Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Reading Recommendations for Museum Folks During a Pandemic


I don't know about you, but at times since the world turned upside-down in March, my interest in reading has become fairly limited.  However, in the last few months, my interest has picked up and I've been reading and enjoying a number of books -- some museum-related, some not.

So here are some reading recommendations for museum folks -- pick a few books out to explore now, or just save the link for future reference.  (NOTE: some of the links in this post are Amazon Affiliate links. That means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission at no extra cost to you. All opinions about the books featured remain my own.)



Brenda Cowan is the author (along with Ross Laird and Jason McKeown) of a book entitled Museum Objects, Health and Healing.  Brenda was kind enough to share some thoughts about the book and her museum work in an interview earlier this year.






"The Song of Achilles" by Madeline Miller was a surprisingly easy and enjoyable read considering the subject was Greek Mythology.  The writing was top-notch, no doubt one of the reasons the book was awarded the Orange Prize for fiction.  Highly recommended for a (physically-distanced!) beach trip or weekend getaway.






During a conversation with Jennifer Martin, as part of my Museum FAQ YouTube series, Jennifer recommended this short but powerful book, "Managing Transitions: Making the Most of Change" by William Bridges. Given the times we are living in, I found the book especially timely. You can purchase it on Amazon, but cheaper used copies are also readily available on the Web.






Ready for a rollicking, fantastical ride through an alternative universe version of New York City?  If so, you will definitely want to pick up the latest book from N.K. Jemisin called "The City We Became".  I tore through this book because I kept wanting to find out what happened next.  Since this is the first book of a projected trilogy, I'm looking forward to reading future volumes!





Jen Oleniczak Brown's latest book, "Think on Your Feet: Tips and Tricks to Improve Your Impromptu Communication Skills on the Job" is one of Inc. Magazines “20 Books That Will Kick Off 2020 on the Right Foot” and has been called “a helpful maven’s guide ideal for anyone who views a podium with fear and trembling” by Publishers Weekly.

Jen was kind enough to share some impromptu communication tips and tricks with ExhibiTricks readers in a guest post earlier this year.






Wildwood is a strange and wonderful book that starts off with a baby being carried away by a murder of crows!  If that doesn't inspire you to pick up this first book in the fantasy adventure series by Colin Meloy, lead singer of the Decemberists (and illustrated by Carson Ellis) I'm not sure what will. I suppose Wildwood is technically a children's or YA book, but I enjoyed it just the same.


I hope you find inspiration and enjoyment in the books mentioned above.  Do you have your own book suggestions for museums folks?  Let us know in the "Comments" section below!





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Paul Orselli writes the posts on ExhibiTricks. Paul likes to combine interesting people, ideas, and materials to make exhibits (and entire museums!) with his company POW! (Paul Orselli Workshop, Inc.) Let's work on a project together!


Saturday, August 1, 2020

Free Tool CollViz Makes Data Visualization Easy for Museums

A title graphic with the word "CollViz" over data set images


Have you ever considered creating a way to let visitors explore your hidden collections online or in an exhibit? What about including a dashboard that illustrates your community impact in a grant proposal?

“Data visualization” may sound trendy and flashy, but it’s been around for a very long time – even mastered by Florence Nightingale. And you too are already familiar with it -- pie charts, bar graphs, timelines, and maps are all kinds of data viz.

At its core, data viz is the translation of data into visual characteristics. Take a point in a scatter plot, for example. The color, size, and position of that point can each mean something different. Humans are really good at picking out patterns, and so data viz lets us visually explore, understand, and communicate trends in data in an intuitive way.

CollViz (short for Collection Visualization) is a website created by Jessica Mailhot. She’s braided together her experience in collection management and data viz design for her Master’s thesis
project at the University of Colorado Boulder’s Museum & Field Studies Program. CollViz is where you can find pre-made templates of dashboards designed for museums, tutorials for how to use and customize them, and a host of resources to make data viz easy and powerful. Everything on CollViz is free to use, and the software Tableau Public is free, too.

Museums are full of data. It’s how they manage their collections, measure their impact, carry out projects, and teach science. And while data viz has blossomed in many other spheres, it’s still a relatively new frontier in museums. There is boundless potential, though, especially for engaging with the public. Data viz is intuitive and eye-catching. It’s spread over social media, published in popular magazines, and even reports our progress in health tracking apps.

For museums who may be curious about bringing data viz into their toolbelt, there can be some imposing barriers: training time, IT experience, extra funds, and resources suited for other professions. Now the CollViz website is a place for museums to go to get everything they need to make data viz easy, quick, and relevant.

