Final Prototyping Session at the Franklin Institute

November 19th

On November 19th, the University of the Arts graduate students set up the next rendition of their prototypes in Pepper Hall at the Franklin Institute. The visitor base at this location was very important because it was comprised of the typical visitor who will be interacting with the final installation during the Science Festival at the Franklin Institute. The graduate students were joined by both the Science Leadership Academy and String Theory High School students who helped to facilitate this visitor interaction. The UArts students placed their exhibitions in different locations throughout Pepper Hall to create enough space for both concepts to be interacted with separately.

Over the past few weeks, the UArts and SLA students worked hard to conceptualize and develop the new ideas and structures that were presented to the Franklin Institute visitors. These concepts were evolutions from the earlier prototyping session which was held at The University of the Arts and relocated to test a new audience. During the prototyping session at the Franklin Institute, each of the students had various tasks to accomplish. The String Theory students would observe the visitors and take down any notes on how they were using the exhibition, comments they would make to their peers, and even some unexpected uses. Such observational questions included: did they read the instructions?, are they having conversations?, what materials did they use?, did they seem to enjoy the interactive?, and how much time did they spend with the interactive? After the visitors would interact with the exhibition, the SLA students would survey the visitors to see whether the concept of the exhibition was apparent to them by their responses to a variety of questions. Between visitor interactions, each group would gather around their respective exhibition and discuss what they saw, and what should be improved upon and tested with the next round of visitors.

The last rendition of the exhibition created by Jenna Savage and her team of students has changed drastically since their last prototyping session. The content and goal of the exhibition is still to create a conversation about how various communities inspire you, but it has taken on a completely new shape. This new exhibition almost resembles organic crystal formations in which the visitors are invited to ‘tag’ the sculptural form with drawings and designs. These designs are to be placed on the form that corresponds with the community that inspires them the most. There was a nice range of community selections which included: sports, science, environment, cultural institutions and one for other impacting communities. The first two groups of visitors comprised of mainly middle school aged students, and the were invited to make art pieces out of felt and markers which depicted anything that they associated with these inspirational community. Some of the tags that people had constructed consisted of their favorite cultural institutions like the Franklin Institute, or the ICA. People drew images of wildlife, their favorite sports, molecules and atoms, and began to place them on these structures to create a wonderful mosaic of art. Between the prototyping sessions, the group would play with the positioning of the sculptural forms, and the activity table for creating these pieces of art. It seemed like the visitors were spending a lot of time cutting and assembling these art pieces, a limited number were being placed on the sculptures so the team made the decision to test what happens if only markers are placed for visitor use. This helped to create more of a sense of drawing graffiti on the piece which seemed to be a more liberating experience for the visitors.

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Across Pepper Hall was the second exhibition, Don’t Box Me In, designed by Alex Seder and Dai Li with their group of Science Leadership Academy and String Theory students. Don’t Box Me In is meant to create a multi-generational conversation about what it is like to be a teenager within the same community. With this new prototype, creating a sense of transparency both physically and metaphorically was very important, so the group selected some more polished and sophisticated materials to represent their concept. The clear sides to the box, and open bottom allowed visitors to see that there was action happening beyond the walls of the structure and was more inviting to the approaching visitors. Within the box, the visitors were prompted with questions to help spark a conversation about the similarities and differences of the age groups within their community. Each age group had their own post-it color designation, as well as spot to place their posts. There was a variety of questions which ranged from ‘How do you find out about the news as a teenager?’ ‘What was your most embarrassing moment as a teenager?’ ‘What is a common misconception that other generations have about yours?’ These questions received a very diverse range of answers based on the age one was looking at, but some actually provoked similar answers from the age groups. It was quite interesting to look at the responses across the board and it really helped to facilitate conversation between visitors. They were able to read each others anonymous postings and put themselves in the shoes and minds of others. Between prototyping sessions, the group discussed that there could be some language issues based on the age of the visitor, but this was something that was easily changed for the next group. Questions were added, removed, and reworded to be sure to evoke a more thoughtful response from the visitors.

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This second prototyping session proved very beneficial to developing these exhibitions further. It was a very valuable experience for both the designers and the students and it was wonderful to host it in a museum with visitors outside of the project. The visitors were able to provide a new prospective on the concepts and functionality of these exhibitions and were a key step in developing these exhibitions. The graduate students will give their final presentations on December 8th at the University of the Arts and discuss the future steps of these exhibitions.

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