Monday, June 26, 2017

Outdoor Creative Design Inspirations (Summer 2017 Edition)


As summer begins here in the U.S. the mind naturally turns to the glories of warm weather days spent outdoors.  So here are four outdoor-oriented projects to inspire creative design thoughts:

1) Monstrum
Why play in a playhouse, if you can play in moon rockets, submarines, giant snail shells, clown heads or Trojan horses? That's the question that motivates Monstrum, a group of designers and craftspeople creating unique playgrounds from their workshop in Copenhagen.  Click on over to the Monstrum website to see images of their playful and beautiful work.





2) Your Rainbow Panorama
Here's a bit of museum/exhibit/design inspiration that evokes light, and the sun, and endless horizons: artist Olafur Eliasson's architectural installation entitled  "Your rainbow panorama."

Situated on top of the ARoS Aarhus Kunstmuseum art museum in Aarhus, Denmark, Your rainbow panorama invites you to experience the familiar (a city skyline) in unfamiliar ways. Olafur Eliasson's creation consists of a 150-meter-long and three meter-wide circular walkway in glass in all the colors of the spectrum. 





3) One Day Poem Pavilion
Artist Jiyeon Song has created a sculptural structure that utilizes perforations carefully arranged throughout the top surfaces.  As light shines through the Pavilion's holes at different angles, legible text is created on the sidewalk underneath.  Different lines from a poem appear at different times of the day, due to the position of the sun.  What is super cool is that (again, due to the sun's position) one poem appears during the summer, and a different poem appears in the winter.






4) Miguel Marquez Outside
Michael Pederson is a street artist and photographer in Sydney, Australia. His blog Miguel Marquez Outside shows, among other projects, signs that Pederson has placed in public. They look official and offer rules, suggestions, and information about the area.

Many of Pederson's signs twist the traditional notion of informational signs (like those found in museums!)  I wonder how we could play with visitors' expectations in outdoor exhibits by using ideas like this?



If you find other inspiring and creative projects during your summer travels, send me an email with links, descriptions, and images so I can feature them in future ExhibiTricks posts!



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Saturday, June 17, 2017

Connecting My Dad and My Museum Career


Father's Day is a meaningful day for me, not only because I have four great kids, but because it gives me time to think about my father, Orlando Orselli, who died in 2001.  My dad certainly helped set many of my ideas about work and parenthood, and I'm thankful for that.

My dad worked most of his adult life for The Ford Motor Company, first at the Rouge Plant, and then at the World Headquarters building (The "Glass House") in Dearborn, Michigan.  He was a Stationary Steam Engineer, which basically means he worked with BIG boiler systems.

Even though he didn't go to college, my dad instilled a love for books and learning, and the importance of education, upon myself and my two younger brothers while we were growing up in Detroit.

Because he worked the midnight shift, he made time to go on school (or scout or Boys Club) field trips during the day and then take a nap before he would drive to work later that night. He thought it was important that my brothers and I helped him fix things around the house and knew the names and uses of the tools in his basement "workshop".

When people ask me how I got into the museum business, I am sure memories of the day when my father took me when I was little (by myself, without my mom and brothers, for some reason) to Detroit's "Cultural Center" to visit the Historical Museum (the streets of "Old Detroit"!) and the Children's Museum (things I could touch!) and the Institute of Arts (Mummies!) all in one long afternoon may have something to do with it.  Many, many family trips involved museums, or zoos, or nature centers.

Even though my career choice in museums might have puzzled my father a little bit, he always told me, and other people, how proud he was of the work I was doing.

Please never underestimate how important museums can be to people, especially kids and the adults they will become.

Thanks Dad!



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Saturday, June 10, 2017

Design Inspiration: "Nature's Reflection"


I love the elegantly executed installation "Nature's Reflection" by Brooklyn-based brothers and artists ICY and SOT.

Like many great design ideas, Nature's Reflection seems quite obvious after you see it, yet still creates a quite powerful and thought-provoking impression.




You can find out more about the entire range of ICY and SOT's work by clicking over to their website or Instagram account.

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Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Design Inspiration: The Balloon Artistry of Masayoshi Matsumoto


"Using familiar materials in unfamiliar ways" is one of my favorite definitions of creativity.

