Sciences centers strategies for learning and engagement

Introduction :

As we saw in the previous articles, one of the role of science centers is to introduce participatory experiences and provide effective learning content and techniques. While traditional museum emphasize static displays of objects and artifacts, science centers have followed the more dynamic philosophy of the chinese proverb : « I hear and I forget, I see and I remember, I do and I understand » [1]. Since learning is a complex concept, we will try here to explain it as well as the strategies used by science centers to adress this goal.

Learning :

Learning is a dynamic process in which the learner uses sensory inputs and constructs meaning out of it.It is what people do when they want to make sense of the world around them. It may involve enhancing in skills, knowledge, understanding, values, feelings, attitudes and capactity to reflect. Effective learning leads to change, development and the desire to learn more.

People be trained to learn to learn as they learn to see as learning consists both of constructing meaning and constructing systems of meaning. The crucial action of construction meaning is mental where it happens in the mind. Physical actions such as hands on experience may be necessay for learning that effectively for children. However it is not sufficient while we need to provide activities which engage the mind as well as the hands.

Learning is a social activity that out learning is intimately associated with our connection with other human beings, our teachers, our peers, our familiy as well as casual acquaintances, including the people before us or next to us at the exhibit. Learning is contextual as we do not learn isolated facts and theories in some abstract ehtereal land of the mind separate from the rest of our lives, we learn in relation to what else we know, what we believe, our prejudice and our fears [2].

Learning is divided into 3 categories :

  • Formal learning : school experience, teacher or staff might involve worksheets, often passive and may involve assessment
  • Selft directed learning : led by the learner when they are interested in a subject or motivated by a specific need (school project, vocational interest)
  • Informal learning : unplanned casual encounters that lead to new insights, ideas or conversation. Types of learning that always introduced in a museum setting are related to how well visitors understand and regulate their own thinking process as summarized by the following description.

Learning takes time : the 4 stages of the learning model :

  • Stage 1 : Self Awareness – Don’t know that you don’t know

This is the first stage of learning. The individual doesn’t understand or know how to do something and does not necessarily recognize the deficit. The lenght of time an individual spends in this stage depends on the strength of the stimilus to learn. You don’t know where you are and what you are doing.

  • Stage 2 : Self Appreciation – Know that you don’t know

The learner doesn’t understand or know how to do something but he recognizes the deficit. This is the most difficult stage and it is where the learning begins. A lot of mistakes are going to be made during this learning process.

  • Stage 3 : Self Engagement – Know about it, but you have to think about it

The individual understands or knows how to do something. However, demonstrating the skill or knowledges requires concentration and effort. This stage is easer than the previous one but still requires concentration.

  • Stage 4 : Selft directed learning – Know it so well you don’t have to think about it

The individual had a lot of practice with a skill that has become a second nature and can be performed easily. He may be able to teach to other people depending on how and when it was learned.

The model of the exploratorium for learning

Science and children museum’s followed the learning strategy model of the Exploratorim because it put the visitor in a very active role as a learner : Experimenting, Hypothsizing, Interpreting and drawing conclusions. This model integrate 4 importants aspect of the learning environment : immediate apprehendability, physical interactivity, conceptual coherence and diversity of learning modes [3].

  • immediate apprehendability : capacity to create effortless backdrops. The aim is to limit the cognitive overload also named as the museum fatigue. Shettle found that the average visitor views an exhibit unit for 20 seconds and tours a complete exhibit for a maximum of 14 minutes. It means that science centers are able to draw the attention of the viewer for a very limited period of time. In order to capitalize on that time it is important not to require the reading of extensive text nor concentration on visual aids that would try the patience of the average viewer[1]. This concept is close to the idea of affordance defined by Donald Norman.
  • physical interactivity : Research on visitor learning in museums suggests that interactivity promotes engagement, understanding and recall of exhibits. Some studies in the exploratorium identified 5 common pitifalls for designing exhibits with high levels of interactivity or multiple interactive features : multiple options with equal salience can overwhelm visitors, interactivity by multiple simultaneous users can lead to disruption, interactivity can desrupt the comprehension of the phenomen.
  • conceptual coherence : one of the main goal of science centers is to give visitors the big picture around a subject. They are using various techniques to make abstract concepts and themes more apparent to visitors. Achieving high levels of thematic clarity for exhibitions may be particularly difficult in an open environment.
  • diversity of learning modes

