Designing Interactive exhibits for adult audiences


This is a response post to Nina Simon’s Museum 2.0 post today, “Designing Interactives for Adults: Put down the Dayglow”

I have been thinking on this subject for awhile now. I read a book recently about engaging children with history collections, and though there were some great ideas, there was an overwhelming point of view that designing for children is imensely different from designing for adults. As if the day you turn 18 you are no longer insterested in being actively engaged..

“No thanks, I don’t want to paint, draw, build, explore, etc. Learning the facts from this panel is entertaining enough for me.”

Not to knock panels, but adults need play too – we still learn from play, and enjoy play, even though we are no longer children.

Perhaps we shouldn’t think so much along the lines of children’s exhibit needs being drastically different from those aimed at adults, but rather that adult exhibit needs are really not that different than the needs of children. We need to approach designing exhibits for children with an interactive, and engaging goal, but we should be doing the exact same thing for adults.

But, as Nina Simon points out, adult interactives should be packaged for adults – make it obvious that this play is for them. Although, I have no qualms myself engaging in activities obviously designed for children, I can appreciate that some adults would be offput by bright colours and cartoonish images.

Some examples of great interactive exhibits designed with adults in mind:

Colour and Line: Turner’s experiments at Tate Britain in London, UK

I was fortunate to visit this exhibit (which ends in April 2012) in September 2008. There are two main components to the exhibit; a traditional art exhibit format of Turner’s paintings and an additional  interactive component. The interactive portion focuses on the science of colour theory (heavily associated with Turner) with a variety of interactive colour experiments, videos, etc.. As well as a bank of drafting desks set up, with paper, pencils and examples of Turner’s drawings, so visitors can try and draw like the Master. I myself spent a great deal of time in this part of the exhibit!

Visitor at Tate Britain

Lates’ at the Science Museum, London, UK

I have not had the opportunity to attend a ‘Lates’ night at the Science museum, but when I first heard about them a couple years ago I thought it was an absolutely brilliant idea! Check out this link for a video of these adult only evenings at the Science Museum.

Science museums are full of interactive experiments and activities, but on any normal day you have to wait in line behind all the kids – and you feel really awful if you are hogging something fun when they are children waiting. Lates is the answer to that – the adults get unobstructred access to the activities, with some more adult aimed additions.

Lost Collections of the Ancient World at the Museum of Ontario Archaeology, London, Ontario, Canada

In July 2011 I put together an exhibit on a really amazing collection found in storage at the Museum of Ontario Archaeology.

Part of the collection consists of a large vessel, which we do not know much about. We are unsure of exactly when and where it is from or what its purpose is. As part of the exhibit I included a chalk board for visitors to answer the question: What do you think it is? in regards to this vessel. At the exhibit opening I was delighted to see the number of responses, some serious – a planter? Others perhaps less so – A roman shower head? The response was exactly what I had hoped for;  people were think about they are seeing, but also to having a little fun with it.

What do you think? Should we encourage adults to interact with our museums?

What do you think it is? Board

What do you think it is? Board in context with the exhibit

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About newmuseumkat

I am a museologist and an archaeologist. I love both, but they work best when mixed together.
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