This interesting article in the New York Times outlines the plans for upgrading Disney's California Adventure park, which one critic characterized as having a “cheap strip-mall stucco aesthetic" into a more polished, and participatory, experience for visitors.
The article details the costs and plans for creating a new interactive Toy Story ride that lets visitors compete against each other with video game type elements.
While most museum designers will never encounter the enormous budgets employed in this project, there are several key lessons that apply to any new museum project:
1) Make sure you don't "cheap out" on initial construction and materials. Try to use project resources to create environments that use materials that provide long-term value and maintainability. The NY Times article highlights how much more expensive it has been, in time and money, to go back after the initial construction. It would have made better long-term sense to have taken the time and money to do things right the first time. Too many museums are guilty of this "we'll make it better once it's open" mentality.
2) Prototype, prototype, prototype! The article gives a nice snapshot of the lengths Disney goes to in testing out people's reactions to every aspect of the new Toy Story ride. (My favorite is the description of the down and dirty plywood ride vehicle in front of a projection screen used to gauge visitor response.) Why should Museums "prototype like the mouse?" Because its a lot cheaper to fix or modify things at the plywood and duct tape stage than after the fact.
3) Let visitors be part of the action.The article points out that not even Disney can get away with just pretty "eye candy" for paying customers to gawk at. Customers, especially those who have grown up with MTV, video games, and the Internet, demand more opportunities for interactivity and instant gratification. (There are some interesting details about how many different types of resources Disney is employing to keep people happy while they are waiting in line.)
Museums should always ask "how can I create another opportunity or design element to help visitors engage with this exhibit? "