Howard gardner developed a theory on the dissimilar ways that individuals learn and process information, which called the multiple intelligences theory. According to gardner’s theory, visitors might show well built leaning skills in any of seven different style categories that summarized in the following tables :

Through this different categorisations of learning profiles, Dawson tried to show how museum communication of meaning would affect those different types of learners :

Visitor’s Engagement

The concepts of visitors involvement and participatory exhibit have undergone some basic changes in recent years as a result of museum research on viewer attention span and of nonmuseum research on cognitive and affective processes. Participatory exhibits actively involve the visitor in discovering information through his own participation in the demonstration process. Successful participatory learning devices are those that allow manipulation, experimentation and variation. For an instructionally efficient and effective exhibit, some feedback loop between the person and object appears to be necessary [1].

In the video underneath, Nina Simon is explaining a few rules and BPE of a good visitor engagement. She also explains why affordance is particularly important when designing an exhibition.

The role of museums in lifelong learning

Lifelong learning is the ability to constantly update and expand your knowledge in a variety of fields. It helps you to survive, to engage and shape your vision of the world. Lifelong learning comprises all phases of learning from preschool to post retirement. Museums take place in this learning, and propose content for all age groups.

Literacy is a person who has all the abilities to be able to engage deeply herself with a specific topic. For this, she needs 3 components :

  • knowledge : about the specific topic
  • skills : direct to the tasks or to apply the knowlege
  • volition : will to engage and do something

Scientific literacy : a person who has the will to engage in a recent discourse about science and technology which requires the competences to explain phenomena scientifically (knowledge), evaluate and design scientific enquiries (skills) and interpret data and evidences scientifically (skills and knowledge).

A visitor who really uses a museum content to its full extend, is called a museum literate person.

The 8 dimensions of museum literacy :

  1. curiosity, motivation and volition = the interest to will to do something inside the museum
  2. information processung competence = skills to use the information which is presented
  3. social competence = being able to interact either with the staff at the museum or with other visitors
  4. emotional competencies = self regulation on the other hand to allo feelings during a museum exhibit
  5. pre knowledge of a subject
  6. visual literacy = the ability to interepet the signs and images
  7. location and behavior competence : the ability to orient oneself in a museum and manoeuver through the differe offers of a museum
  8. appreciation of the exhibit = valuation of the objects of our cultural heritage

Application of thoses principles through the Dargis museum of Munich.

Conclusion :

The museum is in position to make a decision about which techniques and approaches are been utilized with respect to specific communication goals. In order to learn, a visitor first has to be motivated which is usually the case since visitors are chosing to go on science centers. Then, exhibitions designer must pay attention to provide immediate apprehendability, physical interactivity, conceptual coherence and to adress the multiple learning modes availables through the use of different communication devices. It is always useful to evaluate afterwards the vision of visitors after an exhibition in terms of learning and enjoyment, to evaluate if the global design exhibition experience is successful or not.

Sources :

[1] Kimche, L. (1978). Science centers: a potential for learning. Science 199, 270–273.

[2] Ahmad, S., Abbas, M.Y., Taib, Mohd.Z.Mohd., and Masri, M. (2014). Museum Exhibition Design: Communication of Meaning and the Shaping of Knowledge. Procedia – Social and Behavioral Sciences 153, 254–265.

[3] Allen, S. (2004). Designs for learning: Studying science museum exhibits that do more than entertain. Sci. Ed. 88, S17–S33.

[4] TED talks

BPE of Science centers in Austria 2

Haus der Nature Salzburg

Permanent exhibition : the brain , intelligence, consciousness, emotion

I was particularly impressed by this exhibition. The space is really big and allow you to explore freely like you enter a curiosity cabinet. Each area of the exhibition focus on a topic related to the brain. This exhibition deals with everything related to brain. Visitors can explore the organ through all perspectives : anatomy, personality, learning, perception, consciousness and sleep. There are several hands-on exhibits where visitors can try games and play with their memory.

