Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Exhibit Design Inspiration -- Decisions, Decisions!

Sometimes as part of a museum exhibit experience, we'd like the users to make a choice of some sort -- "Which historical figure do you want to find out about?"  "Choose one of these six minerals to test ..." "Did your animal survive the winter?" and so on.

While these kinds of decision points as part of an interactive experience can be handled by a digital/computer device or (gasp!) some sort of Artificial Intelligence application, I'm a big fan of a decidedly more "old school" analog approach -- incorporating the devices used in board games (dice, spinners, flippers, carnival wheels, etc.) to provide different content or experiential choices for museum visitors.

Why use things like dice or spinners in an exhibition instead of a randomized digital equivalent?

Here are a few reasons:

Watching a spinning carnival wheel or having several people throw dice to make a choice in an exhibition is inherently a more social experience than one person hunching over a touch screen.

Spinners or dice don't need to be plugged in.

Physical selection devices can be used by people with a wide range of abilities.  For example, all these "old school" game devices can be set up so that users with low or no vision can still participate.

Game elements can also easily scale up or down. Large-scale game elements add to the "sociability" factor mentioned above.

Check out this example below from a nature game (about geese!) I saw during my last trip to Bulgaria.

Simple selection devices can be easily mocked up when testing exhibit prototypes, or just by doing a quick Google or Amazon search for "game piece suppliers," you can find lots of good places to buy all sorts of pieces to use for testing or in finished exhibit components.

In that regard, while researching this post, I came across a great website In addition to having all sorts of information about, and reviews of, board games, the site also has this handy webpage that provides an alphabetical listing of online outlets that sell game pieces and related materials. 

Most, if not all, of your museum visitors will automatically know how to use a carnival wheel or set of dice.

Last but not least, these low-tech items are very durable and easily maintained or replaced.  Even better, all of these items can be self-contained -- that is, without loose parts.  Even dice can be put into spinning cages or the awesome Pop-O-Matic, so they don't go astray.

So, why not take a chance (roll the dice!) and incorporate some "old school" physical game elements into your next exhibit design or prototyping session?

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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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