In that respect, balloon artist Masayoshi Matsumoto is a whirlwind of creativity!  I love his balloon "twists" on natural history and animals (a few of which are pictured here.)



Apparently, all of Matsumoto's sculptures are created using only balloons, with no additional markers or adhesives to highlight or hold things together.

How could you use ideas like these in science exhibitions (perhaps with other sorts of longer-lasting plastic or foam tubing) or even for museum events or fund-raising galas?




Click on over to Masayoshi Matsumoto's main balloon Tumblr site for more design inspiration, and then check out "latexbones" a site dedicated to making balloon sculpture skeletons!




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Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Is Your Museum Guilty of Weaselly Pay Practices? Answer These 6 Questions to Find Out!

I attended the excellent NYCMER (New York City Museum Educator's Roundtable) Conference yesterday.  Even though I enjoyed myself and learned a lot, discussions about museum pay and the relationship between museums and their workers, interns, and freelancers kept coming up that really bugged me.

It is shameful how many museums continue to underpay their employees, rationalize free internships, and skirt labor laws with their weaselly compensation practices.

So, based on my 2017 NYCMER Conference experience, I offer these six questions below -- for museum managers and administrators, as well as employees (or potential employees) to make sure YOUR museum sets a positive example for the field:


• Are your internships paid or unpaid?  (Every museum internship should be paid. Period. You can rationalize it any way you want, but if you are offering unpaid internships for the "experience" you are ripping people off, AND contributing to the lack of diversity in the museum field.)

• Do all your job listings list salary ranges? (If not, what are you ashamed of?)

• Is there pay parity between departments? (Do you really want to make the argument that development staff should be paid much more than exhibits or education staff?)

• Can your full-time staff actually support themselves on the salary you pay them? (Or do they need second jobs?)

• Do you delay (or "slow pay") contractors or freelancers? (Your institution expects work to be done in a timely way, so why shouldn't contractors have the same expectation about their pay?)

• Are you choosing employees because of their spouse's benefits, or deliberately holding down scheduled hours to avoid paying benefits?  (Not only are you skirting unfair labor practices if you are doing this, but you are a weasel if you are doing this!)


The museum industry prides itself in supporting high intellectual and social goals, so shouldn't it support basic rights around compensation for its workers as well?  Which of the areas in the questions above can YOUR museum improve on?


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Monday, May 15, 2017

3 Museum Projects To Support


After my recent cross-country, back-to-back, museum conference trips, I thought I would highlight three museum projects that can benefit from your support: Exhibition Journal, ExhibitFiles, and the Museum People's Tattoos blog.


Exhibition Journal

NAME (The National Association for Museum Exhibition) has recently renamed and redesigned its journal, now called Exhibition.

The latest issue is entitled "Designing Emotion" and contains some fascinating articles that detail unique approaches toward exhibition development practice. NAME makes available two articles from the current issue of Exhibition online, as well as complete digital access to past issues via the Exhibition Journal's online archive. Check out the current free articles by clicking these links: "Designing for Outrage" and "Core Emotion and Engagement in Informal Science Learning"

Of course, the very best way to access Exhibition is by becoming a subscriber.  You can find out how to become a subscriber by clicking this link (and you do not need to be an AAM member to become an Exhibition subsciber.)

Last, but not least, if you've recently seen an exhibition that you'd like to share with colleagues via my "Exhibits Newsline" column, just send me an email for details, so we can get your contributions into a future issue of Exhibition!


ExhibitFiles


Recently, one of my Twitter followers sent me a message lamenting the fact that the ExhibitFiles site seems to be languishing a bit.



What is ExhibitFiles you ask?  ExhibitFiles is a website (originally funded by the National Science Foundation) for museum professionals (and aspiring museum professionals) from around the world to post Reviews of exhibitions they've seen, or to post Case Studies of exhibition projects they have been involved with.  (There's even a category called "Bits" that lets you quickly post bite-sized observations about a particular exhibit element or feature you may have seen.)

ExhibitFiles is a great resource, but it needs active participation to grow. And the more ExhibitFiles grows, the more valuable it becomes to the entire museum field. So I'm asking every ExhibiTricks reader to choose a noteworthy exhibition you see this summer, and add an ExhibitFiles entry this summer. C'mon! Think of it as your "summer resolution"  (it's easier to keep than a New Year's resolution!)