Entrance of the permanent exhibition

On the opposite of the first BPE we described in the COSA center, I found the graphics in this museum much more comprehensible and visible as you can see in the picture below :

Graphics used to show some history around the brain and big thinkers

When entering the exhibition I was surprised to see this little robot in the middle of the path. Its aim is to guide the visitor through the exhibition. It can talk and guide you through the stations while providing explainations. A lot of childs were playing with it. I find the idea interesting since of the coronavirus situation it allows you to have explaination without any guide. I was impressed that it attracted so much childs either.

Pictures of the KIM AI robot

This picture shows the setup of the EEG sampling (electro- encephalography). This is something that could be complex to explain, but that is quite easy to show. It work by placing electrodes on the head and the inputs are recolted and processed by a computer.

Picture of the EEG setup

The exhibition uses a lot of tactile devices as this one. On this screen, you can learn about anatomy and functions of the brain by simply clicking on the area where you want to have information about. The brain is represented in 3D and you can look at it through different angles.

The next part deals with the topic of drugs and intoxication. I really liked how it was depict and the little windows which allow you to see how it looks like. Since those products are usually prohibben it’s not easy to see how they look. I found the pictures on the wall really clear.

Graphics showing the effect of drugs on your body

This part of the museum was more showing than hands-on, but we can find a lot of hands-on experiments in the science center part. The success of this first exhibition for me resides in the clear graphics, and 3D representations of complex topics around neuroscience, which help to understand it without too much difficulty.

Hands-on experiments in the Science Center

This science center is really focus on children hands-on approaches experiments. It presents the themas : energy and lifting, acoustics and music, physics and technology, body and fitness. Every setup and activity is really simple to allow young children to interact with.

Energy and Lifting

On the bottom floor of the Science Center, everything revolves around the theme of energy and lifting. Hands-on experiments make it easier to understand the law of the lever, hydraulic lift and power transmission and the generation of electricty from water power and solar energy.

The question that must rise into everyone’s mind are : How do turbines work? How can we produce electricity from generators? Different solar energy experiments offer insight into the technology of photovoltaics. And the water experiment area invites us to get our hands wet, raise and dam water, and discover the incredible power that lies hidden in water.

Acoustics and Music

The first floor of the Science Center is devoted to the phenomena of acoustics. From the wave nature of sound to the exploration sounds and noises and the transfer of sound to the human ear, here visitors can explore everything relating to the theme of sound.

A special highlight is the “Feel Mozart” area: with a violin you can actually walk on, the vibrations of music can be not only heard, but also felt.

In the Target Singing area, you can check if you’ve hit all the right notes. And finally, in the screaming cabin you can test out the volume of your own voice.

One of the devices visible in the center. You can click and play any song and see the frequency/recording waves

Physics and Technology

The second floor of the Science Center offers a myriad of experiments in physics, technology, and mathematics. Simple experiments provide confirmation of great natural laws: build a bridge and then test it out right away, launch a rocket using compressed air, make a ball float as if by magic, feel the aerodynamic lift with your own body. . . here you’ll learn what forces are capable of doing!

Questions come up and are answered by doing experiments. How do the fastest and slowest gears work? Why is fine powder used for cement and coffee? Nothing compares to experiencing it for yourself!

Body and Fitness

Also on the second floor, a large area of the Science Center is devoted to the dexterity, movement, and health of the human body. Our own body is the focus here with simple experiments and athletic contests.

Those devices help to get the concept of forces and physical activity. What a better way to understand how it works than trying it ?
By looking at the skeleton behind the glass, you can see which parts of your body are activated when you are practicing a physical activity.
Physical device showing the process of teeth cleaning

Conclusion :

These two examples highlight the importance of good graphics and the of haptics in science centers. Good graphics help to categorize sometimes complex information and have the “big picture” around a subject, while haptic supports, whether highly technological or not, help to apprehend concepts, test them to understand them, and facilitate memorization.

In the next article I will try to answer to the question around the learning strategies :

  • Which strategies are the best for public implication and a better learning ?
  • How to create funny but educational experiences ?
  • Why is multisense particularly interesting for exhibition design and learning ?