In these transformative times for museums, we need to seek out new ways to make an impact and create engaging experiences for our communities. CollViz is here to make data viz a robust and accessible option for museums of all kinds and is something you can begin today while working remotely. So click over to the CollViz website, and let’s visualize the future of museums together!

A series of data visualization graphs





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Paul Orselli writes the posts on ExhibiTricks. Paul likes to combine interesting people, ideas, and materials to make exhibits (and entire museums!) with his company POW! (Paul Orselli Workshop, Inc.) Let's work on a project together!

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Friday, July 24, 2020

Zeroing in on Zero-Touch Interaction



Jim Spadaccini and Hugh McDonald from Ideum were kind enough to share the post below about their company's latest work on touchless interactive systems. Lots of interesting things to learn and think about here -- enjoy!


Five years ago, our company worked with Intel to devise a touchless interactive system for desktop users. At the time, Intel had recently released their first RealSense depth and tracking technology, and they were looking for a proof of concept. We were very excited about the challenges this presented and enthusiastically jumped at the opportunity. As we got started, we quickly recognized that implementing a successful touchless interface had little to do with the technology itself. Instead, at its core, creating a strong, intuitive touchless experience was a design challenge—and one that requires special attention to visual feedback.

This early experiment came to mind as the coronavirus pandemic worsened. (You can read about it in greater depth in an article we posted back in April 2020, Touchless Gesture-Based Exhibits, Part One. Paul Orselli and I also discussed this topic in May 2020, and you can check out that conversation at Museum FAQ - The Future of Digital Interactivity.) As COVID-19 swept through the country, concerns about touch tables and hands-on exhibits grew, and museums and design firms were (and still are) looking for possible solutions for retrofitting exhibits or developing new types of experiences. Keeping the lessons we learned from the Intel collaboration in mind, we looked to create a system that provides real-time feedback and helps visitors understand what is, at its core, a novel method for interaction. 

More specifically, we aimed to create a system that would allow visitors to use gestures to navigate large screen and touch table interactives. This is quite different from the full-body touchless interactions that have become fairly common in museums over the last decade or so. (We wrote about those types of interactions recently as well; see Touchless Gesture-Based Exhibits, Part Two: Full-Body Interaction.) The system we imagined would require a certain amount of precision to allow visitors to navigate, make selections, and access information and media. For this project, we wanted to build a touchless experience that would help visitors use digital exhibits focusing on wayfinding, collections, media viewers, simple games, and other types of informational interactives. 

After a period of discovery and experimentation, we designed an integrated and color-coded hardware and software system. This mouse-emulation system consists of a motion and depth sensor along with small LCD displays and LEDs to provide immediate visitor feedback. (We are using Leap Motion and RealSense sensors in two alternate versions of the experience.) In addition, the cursor is color-coded and animated, and changes based on interaction to provide additional feedback to the visitor. The graphic inspiration came from signage for the NYC subway system: clear, bright graphics; bold colors; high-contrast text. Finally, we built a simple housing for the integrated touchless device that attaches to our line of Drafting Touch Tables




The system is designed to provide onboarding information and immediate feedback on how to use it. Here’s how it works:


White - In the exhibit’s attract state, LED lights pulse to draw attention to the integrated touchless system. This is designed to highlight the fact that there is something new here. The small display on the sensor unit shows literal iconography to onboard the visitor—a hand with a pointing finger.



Yellow - As the visitor moves their cursor, yellow is the hover state. The cursor changes as the visitor moves it over onscreen objects, such as buttons or other interface elements.




Green - Visitors make selections by quickly retracting their pointer finger or by holding a clenched hand to grab and drag an onscreen object.



Red - If visitors actually touch the display, they see red LEDs, a red border around the large display, and a red “this is a touchless display” message on the small display.




The combination of a small auxiliary display, LEDs, and cursor animations might initially seem like overkill, but we have found that novel interactions like this often require more than one type of feedback. These elements work together to let visitors know that this system is present and is responding to their actions. It certainly would have been simpler to forgo the added hardware system and modify the exhibit on the larger display, but such changes to existing applications aren’t trivial in terms of redesign and reprogramming, and it is not clear whether visitors would understand that experience on the large display had been altered in some way. 

This integrated hardware system has the advantage that, once built, it can be deployed on any number of interactive exhibits with little change to underlying source code. In addition, since the changes to existing applications are minor, the system can be removed and the application can revert to its original touch interface when the need for a touchless system is past.

Our initial rounds of informal testing suggest that this prototype system works reasonably well. While it is, not unexpectedly, less intuitive than a touch interface, it is accurate and reliable enough for most visitors to navigate without frustration. In addition, in a new world where people are understandably reluctant to touch objects in public spaces, the system provides an odd feeling of empowerment: I can make things happen, I can make selections and interact, and I can do it without touching something!

