years has really helped me think more deeply about how to work with visitors to create even more engaging and open-ended exhibit experiences.  I look forward to seeing what comes out of the Design Lab project in the future!

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