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!

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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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