The wonderfulness of the unexpected

So, we missed our inspiration last week due to the double –storm whammy, and lo and behold, it looks like we will get to experience that again this week at the studio.  In fact, right now it looks like we are getting 2 inches of snow an hour.Therefore, we are offering four fun inspiration examples that, for us, illustrate the “wonderfulness of the unexpected” and its potential to take the ordinary and make it into the memorable.


The first is an installation by Alois Kronschlaeger at the Mammal Hall of the former Grand Rapids Public Museum last year.






Here, Alois created several experiences that take the expected diorama and breaks down the barrier between visitor and exhibit. It’s as if he invites visitors into the other dimension – the one that lives just behind the glass and the museum’s walls.


The second example is one that challenges the expected non-interactive nature of the street poster. This was the promotion for the new book, Marilyn: Intimate Exposures, that celebrates the photographs of Marilyn Monroe by Bernard of Hollywood (most famous being the “skirt” photo). Campaign by Preuss und Preuss




Certainly unexpected, this interactive needs no explanation on how to use and is almost impossible not to use. Interesting is how it places the visitor in the slightly uncomfortable position of deciding to interact or not. Our guess is that makes the interaction even more memorable.


Example three is a visit to childhood for adults by a McDonalds in Peru, conceived of by Fahrenheit DDB.




This example of the unexpected in an ordinary setting builds on the power of scale that we have blogged about before.



Finally, what would it be like if the zombie phenomenon was real? Well, New Yorkers recently got an unexpected look at that. Here is the surprise from cable channel AMC.




All of these unexpected experiences are designed to move people out of the ordinary to the extraordinary. Thinking about how to do this in an exhibition is extremely important. It is easy for visitors who enter an exhibition to get into the “exhibition mode” and then behavior, learning and impact become somewhat muted.

Finding ways to create experiences of “unexpectedness” is one way an exhibition can create a greater impact.

Now, of course, one doesn’t want to create a heart attack, but unexpectedness can come from content as well as experience and design.

Share with us what kind of unexpected experiences you have encountered in a museum or other setting.


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scale in the city

Over the past year, we have remarked about how the use of scale, done well, can make an experience special. This week we’ve run across three very inspiring and imaginative examples of large-scale experiences. Whether marketing campaigns, art installations, or just cultural documentation, these examples captured our imagination.

The first is the submarine that surfaced in the center of Milan





Talk about an experience! This was a marketing event by M&C saatchi Milano for the insurance group europ assistanve IT. Certainly, it suggests some interesting ideas for promoting a new exhibition or large-format film in the museum world, and it got us wondering about how one might stage this to bring a short term “content” experience into a city.

Here is a possible example. Speaking of large scale film, here is what might be “the largest film camera in the world.”





You might be able to see this in your local city/town. It is traveling around the country as part of the project ”Butterflies and Buffalo” by Dennis Manarchy. The project is to document and “preserve our nation’s (United States) dynamic cultural history”

The last example shows how an abandoned building was transformed into an imaginative setting. Here is the project “from the knees of my nose to the belly of my toes.”




This house, with a sliding front, can be found in Margate and was done by Alex Chinneck, a British artist.

These projects are clear examples of how scale and the context in which the scale experience occurs can heighten the impact of the experience.

Our belief is that museums need to consider breaking down their walls to bring more of their experiences directly into the world beyond the building.

What do you think? What might you pull off in the middle of the city?

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clandestine museum

The idea of museums that speak about what a museum is, what it means to collect, and how museums interpret the world is not a new idea. There are several out there – one, for example, is the Museum of Jurassic Technology. Here at ALCHEMY studio, we find these very thought-provoking… evoking reflections and offering inspiration about what we do as a field.

The latest is the secreted or hidden Museum.
































This experience is found in an abandoned freight elevator on Cortlandt Alley in New York City. As the museum’s web site states:

“Life exists around us, and the proof of our existence is both beautiful and absurd. Our footprint, which is often overlooked, dismissed, or ignored, is intriguing, and always worth exploring.”

In addition, there is no interpretation of the objects visible in the Museum. Rather, each object has a number code and you call a toll free number (888-763-8839), enter the object’s code, and receive information about the object.