Source :

BPE of Science centers in Austria 1

I will continue the exploration of a few Best Pratice Examples (BPE) by showing in those 2 articles an analysis of two science centers I had the chance to visit here before lockdown in Graz and Salzburg.

The COSA Science Center of Graz

In december, I could go through the COSA science center of Graz during around 2 hours. Unfortunately, I could’nt access to the AR/VR part because of covid restriction, but I could go through the main rooms and get the main idea of the museum here.

Entry of the COSA building. On the yellow print you can have an overview of the topics presented in the science center.

There are different rooms in the COSA Center. In the Experimentarium, you can find a lot of hands on approaches and explanations about scientific phenomenas. I’ll detail the medecine experince presented in the cosa MedLab. You can also learn about technology and how are made cars.

I could only attend those, but the science center also proposes special exhibitions and contents through the COSA Plus program and COSA community. Those are social events when you can talk to different partners or guests, and there is also some special workshops and sciences show where professional can explain experiments.

Example of Science Show of the COSA museum
Cosa Community place where you can seat, discuss and practice hands-on experiments

The Experimentarium

We accessed the exhibit with a guide and an other familie. He explained us a bit about the content of each room and then we could go through the content freely and separated from the other familie and guide due to the corona situation.

Entrance of the exploratorium room

Hands-on best practice example : learn how to be a doctor in the MedLab

Material to start the experience

When entering this room I was particularly interested in this hands-on play approach where you are supposed to play a doctor. I was really impressed by the realism and details it got, and It really reminded me some parts of my previous biology cursus. This experience starts with this desk where you can pick up a pencil and a tablet. Then you can enter the rooms where sits the patients and pick one of them to play the doctor with.

First I took the paper here, then I went next to the patient and put the headphones on. When putting it ou can hear the story of the patient. Mine went trough a journey in the wild and went back with terrible stomachaches.

Detail paper of the patient where you can collect informations for further analysis
Monitor next to the patient

In the headphone it is explained that you can write the informations here and you have to take a blood sample. This part was really funny because the model had fake blood in it and I could really take something from its body so it added realism in the gesture.

Then, you have to enter to the analysis where you will have to make some research with the sample, and gather information.

Pictures of the hands-on experiment on the website

I knew how to proceed until this step but got a little blocked through the analysis room. I remember that I didn’t understood how to analyze the blood sample, I was quite afraid to break the material. It would have been great to have more explainations about this part, but everything else was really comprehensible.

Monitor where you can search for different types of sickness and find symptomes associated

After my researches through the monitor I thought I had the good diagnostic, but couldn’t be really sure since I didn’t have the feedback from the blood sample analysis. The last step was to use those screen to note everyinformation. I remember that everything was in German so it was quite complicated to note every information. I think I would definitely have less problem if some english information where written.

Hands-on pratice example : what is green energy ?

After exploring the Experimentarium space, I went throught the sustainability room. Here is an other ambiance, with a lot of information on the wall. The graphics were really great but I think it was a bit too much to understand quickly the goal of each device. We could’nt really tell the difference between usefull explainations for the experiences and just basic information and drawing about the topic.

When entering this room, you have to collect a connected lamp, which allows you to access to the experiments. I liked the idea because it showed the physical aspect behind energy.

One of the wall you can see entering the room. As you can see there are many informations

I tried to get through this activity and really had problems. Every information was written in German again, and the main information about the experiment was hidden under this round block, which was not really logical. An other thing that really confused me was that what seems like an ipad, was non interactiv. I finally understood that the goal of the experiment was to put the phones you can see here on the tablet, which is not what you are expected to do when seeing a tablet. So it reminded me that in order for an experiment to work, you always have to consider the affordance of the device you are using, and here the tablet was non appropriate for me. I would have understood if it was something like the lamp example we showed before. An other thing, was this old phone that I found quite unpractical because it needed my left hand. I would have prefered a headphone as it was used for the other experiments.

Experiment to compare phones and their energy consuption

Underneath you can see a bicycle experiment, which I understood as a sensibilisation to consider more about cyclists and showing it as a good way to save energy.