So what are you waiting for?  Click on over to the ExhibitFiles website now!



Museum People's Tattoos



As if running the ExhibiTricks blog wasn't filling a very specialized niche, I also co-run a blog in an even more rarefied niche, called "Museum People's Tattoos."

It really is a funny small museum world.  When I saw my friend Beth Redmond-Jones' awesome Manta Ray tattoo on Facebook, I jokingly suggested that we start a blog called "Museum People's Tattoos."

As the blog intro states: "Many museum folks have a love for tattoos—their cultural significance, their artistic quality, their documentation of the natural world, and some, just for their own personal meaning. For years, we have talked about tattoos, the ones we want, the design, the stories behind them, and the artists who create them ... "

I really love reading about the tattoos and the stories behind them on the blog.  And isn't that what museums are about --- stories and stuff?

So if you'd like to contribute your own tattoo images and stories to the Museum People's Tattoos blog, feel free to send me an email. (You need to be a person who works with or in museums, but your tattoo does not need to necessarily be museum-related.)  C'mon and help Beth and I out! A museum people's tattoos blog doesn't run itself!



BONUS CONTEST!

If you've read this far, you are eligible to win one of two physical copies of the latest Exhibition journal on "Designing Emotion." All you need to do is subscribe to the ExhibiTricks blog by clicking on the link at the top right side of the blog page by May 30th.  (If you are already a subscriber, just send me an email with the subject "Journal Contest" by May 30th for your chance.) At the end of the month, I'll randomly choose one new subscriber and one email entrant to each receive a copy of the latest Exhibition journal. Good luck!

UPDATE: Congratulations to our two contest winners, Alicia V. and Margaret T.  Your copies of Exhibition are in the mail and making their way to you!


Don't miss out on any ExhibiTricks posts! It's easy to get updates via email or your favorite news reader. Just click the "Sign up for Free ExhibiTricks Blog Updates" link on the upper right side of the blog.

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Sunday, April 30, 2017

Cross-Country Conferencing!


I'm excited to be attending (and presenting at!) two of the largest museum conferences in the U.S. at the beginning of May.

This year the Association of Children's Museums (ACM) and the American Alliance of Museums (AAM) conferences are scheduled to happen nearly back-to-back with ACM's InterActivity Conference up first in Pasadena, and the AAM's Annual Meeting & Museum Expo following right after that in St. Louis.

InterActivity in promises to be a fun and action-packed meeting with Kidspace Children's Museum being the host venue.  In addition to all the other exciting sessions, I'm especially looking forward to sharing co-emcee duties with Margaret Middleton for the "Sound Bites" evening event on Wednesday, May 3rd from 7:30 to 9:00 PM in Ballroom A.

If you aren't able to attend InterActivity in person this year, keep track of the hashtag #IA17 on Social Media, and check out my own Twitter (@museum_exhibits) and Facebook feeds as I will be providing live updates and pictures throughout the InterActivity conference.


Then on to St. Louis, the home to one of my very favorite museums, The City Museum!

The AAM Conference is loaded with great events, but I would be remiss if I didn't encourage you to come to two events that I am presenting at.  The first is Design Trends: Phygital to Pokemon 
on Tuesday, May 9th, from 10:30-11:45 AM at 226 America's Center. 

I'll be joining my fellow speakers to present five different perspectives on key trends that are challenging and changing the way we design museum exhibitions. I'll be covering phygital museum experiences (physical/digital mashups) for my part of the session.


The second session I'm involved in during the AAM Conference is entitled How to Suspend Disbelief: Lessons Learned through Pop-Ups.  The session happens on Wednesday, May 10 from 11:15 AM -12:30 PM at 130 America's Center.  

For my part, I'll be talking about how I used pop-up museum techniques during my recent trip to Tunisia, and the lessons I took away from that experience.

If you can't attend the AAM Conference this time around, follow the ubiquitous #AAM2017 hashtag or my Twitter (@museum_exhibits) or Facebook feeds for live updates.

I look forward to seeing folks (especially ExhibiTricks readers!) on the conference circuit this spring!