So, here we have a fascinating example of a “hidden discovery” experience like the UNESTS we blogged about before. Imagine the impact of discovering this experience – a simple, perhaps extreme, instance of using mobile devices in a museum. Makes one wonder about trying this in a larger context.

Finally, an interesting take on bringing the museum to the neighborhood.

Today, their website says there will be a store and café this weekend. (Museum expansion!)

So, what “museum” might you create in an abandoned freight elevator? What other kinds of hidden museums would want to discover?

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Physical Metaphor: Collecting Sounds

Certainly some of the most pleasurable and engaging experiences are when an environment/exhibit can create a physical experience that is a “metaphor” for another experience we engage in. In some ways touch tables experience are version of this (some more refined than others) where we play with “files” or “objects”, passing to others, manipulating them like they were physically there.

Those that can break from a singular location are even more special. One of the more delightful and intriguing that we have run across is the Re: Sound Bottle by by Jun Fujiwara from Tama Art University. Watch to completely understand.


The idea of chasing fireflies, tadpoles or other collection experiences but instead collecting sounds is delightful physical metaphor.

Imagine collecting rainbows, or documenting smell, capturing gravity…

It certainly is inspirational to think about how an experience, in our museums and science centers, could we create an experience where you manipulate, capture or collect items that are less physical but no more real. And in doing so discover or become aware of something new while also connecting with some age old or primal experience.

Share you ideas!

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musical cooperation


So, with another snowfall here at the studio yet again our thoughts turned to spring and the upcoming summer. With that in mind, we share with you this simple but evocative experience that could be at home at an art, science, or children’s museum.

21 Swings by daily tous les jours a design studio with a focus on participation. This piece takes what we what have as field have done countless times (musical stairs or giant keyboards) and adds a complexity element (different series of notes) and also adds the element of group participation, which can be sometimes hard in other musical experiences.  It should be pointed out that this experience is part of the “empathiCITY, making our city together” exhibition at the 2013 biennale internationale design saint-etienne.

daily tous les jours has done some other interesting pieces that might be of interest. Check out the these:

The “On The Difficulty of Serving Tea” a piece where we can see a lot of  connections to a variety of cultural as well as science topics

and “Machine à Turlute” which demonstrates another interesting physical musical collaborative experience and cultural exploration.

As always, let us know of other experience of the same ilk, or if we can inspire with you.

By the way, let’s go Spring! Come on, get here soon!


photo by Oliver Blouin


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Sound! Water! Camera! – Action!

There are often experiences or demonstrations that just cry out for someone to use them as an inspiration for an interactive exhibit. Here is one that we are experimenting with here At ALCHEMY studio for a local fabricator to bring to a science center near you.

This experiment/demonstration was done by Brusspup. It involves not only making sure the device is constructed correctly but also viewing it with a camera that is in sync with the sound. What is clear is that it’s possible to create a very interesting experience demonstrating several science principles in which one side of the exhibit seems like somewhat chaotic water movement but the other side seems to reveal a “frozen in time” moment.

If you are interested in our investigation of this phenomenon/experience and would like to explore what we are doing and perhaps acquiring some version of what we com up with drop us a line.

A special shout out!

And, as always, if you have something you think we should share, send it to us.We should mention we recently got several submittals from fans of inspiration weeklies. We’ll be rolling these out over the next few weeks with our own examples of things  that are inspiring us and making us think about the experiences we find in our informal learning lives.

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Mechanical Interactive Walls

Some of the exhibits that have always seemed to suck us into mesmerizing states of fascination have actually been interactive (and at times non-interactive) large-scale wall experiences. Recently, we have become aware of two that should get your brain turning and will no doubt “spin off” countless ideas. (Pardon the pun, which you’ll understand when you see these.) The first is a work by the design group called Humans Since 1982. This is called “A Million Times.”



















Made with clocks (a subtle time-related experience, connected in this way to the melting piece Calamidad Cósmica), this piece can create messages and depict complex patterns and fields, suggesting many ideas for riffing and evoking many related ideas and aspects. A system like this could be responsive to viewers or to objects such as magnets or other more technological EM transmitters (i.e. cell phones anyone?). This could be a beautiful way to engage people in some complex ideas. On its onw it’s a beautiful, evocative piece.