The development of this system is part of a new broader initiative called Touchless Design which we announced last week. The software and DIY instructions for the integrated hardware system will be open-sourced and available at Touchless.Design later this summer. As part of this new initiative, we are collaborating with the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., with whom we will build and test a proof-of-concept kiosk to be installed in the fall. In addition, we are very fortunate to have received funding from Intel as part of their Pandemic Response Technology Initiative.

In the coming weeks, we will be testing our early prototypes, publishing our findings, and continuing to refine and develop the hardware and software. Along with the National Gallery of Art, we are working with other institutions on new proof-of-concept touchless exhibits. You can follow our development by visiting the Touchless.Design website or one of Ideum’s many social media channels. We look forward to hearing from you!




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Paul Orselli writes the posts on ExhibiTricks. Paul likes to combine interesting people, ideas, and materials to make exhibits (and entire museums!) with his company POW! (Paul Orselli Workshop, Inc.) Let's work on a project together!

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Thursday, July 16, 2020

Balancing Touchless and Tactile in Museums

Image of person with hands in the air in front of a video display showing stick-model hand images.

Because of COVID-19, the realities of balancing the real health and sanitation concerns of visitors with the interactive nature of "hands-on" exhibits leave museum workers in a difficult situation.

Even if a "touchless" or "contactless" museum is possible, is that something we want to really set into motion?  Eliminating every aspect of touch in a museum would, at a start, create spaces that are inaccessible to people with physical or learning challenges. Numerous scholarly articles underline the developmental and educational importance of tactile learning in museums.

Fortunately, I recently had the opportunity to chat with Greg Sprick, the Technical Director of the Richard Lewis Media Group (RLMG) and he shared with me the ongoing work and research that he and his colleagues have been sharing via the RLMG website.  You can access a free series of PDF whitepapers written by Greg and his colleagues on topics ranging from how personal devices can be incorporated into visitor experiences to "minimal-touch" solutions for in-gallery interactives.

You can access all of the COVID-19 resources from RLMG here.  (As a bonus, they have also provided sets of fun Zoom backgrounds for all your "Work From Home" videoconferences.)

How will your museum handle "Touchless vs. Tactile" concerns?  Share your thoughts or additional resources in the "Comments" section below!



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Paul Orselli writes the posts on ExhibiTricks. Paul likes to combine interesting people, ideas, and materials to make exhibits (and entire museums!) with his company POW! (Paul Orselli Workshop, Inc.) Let's work on a project together!

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Sunday, July 12, 2020

Tools You Can Use: Symbolology 🎶 ↕ ☂


Since so many of us are Working From Home and spending more time on our computers, tools that improve our workflow are welcome. 

For example, our keyboards are missing lots of symbols that might be handy to include in a document -- like ♠, ♣, ♥, and ♦. 

An easy way to browse and use these hidden characters is by visiting Symbololology, a one-page site with about 500 non-keyboard characters organized into categories including Punctuation (¿ §), Mathematics (≠ ∛), Greek (β φ), Arrows (▶ ⟲), and more!

Click on over to Symbololology to add some ⚡to your documents!




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Paul Orselli writes the posts on ExhibiTricks. Paul likes to combine interesting people, ideas, and materials to make exhibits (and entire museums!) with his company POW! (Paul Orselli Workshop, Inc.) Let's work on a project together!

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Friday, July 3, 2020

Celebrating Creativity During A Pandemic


Sometimes it is hard to turn away from the "pit of despair" that seems to characterize life during the July 2020 pandemic reality in the United States.


But wait!  It is not all doom-and-gloom!  Artist Federico Tobon, of wolfCat Workshop, has used paper clips, cardboard, scraps of wood, and tape to create wonderful and whimsical little mechanical sculptures, some of which are featured in this post.


Tobon also created a video collection of some creations entitled "29 automata in 6 minutes" which you can see on YouTube or embedded below.



You probably have all the materials you need at home right now to put together your own pandemic plaything -- why not give it a whirl?





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Paul Orselli writes the posts on ExhibiTricks. Paul likes to combine interesting people, ideas, and materials to make exhibits (and entire museums!) with his company POW! (Paul Orselli Workshop, Inc.) Let's work on a project together!

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Monday, June 22, 2020

My "Pandemic Project”


When the restrictions and precautions surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic took hold on Long Island, where my family and I live, it immediately became apparent that we were entering strange new territory. The notion of “working from home” and having meetings and conferences remotely, was not that different from much of my usual consulting workflow, but two other things soon became apparent.