Don't miss out on any ExhibiTricks posts! It's easy to get updates via email or your favorite news reader. Just click the "Sign up for Free ExhibiTricks Blog Updates" link on the upper right side of the blog.

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Monday, April 24, 2017

Which Stupid System Haven't You Changed Yet?


Not every system is a good system.  We set up procedures to more easily deal with recurring maintenance problems or customer service challenges or billing situations so that we can address things in fair and efficient ways, and then move on without another thought.

And then something like the horrible situation on United Airlines happens where, instead of employees thinking more carefully about a procedure or policy that has gone awry, they just blindly follow along until a paying customer gets dragged off an airplane, bloody and battered.

I was thinking about this just the other day when I dropped off an envelope at a local FedEx location on Long Island where I live. Inside was a visa application and my son's passport, so I was a little concerned, but the visa service company I was working with had provided a FedEx label for me to print out that was addressed to their offices in New York City.

Just a quick geography check here --- the FedEx store I dropped the envelope off at is located in Lynbrook, NY about an hour away by car or train from mid-town Manhattan (as you can see, on the map below.)


So you would think that a FedEx truck would pick up the envelope on Long Island, drop it off at a depot somewhere in Manhattan, and it would be delivered the next day, right?

Well, you might think that, but FedEx has a system that says when a package is marked "Express" it needs to first go to a regional FedEx location before it gets delivered. So instead of merely being driven from Long Island into Manhattan, my son's visa application merrily traveled from Long Island to Newark, New Jersey to King of Prussia, Pennsylvania to Memphis, Tennessee before being pointed toward an office building in the middle of Manhattan.  (Spoiler alert! The package did not get delivered the next day, but I did get to make the cool Google map at the top of this post showing its progress. )

In a modern world filled with algorithms, you would think something or someone in the FedEx system would have flagged this waste of time (and airplane fuel!)

While it's easy to shake our heads at the goof-ups of big companies like FedEx or United, what outdated or downright crazy systems are lurking inside our own smaller businesses?  And how can we get rid of (or change) those systems before we upset another customer, stakeholder, or loyal employee?


Don't miss out on any ExhibiTricks posts! It's easy to get updates via email or your favorite news reader. Just click the "Sign up for Free ExhibiTricks Blog Updates" link on the upper right side of the blog.

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Saturday, April 15, 2017

Hunting for Museum Easter Eggs



In honor of the season, here's an encore post about museum "Easter Eggs."  Enjoy!

Museum designers often add "Easter Eggs" to their work.  But not the brightly dyed or chocolate-y varieties --- these are more akin to the hidden "Easter Eggs" that you may stumble across (or deliberately search out) inside video games, crossword puzzles, or DVDs.

For visitors, it's fun to feel like you've found a little "secret" inside a museum building or exhibition, and for designers it's a little "trick" to reward visitors for carefully observing and examining things inside the museum.

"Exhibits as advent calendars" as Dan Spock has observed (to mix religious holiday metaphors a bit!)  So here are a few of my favorite museum easter eggs:

• The Hidden Cat: Starting with the picture at the top of this posting is the "cat" hidden in the atrium of the Science Discovery Museum in Acton, MA.  It's fun to point out to visitors, and it really reflects the playful nature of the building and exhibits inside.


• Secret Elves at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science: Artist Kent R. Pendleton worked on many of the Museum's dioramas, but supposedly he wasn't allowed to sign his name to his work.  Instead, Pendleton included little "elfin" figures hidden throughout many of the displays.  There's a great blog posting (with video) about Pendleton's retro easter eggs!






• The Magic House Mouse:  The "Magic House" Children's Museum outside St. Louis has some wonderful exhibits, but one of my favorite "hidden gems" is the tiny decorated mouse hole near the baseboards in one of the galleries.  If you were just whizzing around you might not ever see it, but if you're willing to get down on your hands and knees you might see (as in the photo below) a "presidential" mouse:





• The "Hidden Tunnel" at Casa Loma:  Casa Loma is a gigantic historic house outside Toronto that is filled with enough crazy details to keep even little kids interested during the self-guided tours.  One  of the things I remember from a family visit (nearly 40 years ago!) was the cool secret tunnel, nearly 100 feet long, that was hidden behind a pivoting wall section (just like in all those scary movies --- but this was real!)  that led to the Casa's underground wine cellar:




Of course some museums, like The City Museum, also in St. Louis, or the Museum of Jurassic Technology in L.A., are practically interlocking collections of "easter eggs" or in-jokes, but that's certainly one aspect that makes them so popular.

