It’s no easy task to create a highly interactive digital experience that can handle children who might be stroller or carrier bound, crawling or bouncing off the walls. When Experience Design’s Petra Uebel accepted the challenge as part of Adobe’s Pro Bono Initiative to build an exhibit for San Francisco’s Children’s Creativity Museum, it was a bit of a leap of faith. Petra had a surfeit of enthusiasm, but basically no experience with exhibit design or engineering…but sometimes faith is enough. With the help of the Pro Bono support team and mentors it only took a few weeks for her to assemble an enthusiastic team of designers and developers who relished the opportunity to step out of their day-to-day responsibilities, playing and sweating their way into a really captivating digital exhibition.
The team was asked to fill a critical gap in the museum’s offerings: an exhibit focusing on their youngest visitors, children aged five and under. Our Experience Design (XD) team brainstormed, designed and prototyped in collaboration with museum staff to create an exhibit experience that is visual and kinesthetic. It was not long before there were bright lights flashing, people stomping on padded surfaces like three-year-olds, supported by tangles of wires and the smell of soldering.
There were many solutions explored, but the one the team settled on and built combines a custom LED array wall that is a whopping 84 pixels wide by 46 pixels high. It doesn’t sound like a lot until you go about the task of wiring every two inch pixel by hand – and the resulting 16 foot wide 8 foot high screen is impressive. The screen is supported by a pressure sensitive floor and touch interaction so children can interact with the display in very natural ways. A sound system is also incorporated so that almost all the children’s senses covered.
The programs that have been developed so far range from interesting pixelated displays of radiating ripples in a pond to an explosion of fireworks, and the XD team has been hard at work on a series of experiences that feature the Museum’s signature “Critters.” These simple and colorful beasts are the Museum’s mascots, and some of the exhibit’s programs will allow the children to run around, point and poke and watch the way the characters respond. The goal is to bring the critters alive to the delight of the children that interact with them.
Not too different than the critters, our team at Adobe, was inspired by a desire to make a difference in the lives of the children who will experience the exhibit. The project sparked a new level of energy and enthusiasm to stretch beyond assumed limitations, explore new roles and develop new skills. It’s hard sometimes to maintain that level of energy in our “real” jobs, so Pro Bono projects like this offer a wonderful energy boost and, significantly, that energy seems to rub off, even on coworkers who aren’t participating. The Adobe Pro Bono Initiative is just getting started and I can’t wait to see what other projects we are able to connect our employees to make a difference in the community while they grow themselves.
The new interactive exhibit at the San Francisco Children’s Creativity Museum opens to the public today, Friday, July 26. For more information on romping around and interacting with some really big pixels, see here.
Photos courtesy of Adam Freidin