Another piece we ran across was the experience “Flow 5.0” by Daan Roosegaarde a Dutch artist.



Here, what interests us is that fact that this interactive piece is different than, say, “Pipe Dream” by Bruce Shapiro    


or the work of Daniel Rozin (like this at the Perot Museum).    



“Flow 5.0” actually sends something physical back to the viewer – moving air. This could open up other ideas about what else could touch the viewer/user that they might explore or appreciate.

Certainly, with both the physical and visual interactive and non-interactive wall experiences, there is ample material and inspiration to evoke some truly immersive and memorable museum visits, not to mention make many buildings more engaging.

Let us know about more if you run across them. What ideas do these spin off?

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wonderful web play

These days here at the studio, we are always on the hunt for innovative and engaging ways to interact with the digital environment. This certainly applies to how visitors might interact with something that has a screen. After all, resorting back to traditional interfaces and imagery seems pointless in a world where our home digital world is complex.

A recent source of inspiration is the developing portal/palate of experience created by Jongmin Kim of Form Follow FunctionOne note: From video this site appears to be designed first for the iOS. Try you iPad if you have one. We found at times that our Chrome browser had problems working the site. You might need to use IE or Safari. It’s a little wonky at times.

form follows function

While we suggest you spend some time experimenting and exploring these (all of which we found to be great fun), there are certain ones that felt instantly transferable to some of the content we are often trying to portray.


Surface Waves










Try “Color Pixelated,” “Surface Waves,” and “Ripples on the Green” to name a few. And as you will see, there are more experiences coming!

We were instantly struck by how interesting some of these might be if projected in a large format, or represented so visitors could interact with their whole bodies rather than just a mouse or finger. What this also goes to show is that, often, we try to use computers in exhibits to cram in lots of information while, instead,

these make the interactivity laser-like in focus – a nod to the idea that simplicity can make for better and more engaging experiences.


We suggest you also look at Jongmin’s other work on his site.

One note: We found at times that our Chrome browser had problems working the site. You might need to use IE or Safari.

Let us know your thoughts and reactions!


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non-gravity gravity well : weekly inspiration

The interface between the digital data and modeling world and the 3D world will certainly be one of the richest areas of innovation – in our everyday lives and, as a result, in exhibition design, too. The latest inspiring effort that we found is Zero N by from the Tangible Media Group at MIT’s Media Lab, created by Jinha Lee in collaboration with Rehmi Post and Hiroshi Ishii

What struck us immediately is the almost magical but realistic-looking modeling of gravity and other physical aspects such as the progression of the sun around the earth. While certainly in its early stages, the technology found here offers the ability to model other aspects of physics in a new way that may, in fact, be more effective for visitors. I’m sure others out there can come up with an exciting list of possible uses.

True to our name as ALCHEMY studio, we are continually trying to document, think about, use, and riff on new developments such as these. As home entertainment systems, computers and mobile devices rapidly evolve, the digital information and digital interfaces that museums employ will need to change.

Certainly, one direction that museums must explore is making experiences (exhibits, events, special installations, programs) that utilize new ways in which the actual physical world interacts with the digital world.

So, whether it is an interface/model such as ZeroN made possible by computers, or the interplay of projection, data and spandex in Firewall, our efforts to engage visitors will need to stretch to create experiences that aren’t possible at home.


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firewall – inspiration weekly

The first thing that has captured our eye this year is this engaging and beautiful piece called Firewall:

It’s both artistic and musical and has an almost magical feel. It certainly would fit into many of the institutions we know. This was created by Aaron Sherwood created in collaboration with Michael Allison.

In addition, the experience has made us “riff” off of this piece for new experiences we might be part of, including:

-          explaining topography

-          exploring earthquakes

-          physically demonstrating sound waves

-          creating an illusionary environment

We would love to hear your ideas!

Meanwhile, back in October we were captured by the work of Antonin Fourneau and the Water Light Graffiti system. So now we have both fire and water. We just need to add earth and air and we’ll have the alchemy quattro.


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