What are some of your most memorable "Museum Easter Eggs"?  Let us know in the "Comments Section" below!

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Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Review: The listening dimension


If Olafur Eliasson wasn't already one of the world's most interesting living artists, he would be my very favorite science museum exhibit developer.

Eliasson's elegant grasp of the connections between art and science are on display in his show entitled "The listening dimension" currently on view at the Tonya Bonakdar Gallery in New York City.

Eliasson says: “The listening dimension emerged against the backdrop of the 2016 US elections. At a time when oversimplification is everywhere, I believe that art can play an important role in creating aesthetic experiences that are both open and complex. Today, in politics, we are bombarded with emotional appeals, often linked to simplistic, polarizing, populist ideas. The arts and culture, on the other hand, provide spaces in which people can disagree and still be together, where they can share individual and collective experiences that are ambiguous and negotiable. At its best, art is an exercise in democracy; it trains our critical capacities for perceiving and interpreting the world. Yet art does not tell us what to do or how to feel, but rather empowers us to find out for ourselves.”



Each of the pieces packs a big visual punch starting with Rainbow bridge, a series of glass spheres that have sections of mirrored, colored, and back pieces placed so that balls of color shift and change depending on your position --- creating eclipses, rainbows, or mirrors.





Three room-sized reflective panels, The listening dimension  (orbit 1, orbit 2, and orbit 3) , form the centerpiece of the exhibition.  As you enter the room you see a set of what appear to be rings floating in space.




But as you approach the reflective walls and look behind, you realize that Eliasson has created a carefully-crafted illusion, and the rings disclose themselves as semicircular tubes mounted to frames behind the mirrored surface.  This aspect of "revealing the perceptual trick" is classic Olafur Eliasson, and one of the reasons I find his installations so appealing.



Behind the mylar

Upstairs, the artist continues to play with light and perceptions. 

Midnight sun creates a visual dialogue between intense light and a concave mirror to give the viewer a sense of peering into a portal to another world.





One of my favorite pieces in The listening dimension is Colour experiment no. 78.

As you enter a room bathed in a yellow sodium light you notice a series of vaguely monochromatic circles.  In the center of the room hangs a long cord with a round knob at the end.  When somebody pulls the cord, a large incandescent lightbulb hanging from the ceiling illuminates and instantly changes the circles to a series of different-colored paintings.


But what really changed?  Colour experiment offers a big Wow! followed by a quieter Aha! as viewers think about and investigate the experiment Eliasson has provided for us.  While the craft of the experience is completely evident, Eliasson also invests time and resources in working with scientists.  This particular piece is the result of Eliasson’s ongoing research into color phenomena, a process that began by working with a color chemist to create colors that match each nanometer of light in the visible spectrum. 



The last piece that Olafur Eliasson has put together is a room filled with point-source lights and the rings from a deconstructed Fresnel lens, of the type found in lighthouses.  Eliasson experiments with combinations and positions of light and lenses to create stunning effects of light, shadows, and spectra.



I really can't say enough about the impact of Olafur Eliasson and his art.  I encourage you to check out his website and to seek out opportunities to view his work in person at galleries or museums around the world.






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Monday, March 27, 2017

Add Numberphile to Your Creative Toolbox!


I've recently fallen down the rabbit hole of Numberphile, a great math-oriented website and related YouTube channel filled with all sorts of clever ideas that should be of interest to educators and exhibit designers alike.

One of the things I like best about the Numberphile videos is that each mathematician is so enthusiastic, you can't help but get excited and interested in things like "circle inversions" that you might not have even given a passing thought to before.

While I've honestly enjoyed every Numberphile presenter I've seen, some are particular standouts.

Tadashi Tokieda often relates his math talks to toys or familiar materials.  Here's a video (embedded below or on YouTube) that shows all the fun topological ways to play with a strip of paper, some paper clips, and rubber bands.



