In 2012-13, I partnered with the experience design firm Blue Telescope to create 12 interactive exhibits for the Museum of Mathematics (MoMath) in New York City. I also created a service experience for MoMath’s innovative RFID tracking system, which enhances the visitor’s museum experience with customized content and the ability to save images from their interactive play.
I was charged with determining how the interaction worked across digital controls and exhibit hardware. Part of that work involved creating complex taskflows describing the desired interaction; in the exhibit described here, “Finding Fifteen,” the visitor engages with two terminals, a set of levers, and possibly a another museum-goer, all to unlock the “secret” of the magic square.
But at the same time, the exhibits needed to be friendly, playful, and rooted in the real world. Working with the museum’s Executive Director and other core leadership, we created experiences that introduce visitors to the creative, playful possibilities of mathematics. In “Human Tree”, the visitor is captured via Kinect and rendered as a tree, with new limbs growing in fractal patterns; as the seasons change, the tree grows and sheds leaves. Visitors can change the season, combine their trees and save pictures of themselves in tree form.
We worked through questions like: how tree-like should the tree be? How do you make fractal-yous fun and not creepy? How do you allow people to easily combine their trees, but also make it easy for a museum-goer to ignore a stranger who's engaging with them unwantedly? Our design needed to both make it easy to collaborate and to protect children’s privacy; finding the right balance for this exhibit took several rounds of ideation.
Visitors to MoMath get an RFID badge with their admission. This allows the exhibits to recognize them as they approach and to customize the exhibit’s language and content for them. Because it is a passive detection system, we needed to be able to communicate what the exhibit sees: if two users walk up at the same time, who did the exhibit detect first?
For privacy reasons, no names are used: each RFID card has a unique set of glyphs printed on it, and the visitor is only ever identified by those glyphs onscreen.