Picture of the activity from the website

At the end of the room, you can have an otherview of all your results through the key you used for all activites. I liked the idea and sensibilisation behind it.

Summary/tracking of all your datas collected on the different experiments through the sustainability room

Hands on approach : what is a car anyway ?

In the Cosa technology space, you can develop your own vehicle and get to know the technical components. I find it was really explaining the process behind the construction of the car : through the design that we can see on this print on the wall, to the engineering part with the material construction.

Dark box : escape pause through the space and sea

To finish my journey in the museum, I went trough the dark space big media installation. I was really impressed by the setup and really appreciated the experience. It allowed me to relax and change environment. I think this part is more entertaining than teaching, I can’t say I really rememberd the content about the story, but it was still appreciating.

Dark room

Conclusion about the Cosa :

I was really impressed by the COSA center and would definitely like to go back to it with more time, and with all the facilities opened. The strenght of this museum for me, are the hands-on approaches and vision of a few professions related to science with the medical experiment and the car building. I could find a lot of similitudes between this museum and the previous example about the exploratorium because it axed on the hands on approach, there was an explainer and the center also proposes diverses activies and shows. The negative points were for me the accessibility to non german speaking people, the lisibility of information, and a few some affordance problems : there was a lot of information in each room and the hierarchy between the titles and content were not really visible. An other thing for me was the experience during the corona situation. I felt a bit unsecure doing the experiments since there was many hands on approaches, and I really question myself about the close future of science centers if this pandemie continues on a long term level.

Through this visit I really understood the social aspect behind science center. I think I may be part of those people which learn through interaction of social person and by mimicking things. Since I experienced problems without any guide (which was due to the corona situation), I really think it is something to take in account when designing an exhibition, in particular in science center. It reminds me of the questions about learning I mentioned at the begining of this subject about : what are the different types of learning, and how to imply every type in an exhibition ?

To finish, an other point to take into consideration is the affordance, continuity and conceptual models we have with the devices. It reminded me those principles from the Don Norman book , the design of everyday things that I read for my research on the portemonnaie project.

Sources :

Don norman, the design of everyday things

A world wide knowned best practice example : the Exploratorium

History :

The Exploratorium is a museum of science, technology and arts in San Francisco.  

The Exploratorium was founded by the physicist and educator Frank Oppenheimer and opened in 1969 at the Palace of Fine Arts its home until January 2, 2013. On April 17, 2013, the Exploratorium reopened at Piers 15 and 17 on San Francisco bay. The historic interior and exterior of Pier 15 was renovated extensively prior to the move, and is divided into several galleries mainly separated by content, including the physics of seeing and listening (Light and Sound), Human Behavior, Living Systems, Tinkering (including electricity and magnetism), the Outdoor Gallery, and the Bay Observatory Gallery, which focuses on local environment, weather, and landscape.

Frank Oppenheimer

Since the museum’s founding, over 1,000 participatory exhibits have been created, approximately 600 of which are on the floor at any given time. The exhibit-building workshop space is contained within the museum and is open to view. In addition to the public exhibition space, the Exploratorium has been engaged in the professional development of teachers, science education reform, and the promotion of museums as informal education centers since its founding. Since Oppenheimer’s death in 1985, the Exploratorium has expanded into other domains, including its 50,000-page website and iPad app. It has also inspired an international network of participatory museums working to engage the public with general science education. The new Exploratorium building is also working to showcase environmental sustainability efforts as part of its goal to become the largest net-zero museum in the country. He has a major solar pannel to furnish its energy [1].

View of the Eploratorium on the bay

Field trip with explainers :

Dr Oppenheimer, the founder of the exploratorium had a special conviction about learning science. For him, having a real experience out of school was really important to learn. But he also knowed how it could be frustrated for someone not trained to understand it. That’s why he created this explainer program. Since 20 years, the explainers, special employees help the visitors to go through the museum. They are group of educators which help the visitor during the arrival : they guides the group to the check-in entry and help the teacher when they have classes. They will then guide the visitors through the museum and can help them when they have questions. There’s also some parts of the exhibitions where visitors can go through freely; but in case of need they always can find explainers at some special points inside the museum [2].