Hannah Fry is a funny presenter who often ties the mathematics of game theory to real life situations like winning Rock, Paper, Scissors (video below or on YouTube) or Secret Santa, or making the best online dating profile.



If you are a bit "math shy" or even an avowed mathphobe, click on over to Numberphile!  I'm sure you will find something to pique your interest there.



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Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Can Laughing Cups Help Libya?


My work brings me to many unexpected places around the world, but I just returned from what may be my most interesting trip so far --- working with folks from Libya, but in Tunisia!

So how did I end up in Tunisia?  Earlier this year, I was contacted by Professor Susan Kane of Oberlin College.  Susan told me about her project through the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, U.S. Department of State to work with Libyan educators, scout leaders, and museum folks.

The point of this particular project being to bring together Libyans from different parts of the country who work with young people to help foster national reconciliation, and to create a greater appreciation for the importance of Libyan cultural heritage --- both tangible (think historic structures and archaeological sites) as well as intangible (things like music, dance, and poetry.)

Now we need to stop the story to fill in a couple of important details.  First off, given shifting events and unrest in Libya over the past few years, our U.S. Embassy to Libya is currently located in neighboring Tunisia, not Libya (see map below.) So that's why a State Department workshop with participants from Libya was happening in Tunisia.  (Also U.S. citizens are currently advised not to travel to Libya.)



Secondly, why ask ME to give this workshop that, at least partially, concerned itself with cultural heritage and Libyan national reconciliation?  Several kind museum colleagues pointed Susan in my direction, and together we crafted a plan to share my ideas about open-ended activities for children, quick and cheap exhibit prototyping, and developing pop-up or temporary museums in schools and community centers with the workshop participants.

After the initial excitement of traveling to Tunisia wore off, I honestly began to worry --- would my information and activities with simple materials actually be useful to Libyans concerned with reconciliation and cultural heritage? I continued to think about this from the time I started planning activities and gathering materials in the U.S. all the way until I arrived at the hotel on the outskirts of Tunis where the workshops would be held.

Fortunately, the Libyan men and women in my workshop were very enthusiastic and welcoming.  It was clear (once we got into the groove with our helpful translators!) that everyone at the workshop was hungry for activities to share with the students, scouts, and children they worked with.  I deliberately chose topics and activities that I thought could be used in a wide range of situations.



For example, I introduced a number of activities that dealt with the topic of "Structures."  In dealing with open-ended design challenges involving structures we could easily discuss History, Architecture, and Engineering among other subjects.  We created bridges and buildings out of simple supplies like paper, tape, straws, and paper clips.  The workshop participants excitedly shared their own embellishments for activities with each other, and also remarked on the symbolic value of a topic like "bridges" when discussing with children how to work together to create a more united Libya.  (Given the current political climate, maybe I should introduce more bridge-building activities for my workshops in the United States!)



Together with the workshop participants we spent one day focused on how to develop open-ended design activities and another on testing and prototyping ideas. Along the way, I also introduced fun activities like "Laughing Cups" that could quickly engage children and then lead into a broader discussion of cultural heritage topics like Music. (My new Libyan friends in the workshop called these sorts of activities Mr. Paul's "tricks.")

Our last workshop day together dealt with the development of Pop-Up (or temporary) Museums. These sorts of temporary displays or exhibitions are great ways to engage with communities and lend themselves to being set up inside non-museum spaces like schools or community centers (or even under tents outside.)  So we ended our workshop by creating a Pop-Up Museum!



Several workshop participants brought objects from home to share for the Pop-Up Museum, while others put displays together from materials available on-site.  One of my favorite examples of "instant exhibitry" was from Intisar, the director of the Children's Museum in Tripoli, who created a display about the different types of historical tombs found in Libya (clay for lower class, glass for upper class) using leftover chicken bones from lunch and an ashtray from her hotel room!



As with every class or workshop I lead, I learned a lot from the participants and our work together. Perhaps foremost in Tunisia, I learned that the Libyans I met (like all people around the world) want a better life for their children, and a safe and secure place to live.

So can Laughing Cups help Libya? In the hands of the thoughtful and dedicated people I met in Tunisia, I'm sure, in a small way, they can.