First, as every museum conference I was scheduled to speak at or attend was canceled or postponed, the notion of “social distancing” on a professional level became very real, very quickly.  I missed the opportunity of seeing museum friends and colleagues in-person!

Secondly, and related to professional social (and physical!) distancing, I missed the back-and-forth of sharing and learning from each other – which strikes me as one of the underlying strengths of the museum field that sets it apart from many other professions.

So, what to do?  Well, what I did was to take up with new vigor the idea of “Museum FAQ”  videos (FAQ is tech-speak for “Frequently Asked Questions”) that, quite honestly, I had started a while ago but had left aside.  Now I started contacting museum colleagues to find out if they would be willing to have a conversation with me via Zoom (of course!) about a museum topic that would draw upon their personal experience and expertise.

To my delight (and relief!) folks readily agreed, and now I have started to build up a freely available library of videos on my POW! YouTube channel that covers a wide range of topics from Museum Management to Exhibit Design to Science Communication. Even though the videos are being recorded during the COVID-19 pandemic, the topics covered, and tips and techniques shared, are truly “evergreen” in the sense that they will still provide interesting and useful information for, hopefully, years to come. 

While I continue to record Museum FAQ videos, three videos, in particular, stand out for me.

Christian Greer, President & CEO of the Michigan Science Center, brought forward a thoughtful (and timely!) discussion about managing in times of transition.  I was struck by how eloquently Christian shared tactics for balancing the foundation of Mission with the flexibility and creativity needed for turbulent times.

On a completely different topic, Amparo Leyman Pino shared successful ways she has used language as an interpretive tool in museums. Amparo moved beyond the more familiar multilingual labels to the ideas of blended language and language-neutral environments.

Lastly, exhibit designer Margaret Middleton shared a fun and informative way to think about creating more inclusive museums by walking us through how to plan for better infant care and feeding areas as a model for the process.  

I hope you’ll click on over to the POW! YouTube channel to view some Museum FAQ videos for yourself – and, better yet, please let me know if there are new topics that we could have a Museum FAQ conversation about together to share with our museum colleagues on YouTube!  (Don't forget to hit the big red "Subscribe" button when you get to YouTube!)

(This post was adapted, with permission, from a piece I submitted for the online version of Informal Learning Review, Special Issue #2  June 2020 p.26)



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Paul Orselli writes the posts on ExhibiTricks. Paul likes to combine interesting people, ideas, and materials to make exhibits (and entire museums!) with his company POW! (Paul Orselli Workshop, Inc.) Let's work on a project together!

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Monday, June 15, 2020

Tasty Failures



The other day one of my sons wanted to cook up a little surprise for our family.  He worked hard to make some onion bhaji based on a recipe that one of his college friends taught him.  (You can try making some of your own bhajis by following this recipe.)

Everyone enjoyed our special appetizers and found them quite tasty, but I noticed my son was a little upset and I asked him what the problem was.  He was disappointed that the bhaji hadn't turned out exactly how he had hoped and had actually thrown some of them away because he didn't think they were "good enough" to serve.

We are often our own worst critics, and many times the fear of "less than perfect" paralyzes our work. 

Sometimes parts of an exhibition or a new program won't be completed or be *perfect* on opening day -- and while that might gnaw at us as creators, our visitors are usually focused on the 99% of what's working well, not the 1% that's missing or imperfect.

Let's continue to learn from our failures, but let's also take time to savor our successes.



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Paul Orselli writes the posts on ExhibiTricks. Paul likes to combine interesting people, ideas, and materials to make exhibits (and entire museums!) with his company POW! (Paul Orselli Workshop, Inc.) Let's work on a project together!

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Monday, June 8, 2020

Every Minute and Every Dollar is a Vote


The ways we spend our time and money indicate our priorities.

One of the strengths of museum workers is our capacity to share information and resources as well as sharing of ourselves to help others.  With that in mind, I'm going to offer one suggestion for where to spend your money and another suggestion for where to spend your time.


A Place to Spend Your Money

Please consider contributing to the Museum Workers Relief Fund to help our colleagues in need.  From their GoFundMe page:

"It has become clear to us that when our institutions will not stand in solidarity with us, we must stand in solidarity with one another."

Museum Workers Releief Fund logo



A Place to Spend Your Time

During the COVID-19 pandemic, I've started a Museum FAQ video project to share ideas with museum workers through a series of YouTube conversations with museum thinkers from around the world.  Please check out the Museum FAQ YouTube page and let me know your suggestions for future Museum FAQ topics.





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Paul Orselli writes the posts on ExhibiTricks. Paul likes to combine interesting people, ideas, and materials to make exhibits (and entire museums!) with his company POW! (Paul Orselli Workshop, Inc.) Let's work on a project together!

