out of the box technology

This week at the studio, we’ve been thinking and talking about ways to use technology to foster inquiry. This was sparked in part to a recent article in ed, the magazine for the Society of Experiential Graphics (click here to see the article) written by the studio’s very own Wayne LaBar. In addition if you are interested in exploring the subject further register for the SEGD Exhibition & Experience Design Workshop being held August 21 – 22 in Washington DC. Wayne and others will be speaking at it.

As part of our discussions, we came across an interesting video done by a GoPro video owner – it shows what goes on when you run your dishwasher. Watch below:



This video got us thinking about how everyday technologies that our visitors adopt or use can be co-opted to suggest and foster inquiry experiences in their lives and at museums. Let’s just take the GoPro camera system, for example. Here, we have a rugged, video data collection system that anyone can use. Imagine creating an experience where visitors are prompted to shoot the mysterious goings-on in neighborhood locales, or shoot video of places they can’t actually see, providing perspectives that one often doesn’t think about. This could be at home or even within a museum.

We believe we should be fostering ideas about how we might take new technologies that people are adopting and twist them into interesting new tools for investigating the world.

This seems like a creative way to think about and innovate toward some new experiences for museums, science centers, children’s museums, and other places.

Now that you’ve seen what’s happening inside a dishwasher, what else do you want to see? How might you use an everyday technology in a new way?

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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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UNESTs – UNexpected Encounters with Science and Technology

Recently a couple of things we have run across have energized us about cataloguing, designing, and thinking about a concept we are calling UNEST experiences. UNEST stands for UNexpected Encounters with Science and Technology.

Often some of the most powerful and engaging encounters with science and technology occur through experiences where you weren’t expecting to wrap you head around that.

In exhibition design, presenting the weird, the surprising, the unexpected creates an emotional as well as cognitive disconnect that can spark a memorable/learning/aha! moment.

Encountering such an experience in the regular everyday existence (outside of the “artificial” learning environment of a museum), for example in city or urban life, might in fact heighten the memorable/learning/aha! moment. These are what we are calling UNESTs. One wonders if encountering these might “raise the tide” of public engagement with science and technology. One reason, you don’t choose to go to these – rather they find you!  Because of this, UNESTs possibly reach members of the public who might never choose to visit a museum/science center about sci/tech subjects.

Here are some examples of UNESTs

The first is a project by Maskull Lasserre called Outliers. Imagine finding animal footprints in places you least expected.
















What might you think? Where might your inquiry take you? Twilight references? Loose zoo animals? By the way WOW! someone should adapt this for all year round fun at nature centers, zoos etc.



Another is the amazing Kinetic Rain sculpture by ART+COM at Terminal 1 of Changi Airport in Singapore.  Equations, models, nature, beauty all wrapped into one.





Once again, one can imagine conversations discussing how is this done to what it represents, to the beauty of it all. Something we don’t expect to have on a busy travel day going home or heading to a meeting.

Let’s all do our own UNESTs!

One wonders if our work in museum/science centers should  be taken as much as possible “out of the box” of the museum building.  It would be fun to do. Only question is finding the support to do so.


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