An explainer in action. They have a special uniform to be recognized.

Plan and journey of the visitor :

Exhibits in the Exploratorium cover a range of subjects areas including human perception (vision, hearing, learning, cognition), the life sciences, physical phenomena (light, motion, electricity, waves, resonance, magnetism), local environment (water, wind, fig, rain, sun..) and the human bevior (cooperation, competition, sharing) [3].

Exploring a few examples of interaction of the exploratorium

Human perception : the Black Box Space of the exploratorium

A place for presenting artwork that inspires and astounds in mysterious and wondrous ways, the Black Box is a darkened 800-square-foot space that provides an ideal environment for media art installations. A commonly used metaphor in science and engineering, a black box describes something that has observable inputs and outputs and unseen inner workings. Something goes in and something comes out, but the process by which transformation occurs is “black” or unknown to the observer.

Drawing on the Exploratorium’s unique province as a hybrid museum presenting and developing artworks at the juncture of art, science, and technology, the Black Box features dynamic, innovative multimedia exhibitions to prompt curiosity and transformation.

Experience a landscape of astonishing visual effects. Constructed as an 8-foot-square light box, artist Karina Smigla-Bobinski’s Kaleidoscope invites you to push and press on its surface to reveal an infinite pattern of vibrant colors. Each touch generates hyperdynamic images that visualize motion energy [4].

Living systems : See the plankton populations that multiply or die in response to changing ocean conditions

This interactive display presents microscopic marine organisms called phytoplankton. Visitors use special lenses to see what the plankton look like and to find out which live in different parts of the ocean at various times of year.

Child playing with the device. By zooming on a specific area of the map, you can see the proportion of phytoplankton present in this zone in relation to the climate change [5].

“We adapted a scientific model created at MIT” says Associate Curator Jennifer Frazier. ”Because the exhibit is based on real data, if you were able to look in the ocean with a microscope, this is what you’d be likely to see. I’m excited about this exhibit because it continues the Exploratorium’s tradition of engaging people with amazing phenomena of the natural world—but with new scientific data, visitors can explore worlds at a scale they normally can’t see.”

Human behavior : cooperation through the survival game

Players struggle to keep their livestock herds alive and thriving—despite disease, drought, and other dangers. When your neighbor suffers a major loss, the question arises: Can you afford to share? But the real question may be, can you afford not to?

Two players playing the survival game. This game is based on the lives of the Masaai in Africa. They live with milk and meat. But sometimes the cows they have got sick so the Masaai have to help each other in order to survive. This game is showing the cooperation process [6].


The Tinkering Studio is the heart of this gallery. In this immersive space, visitors use tools and materials to explore the intersection of science, art, and technology. They try experiments for the first time, or play along with other makers and artists. Whether expert of novice, they’re all learning together by making something that is personally meaningful.

Adjacent to the gallery is the museum’s exhibit-building workshop, where most of the exhibits are made. Open to public view, you’ll see our staff working with a variety of materials—woodworking tools, drills, and lathes, for example—and some of our exhibits in various stages of development [7].

Here you can see a project to work with electricity.

After dark Tuedays : the museum is not only for kids !

Experience life After Dark, an evening series exclusively for adults that mixes cocktails, conversation, and playful, innovative science and art events.

Not a theater, cabaret, or gallery, After Dark contains aspects of all three. Each evening showcases a different topic—from music to sex to electricity—but all include a cash bar and an opportunity to play with our hundreds of hands-on exhibits.

This exhibition remains activ by distance during corona times with explainations about a different topic every thursday night on the american hour at 7 pm[8].

And what about outside the museum ?

The exploratorium science snacks activities :

These Science Snack videos from the Teacher Institute should do just that, offering hands-on science activities you can do at home or in the classroom using easily-accessible materials [9].

The exploratorium application :

In this first application showed in live stream the solar eclipse that happened the 2 of July 2019.