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Friday, May 29, 2020

“We Knew How to Do This” - Creating #MuseumSurvivalKit




In this guest post, two of the founders of #MuseumSurvivalKit, Michelle Moon and Sarah Pharaon, were kind enough to share how the project came about, as well as news about the upcoming Museum Survival Week!



“We Knew How to Do This” -  Creating #MuseumSurvivalKit

Even in the time of Zoom, somehow the best ideas are born in casual meetings over drinks. During a virtual happy hour - one of the more enjoyable Zoom calls we found ourselves on with seemingly never-ending frequency - a group of us fell into talking of our colleagues, some working from home, some furloughed or laid off. We spoke of friends whose interpretive portfolios consist largely of work developed at history museums, where over years, they learned and honed skills of the past that they used, season after season, to connect visitors to a history they loved. We joked about how those interpreters would survive the zombie apocalypse far longer than us: they know home remedies, have sourdough starters, and can hand-craft weaponry. 


And we laughed, and changed topics, and ultimately ended the call. But the idea that museums might be a source of real survival skills stayed with us after we all pressed “leave meeting” that night.  




Taking It Seriously 

The next day, we had an email exchange, checking with one another. Had we stumbled on a good idea? We knew that museums are full of the skills and stories our fellow humans used to manage the challenges of their lives - in crisis times, in hardship, under oppression, and just responding to the demands of everyday life. Telling these stories is what we do. But in this time when museums are considered “non-essential,” did people know that they can turn to our institutions to rediscover some of the inspiring, creative, and practical strategies our communities and our ancestors have developed over time? We asked ourselves: What if we made #MuseumSurvivalKit a Real Thing? Did it have enough juice that others would want to take part? Did we have the skills to produce it? Did we have the energy, in such a crazy busy time, to give it a shot? We weren’t really sure - but we decided to go for it. And we got right to work. 

Production was fast-paced, a Stone Soup of contributions from each of our strengths. Each of us found a place to add something needed: text drafting from Michelle Moon, graphic design from Sarah Pharaon, website creation by Tobi Voigt, and outreach strategies from Melanie Adams and Jackie Barton, with many encouraging and critically constructive emails in between. Many of us learned how to do things for the project we would have, in the past, asked colleagues at our organizations to help us with.  Most of us had other things to work on, but the idea was compelling, and the work was fun - a bright spot in a dark time. 



Celebrating Abundance

Part of the promise we saw in #MuseumSurvivalKit is that it highlights the assets and strengths museums bring to the public conversation - working against the scarcity mindset that plagues our field. All of us have recently been part of conversations driven by a desperate sense of competition - “How will we survive in the pandemic environment? What is [insert institution] putting out? We need to get this out fast, before [insert institution]! We need to grab that SBA and PPP and CARES money before it runs out! ” This project aims for collective contribution, explicitly encouraging participating organizations and individuals to freely share their work under a collaborative identity while highlighting what makes them and their teams unique. It pulls from the idea that we need not compete for visitor attention, but rather, that we can create a sense of abundance by focusing on the field’s work as culture bearers.   



Moving at the Speed of Trust 

Once the project launched on May 6, we stood back a little stunned at what, with our first-round contributors, we had all just created. It had come together so quickly and in such a satisfying way. There was something about this that felt different from many of the projects we do as museum workers. Because we knew one another and respect one another’s work, we were able to go into it with a high level of trust, and (as trust has been shown to do) that gave the work speed. 



Off the Leash (Or Giving Ourselves Permission) 

We also reveled in the project’s independence. There was a heady sense of freedom in being able to create something that required no approvals, no vetting, no organizational buy-in - we just did it, with no need to ask anyone’s permission. Rarely do museum professionals get to enjoy such profound nimbleness.

It helped us to better see the strengths and weaknesses of institutional review: there are times it really does help to have lots of eyes on a project, to expose it to critical views, to vet it for representation and other equity needs, and to invite wider shaping influences. But that process also can come at the cost of experimentation. Here, we got a chance to try working leaner and more iteratively; instead of trying to get it perfect out of the gate, we worked with it responsively once it was out in the world, making tweaks as we went and observed how it was being received. There’s a good chance museum workers will be doing more of this in our new environment of short-term planning horizons. It’s a good muscle to exercise. 

The non-hierarchical nature of our relationships was important as well.  With no one “managing” the project and no one “reporting” to each other, the initiative moved forward as the product of a team of equals. We made decisions by consensus and saw a surprising degree of alignment in our working styles, values, and preferences - especially given that none of us had worked together before.  We, as Sarah’s mom says, “threw spaghetti at the wall” and were happy to move forward with whatever stuck. Because none of our professional reputations were at stake, we were okay with whatever mess the spaghetti made. Perfection was not our aim.  