Don't miss out on any ExhibiTricks posts! It's easy to get updates via email or your favorite news reader. Just click the "Sign up for Free ExhibiTricks Blog Updates" link on the upper right side of the blog.

P.S. If you receive ExhibiTricks via email (or Facebook or LinkedIn) you will need to click HERE to go to the main ExhibiTricks page to make comments or view multimedia features (like videos!)

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Design Inspiration: Paddy Bloomer


Paddy Bloomer is an artist inventor explorer and plumber based in Belfast. 

He has done projects in sewers and derelict factory chimneys, alleyways, and lamp posts. 


He has a knack for making interesting installations that either explode or are slightly dangerous (as you can see in the videos above and below.)



It's really cool stuff worth checking out on his website or YouTube channel.


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Thursday, February 23, 2017

Add "Office Supply Ninja" to Your Exhibit Prototyping Resume


Thomas Edison said,  "To invent, you need a good imagination and a pile of junk."  His reference was to inventing, but he could have also been speaking about prototyping.

To me, prototyping is an iterative process that uses simple materials to help you answer questions about the physical aspects of your exhibit components (even labels!) early on in the development process.  

As I mentioned in a previous post, it's always a bit discouraging to hear museum folks say "we just don't have the time/the money/the space/the materials to do prototyping ..."  (By then I'm usually thinking "So how is setting an ill-conceived or malfunctioning exhibit component into your museum, because you didn't prototype, saving time or money?"  But I digress...)

Maybe it's just me, but I can't imagine anyone fabricating an exhibit component without trying out a quick-and-dirty version first.  So in today's post I thought I'd lay out the simple steps I use to show how quickly and inexpensively prototyping can be integrated into the beginning of any exhibit development process, and how you too can become an Office Supply Ninja!


STEP ONE:  Figure out what you want to find out.

In this case, a client wanted me to come up with an interactive version of a "Food Web" (the complex interrelationship of organisms in a particular environment, showing, basically, what eats what.)  We brainstormed a number of approaches (magnet board, touch screen computer) but finally settled on the notion of allowing visitors to construct a "Food Web Mobile" with the elements being the various organisms found (in this particular case) in a mangrove swamp.  The client was also able to provide me with a flow chart showing the relationships between organisms and a floor plan of the area where the final exhibit will be installed.

The two initial things I wanted to test or find out about from my prototype were:

1) Did people "get" the idea conceptually?  That is, did they understand the relationships and analogies between the Food Web Mobile and the actual organisms in the swamp?

2) Could they easily create different sorts of physical arrangements with the mobile that were interesting and accurate?


STEP TWO: Get out your junk!



As in the Edison quote above, it helps to have a good supply of "bits and bobs" around to prototype with.  You might not have the same sorts of junk that I've gathered up over years in the museum exhibit racket, but everyone should have access to basic office supplies (stuff like paper, tape, markers, index cards, scissors, etc.)  And really that's all you need to start assembling prototypes. (The imagination part is important, too.)


STEP THREE: Start playing around with the pieces ...


Before I even start assembling a complete rough mechanism or system I like to gather all the parts together and see if I like how they work with each other.  In the case of the Food Web Mobile prototype, I used colored file folders to represent different levels of organisms.  I initially made each color/level out of the same size pieces, but then I changed to having each color be a different size.  Finally, I used a hole punch to make the holes, and bent paper clips to serves as the hooks that would allow users to connect the pieces/organisms in different ways.


STEP FOUR:  Assemble, then iterate, iterate, iterate!


This is the part of the prototyping process that requires other people beside yourself.  Let your kids, your co-workers, your significant other, whoever (as long as it's somebody beside yourself) try out your idea. Obviously the closer your "testers" are to the expected demographic inside the museum, the better --- ideally I like to prototype somewhere inside the museum itself. 

Resist the urge to explain or over-explain your prototype.  Just watch what people do (or don't do!) with the exhibit component(s).  Take lots of notes/pictures/video.  Then take a break to change your prototype based on what you've observed and heard, and try it out again.  That's called iteration.