It’s All About Resilience 

#MuseumSurvivalKit is more than a set of how-tos. It’s an affirmation of human resilience. From the beginning, we defined “survival” expansively - as Melanie Adams said, “it’s not just about canning and butter churning. I think of people sitting with their community and making a quilt together, giving emotional support to one another.” So far, #MuseumSurvivalKit contributions have included things like wild foraging and natural rope making - but people are also using the hashtag to talk about Black hair care, conflict resolution, zine-making, and mixing historical cocktails. Survival is just as much about telling stories, providing mutual aid, making music, getting along with one another, and collective problem-solving as it is about finding food in the forest or boiling maple syrup. Every person and every community and every historical era has something to teach us about surviving, and thriving, in challenging times. And we can use all the knowledge they are willing to share. 

And as museum professionals, the project was an exercise in resilience for us, too. It was good to spend time together and be creative. In a time of seemingly unending bad news, for the culture and particularly for our field,  it felt good to focus on positivity and to design something our colleagues might find joy in. 



Next Step: Museum Survival Week

The project is continually evolving, as we learn from our experiences. To spark the next round of participation, we have created Museum Survival Week, June 1-7, 2020.  During this week, we encourage everyone to take part, not just museums. Are you an individual who’s learned something with, in, or from a museum? It’s your time to shine! You’ll find all the participation details here, and please follow #MuseumSurvivalKit during the first week of June to see what others share. Together, and drawing on the rich resources of our cultural heritages, we will get through this.  




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.

Paul Orselli writes the posts on ExhibiTricks. Paul likes to combine interesting people, ideas, and materials to make exhibits (and entire museums!) with his company POW! (Paul Orselli Workshop, Inc.) Let's work on a project together!

If you enjoy the blog, you can help keep it free to read and free from ads by supporting ExhibiTricks through our PayPal "Tip Jar" 



Sunday, May 24, 2020

3 Pandemic Diversions


Design and Creative Expression can help us overcome any number of challenges.

Perhaps especially during these stressful and isolating times, I've looked for things that provide me with comfort and enjoyment, that give me a chance to pull away from the pains of the pandemic -- even for a moment, and that help me appreciate the creative human spirit.

To that end, here are three things that I've found that provide me with inspiration and ideas, while also providing glimmers of brighter days ahead.  I hope you'll enjoy them, too.



Care Cards

Care Cards are a beautifully-designed set of kind thoughts and helpful little activities put together by the digital collective First and Foremost. You can install Care Cards on your computer or phone to provide random bits of positivity.  In a similar vein, check out the "Oblique Strategies" cards by Peter Schmidt and Brian Eno. Here's an online version -- just click to see a new card.





The Repair Shop 

The Repair Shop is a show on Netflix that may be the perfect respite for museum workers away from their jobs and their closed institutions.  The series is actually filmed on the grounds of a UK museum (the Weald and Downland Living Museum in Singleton, West Sussex) and involves the same set-up for every episode -- a core band of expert restorers bring three treasured (and sometimes severely damaged) family heirlooms back to life.

The objects on the show may not all be "museum quality" but each item is deeply meaningful to the people who bring them to The Repair Shop.  Along the way, you learn about the fascinating histories of the objects, as well as coming to understand the processes and techniques used for their repair and restoration.  The entire program is positive and gentle in a delightfully British way.




Norah Jones on YouTube

I've always enjoyed the music that Norah Jones makes and have long admired her as an artist.  So I was delighted to find that she has been sharing songs and mini-concerts (she takes requests!) on YouTube from her home -- which might be the most enjoyable type of "work from home" recordings ever.

In addition to the wonderful songs, it's nice to get a better sense of the person behind the music in the less-guarded, more intimate surrounding of Jones' own home.

You can click on over to the Norah Jones YouTube page, or enjoy the embedded sampler below.






Do you have your own special things that are helping you get through these tricky times?  Please share them in the "Comments" section below.



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.

Paul Orselli writes the posts on ExhibiTricks. Paul likes to combine interesting people, ideas, and materials to make exhibits (and entire museums!) with his company POW! (Paul Orselli Workshop, Inc.) Let's work on a project together!

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Saturday, May 16, 2020

The Museum Workers Relief Fund



I don't know about you, but I've about reached my limit reading thought pieces prognosticating on the "new normal" of museums or bone-headed ramblings about "touchless" museums and "untouchable" museum endowments.

There are thousands of museum worker colleagues who need concrete financial support NOW rather than high-minded essays about an uncertain future.

To that end, the collective Museum Workers Speak has put together a Museum Workers Relief Fund for the mutual aid of museum workers in need.  In the words of their website:

It has become clear to us that when our institutions will not stand in solidarity with us, we must stand in solidarity with one another.



If you would like to donate (as I already have) to the Museum Workers Relief Fund, you can follow this link to do so.

As an added incentive, for every ExhibiTricks reader who donates at least $10.00 by or before May 31, 2020, I will set up a one-hour Zoom call (at a mutually convenient time) to discuss anything you like.

Think of it as a super-cheap consulting call with me to talk about museum exhibit possibilities, museum careers, or whatever else springs to your mind.

So click on over to the Museum Workers Relief Fund page NOW, make your donation, and then email me your receipt so we can compare calendars for that Zoom call!



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.

Paul Orselli writes the posts on ExhibiTricks. Paul likes to combine interesting people, ideas, and materials to make exhibits (and entire museums!) with his company POW! (Paul Orselli Workshop, Inc.) Let's work on a project together!

Friday, May 8, 2020

Critiquing Online and Virtual Exhibitions

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, many more museums are creating virtual exhibitions or producing online material to complement existing exhibitions. With this wave of digital material, I thought it would be useful for museum professionals to provide critiques or reviews of these digital exhibitions in order to help these digital exhibition formats grow and evolve.

By a happy coincidence, several graduate students from the Exhibition and Experience Design Program at The Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) in New York City recently wrote about online exhibition materials and agreed to share their critiques, as well as their general insights about online and virtual exhibitions, here on the ExhibiTricks blog.



Bhawika Mishra is currently pursuing A Master's in Exhibition and Experience Design from FIT and comes from the culturally diverse country of India. Observing how people interact with their virtual and physical environment drives Bhawika's design decisions. The collaborative power between art and science and its result really interests her.

Bhawika wrote a critique of the online exhibition, "Measure Your Existence" from the Rubin Museum of Art.  You can find Bhawika's full design critique here.


Bhawika shared these thoughts about online and in-person exhibition experiences:

Online exhibits provide a virtual experience with the ability to teleport participants into a virtual world where you have the virtual superpower to experience, create, and interact with things at your own convenience.

The user navigation around the website is crucial and similar to the circulation in a physical exhibit. The website and software design follows the same design principles as the physical exhibit. The online exhibit also provides extended visitor experience though online shops, audio, podcasts, virtual meetups and also providing virtual assets like stickers, certificates.

The online exhibit format is flexible but takes away sensory and tactile experiences.

Online exhibits are available 24/7 and have the option for special launches for certain audiences, whereas the physical museum exhibition can only be experienced during the museum's open hours.






Selen İmamoğlu is currently pursuing her Master's in Exhibition and Experiential Design at the Fashion Institute of Technology. She graduated from the Department of Interior Architecture and Environmental Design at Bilkent University and did her internship in the commercial design industry.

With a passion for creating the connection between people and feelings, she gets inspired by the surroundings and small details in everyday life that can be seen by attentive eyes. She loves exploring, observing, and reflecting.   

Selen critiqued the exhibition called "Partners in Design" which was produced by The Stewart Program for Modern Design.  You can find Selen's full presentation here.


Here are Selen's thoughts about virtual exhibit experiences:

It was a great experience to do a critique assignment on a virtual exhibition since it enabled me to gain a different point of view. I realized that virtual exhibitions have a structure and utilize design tools considering visitor experience, just like conventional exhibitions. 

However, despite knowing the efforts to make this "an experience" for the visitor, I am still not sure if this is more distinct than a regular museum website. Overall, it is great to have these alternative ways of reaching the unique content prepared for others to take, especially in these crazy times.







Sammi Kugler is from Long Island and went to SUNY Purchase for her undergraduate degree, where she received a BFA in photography. Sammi mainly does large format photography and loves to work in the darkroom, developing and printing. She also enjoys making installation art, printmaking, and experimenting with new methods of art-making. Sammi really enjoys working with props to tell a story and affect the way people feel. 

Sammi critiqued "The Museum of the World" project from The British Museum.  You can find Sammi's full critique here.

After doing this exhibition critique, Sammi realized that we have the technology to make online experiences as interesting as in-person experiences. We just need to be thoughtful about how information is presented, and work harder to interact with users. 



Thank you to Bhawika, Selen, and Sammi for sharing your critiques!


Do you have your own thoughts about online exhibition experiences?  Please share them in the "Comments" section below!




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.