In this case, I saw right away that the mobile spun and balanced in interesting ways, but that meant that the labels would need to be printed on both sides of the pieces.  Fortunately, my three "in-house testers" (ages 6, 11, and 13) seemed to "get" the concept of "Food Webs" embedded into the Mobile interactive, and started coming up with interesting physical variations on their own.

For example, I initially imagined people would just try to create "balanced" arrangements of pieces on the Mobile.  But, as you can see below, the prototype testers enjoyed making "unbalanced" arrangements as well (which is fine, and makes sense conceptually as well.)   Also, we discovered that people realized that they could hang more than one "organism piece" on the lower hooks (which was also fine, and also made sense conceptually.)



STEP FIVE: Figure out what's next ... even if it's the trash can!

Do you need to change the label, or some physical arrangement of your prototype?  Using simple, inexpensive materials makes that easy.

Do you just need to junk this prototype idea?  Using simple, inexpensive materials makes it easier to move on to a new idea, too. (Much more easily than if you had spent weeks crafting and assembling something out of expensive materials from your workshop...)  It's not too surprising to see people really struggle to let a bad exhibit idea go, especially if they've spent several weeks putting it together. Quick and cheap should be your watchwords early on in the prototyping process.

In this case, I sent photos of the paper clip prototype and a short video showing people using the Food Web Mobile to the client as a "proof of concept."  They were quite pleased, and so now I will make a second-level prototype using materials more like those I expect to use in the "final" exhibit (which I'll update in a future post.)  Even so, I will still repeat the steps above of gathering materials, assembling pieces, and iterating through different versions with visitors. 

I hope you'll give this "office supply ninja" version of exhibit prototyping a try for your next project!

If you do, send me an email and I'd be happy to show off the results of ExhibiTricks readers prototyping efforts.


Don't miss out on any ExhibiTricks posts! It's easy to get updates via email or your favorite news reader. Just click the "Sign up for Free ExhibiTricks Blog Updates" link on the upper right side of the blog.

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Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Does Your Makerspace Really Need a 3D Printer?


I have a new article out in the latest issue of the Association of Children's Museums journal, Hand to Hand.

The theme of the issue is "The Maker Movement" and my article is entitled "Do You Really Need a 3D Printer, and Other Essential Questions You Need to Ask about a Museum’s Makerspace."

You can download a PDF version of the article via the Free Exhibit Resources section of my POW! website, but here are a few excerpts about Makerspaces (and other design-focused spaces) that I shared in my article:

• I love the idea of 3D printers, in a Jetsons/Sci-fi/World’s Fair type of way. The promise of using a tabletop device to create absolutely anything out of any material (even food!) is pretty amazing. The reality, however, is you can spend hours designing a widget the size of a quarter that then takes even more hours to print successfully on the 3D printer… only to often find out that it hasn’t. When they work, they’re magic, but they’re not that simple to operate.

• Forming creative partnerships with makers in the communities around your museum can be mutually beneficial. This could be as simple as recruiting artists/tinkerers to showcase their work and how they make it to your visitors. You could also recruit retired tool and die makers, seamstresses, or NASA scientists.

• The focus on flashy high-tech gadgets exemplifies how the development of makerspaces in organizations can be susceptible to a “Ready, Fire, Aim!” mentality. Makerspaces are perceived as cool and eminently fundable, but often museums start planning spaces and purchasing equipment (Laser Cutters! 3D Printers! Robot Kits!) without considering what a makerspace is all about, and what the qualities of the most successful spaces are.

•  An unstaffed or unfacilitated makerspace is a wasted space. The best interactions in a good maker space will certainly involve staff and visitors learning together. Does the stuff (tool and materials) you provide help foster those human connections?

•  Many makerspaces have adopted a rough, workshoppy, “toys for boys” aesthetic that can be off-putting for many people (male or female) who are unsure of their making skills and interests. Why not mix up the look and feel of different areas in your space so you don’t stop potential makers dead in their tracks as they peek through the door?

I hope you'll download my entire article by clicking here, and also check out the ACM website to learn how to obtain the entire "Maker Movement" issue of Hand to Hand. 


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P.S. If you receive ExhibiTricks via email (or Facebook or LinkedIn) you will need to click HERE to go to the main ExhibiTricks page to make comments or view multimedia features (like videos!)