Paul Orselli writes the posts on ExhibiTricks. Paul likes to combine interesting people, ideas, and materials to make exhibits (and entire museums!) with his company POW! (Paul Orselli Workshop, Inc.) Let's work on a project together!

If you enjoy the blog, you can help keep it free to read and free from ads by supporting ExhibiTricks through our PayPal "Tip Jar"

Friday, May 1, 2020

"Feets-On" Museums?


Let me start out by saying I wasn't raised by wolves, so I know that "feets" is a word that doesn't technically exist in the English language, but I'm making a comparison to the oft-used term "Hands-On" and the terms "Feet-On" or "Shoes-On" didn't quite hit the mark.

Many people in the interactive areas of the museum business are justifiably concerned about visitors' reluctance to touch things when museums begin to reopen after the COVID-19 pandemic. Me too!

I was recently interviewed for the excellent Museum Archipelago podcast to discuss the future of hands-on museum exhibits, and afterward, it got me thinking about how many interesting exhibits I've seen people use or activate with their feet. "Feets-On" seems like a much better design-thinking experiment than the idea of an entirely "touch-free" museum, and I don't recall anyone ever being concerned about poking or touching something with their shoe-clad foot inside an exhibition gallery.

Bear with me here -- I don't expect to create an entirely "Feets-On" Museum (although it seems like a cool idea!) but I'm using the notion as a jumping-off point, some design inspiration. What other interesting interfaces could we use to retrofit old exhibit components, or create brand new exhibit experiences, that would be respectful of visitors' concerns after months of being told to physically distance themselves from others and to avoid touching anything?

So here's a walkthrough of some inspiring foot-activated or foot-integrated experiences to keep you on your toes! (Most, if not all, of these experiences could be activated by people using wheelchairs or walkers, too.)


Switch Mats
These industrial-strength mats respond to just a slight bit of pressure and could be a way to replace simple push-button activated exhibits.



Earthquake/Seismograph Jumps
A classic bit of Science Center exhibit interaction -- jump to see a seismograph register and create your own mini-earthquake!  It's a cool way to combine a real scientific instrument with pure fun.  (Muzeiko in Bulgaria also has a jump-activated volcano model!)




Walk-on Big Piano
If you've ever seen the 1988 movie, "Big" with Tom Hanks, you no doubt remember the scene of Hanks' character dancing on a giant piano keyboard.  A fun way to create music without your hands! Check out the aptly-named company, Big Piano, for more information on how to purchase your own Big Piano.




Floor Projections
There are a number of companies that create interactive floor projections -- everything from dinosaur digs to alphabet hopscotch.  Here's an image from the fine folks at LUMOplay of one of their dino dig experiences.




Stomp Rockets and Cars
"Stomp" exhibits can be designed to meet an important interactive exhibit design feature -- the automatic reset!  Here's a picture of a stomp car track from the Palouse Discovery Center.  Note how the racetrack is tilted upward so the cars automatically roll back to the starting line.



Balance Exhibits
Many sports exhibitions have a number of experiences that let visitors "think on their feet." Here's an example of an equilibrium test from Children's Museum Houston, but I've also seen surfboard and balance beam exhibit components, too.





"Shoe View"
A great idea I've seen in several exhibitions is a kiosk with a monitor at eye level but a camera at the foot/shoe level.  It immediately catches your attention because you expect the screen to show your face or upper torso, not your shoes.  This worked to great effect in the "Global Shoes" exhibition developed by the Brooklyn Children's Museum and Whirlwind Creative.  In this case, you were encouraged to look carefully at your own shoes and compare them to the many different types of shoes on display in the exhibition.




Footprint and Shoe Comparisons
People love to compare themselves to other people and animals.  Presenting visitors with a way to compare their own feet to a dinosaur, or an elephant, or a famous athlete makes for a great selfie moment!




Math Dance 
Even Math can become an opportunity to use your feet when you are working with a talented dancer like Mickela Mallozi (of the "Bare Feet" TV show from PBS.)  Mickela helped us develop a "Math Dance" interactive for the Discovery Museum in Acton, Massachusetts that lets visitors dance along to find the geometry and patterns in dances from around the world!






I hope you've enjoyed this little walkabout through some "feets-on" design inspiration.

Let's all point our shoes in the right direction and start marching toward new interactive exhibit design ideas for when we all finally step into our favorite museums as they begin to reopen around the world!




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.

Paul Orselli writes the posts on ExhibiTricks. Paul likes to combine interesting people, ideas, and materials to make exhibits (and entire museums!) with his company POW! (Paul Orselli Workshop, Inc.) Let's work on a project together!

If you enjoy the blog, you can help keep it free to read and free from ads by supporting ExhibiTricks through our PayPal "Tip Jar"