Conclusion and opening about the exploratorium :

By analysing the different means of communication and interaction, I think I have found what makes the exploratorium a magical and particularly attractive place. Firstly, the interactions play on the multi-sensory appeal of touch, vision and sound. Visitors are fully active and can visualise scientific concepts in a simple way by manipulating objects. I have the impression that this museum makes particular use of the kinesthetic sense, and is very much focused on these hands on approaches. What I also find very impressive is the ability that this museum developped on all fronts: both in physics in the exhibitions with the galleries, but also with all the virtual content that can be found with the tickering, science snacks, applications and thursday evenings. I would really like to have the opportunity to visit this museum to learn more about these experiences.

With all that we have seen so far about science centres, I wonder what are the most effective ways to learn science and whether in the long run science centres will not revolutionise the way science is taught in schools.

Sources :











Specifications about Science Centers

After explaining the basics of exhibition design, I’ll go through a little of history with science centers and define a few of their characteristics. In the next article, I will present a world reknowned science center, the Exploratorium.

Science, society and science centers

Nowadays, the relation between individuals and science is quite complexe and paradoxal. In the 90’s scientists and engineers had some image problem, public having in mind the image of the mad scientist. George Gerbner studied the perception of scintists among 1500 television watchers and it appears that the more likely the person watches TV, the more likely she is to think scientist are odd and peculiar. A lot of progresses have been made through the years, but the COVID-19 pandemic reminds us of some shadows around the scientific world. Every year, studies are made showing indicators of public attitudes towards science and technology. Here are a few of them released by the Pew Research Center about 2020 Worldwide opinion on science and technology. As you can see underneath, the majority of people in 2020 say they have some trust in scientists to do what is right, but in the same way they feel that they doesn’t know enough about science to really understand the topics around it. The image of scientists depend a lot of the level of education of population, and the way media depict and explain science can really get the population confused.


As you can see, talking about science implies a broad range of implication : not only the knowledge but legal, ethical, environmental, economic, political and sometimes religious issues. The populations usually are not well informed about science and technology, which create both a challenge and an opportunity for science centers.

Science centers

Science centers are educational facilities using methods to teach science and technology. Those methods include the use of interactive displays, events and activities, web-based education programs and remote teaching and learning techniques [2]. The range of exhibits may be oriented towards natural history, earth sciences, pure science, science and technology or industry. Aerospace, underwater exploration, nanotechnology, digitization, artificial intelligence and genetics are just a few of the subjects that may be encountered. Exhibitions based on pure science focus more specifically on demonstrating phenomena, the scientific method and the process of experimentation. The focus is on discovering learning with strong hands on emphasis.

Different thematics of the coSA center fpr activities in Graz

The audience for the science center usually includes children of school age, teenargers and adults altough science discovery rooms for preschoolers may also be found in some science centers. But children are not the only people in our society who need to understand science. And by over emphasizing fun, we run the risk of literally losing the science in science centers. Interpreting science and technology for a broad and diverse audience is at the heart of the mission of most science centers, it should include both children and adults.

Science centers are community ressources that empower parents as advocates for their children’s learning. Through content-rich exhibitions and programs, parents and children can learn together. Science centers partners with schools and expand the learning resources for families. Through after school programs, vacation and summer classes, parents are able to expand the experience base for their children, this enhances the educational infrastructure for the entire community [3].

Presentation of a chemie experiment in the Palais de la découverte in Paris [7]. Through this show, people can have a direct access to chemists and discuss with them.

Sciences Centers evolved with interactivity

20 years ago, science centers virtually owned interactivity. Video games were in their infancy, most children’s museums were small, the children’s museum file had not experienced the dramatic growth of recent years and few other interactive options existed. The competitive universe of children based centers changed this. Children’s museums look very much like science centers. Natural History Museums, zoos and art museum now reach out to families and provides hands on experiences. Even themes parks which previously used passive dark rides incorporate hands-on exhibits because they have learned that hands on increases dwell time (the time spend by visitors in an exhibition). So hands on pays.

In the 1970 only 16 museums centers existed worldwide. Today, Science centers and science museums are present on all continents and welcome 300 million visitors [4]. Large science centers exist in smaller cities, and more are in the planning stages. The proliferation of science centers provides multiple opportunities for informal science education.

Nowadays, there is an explosion of interaction in all the entertainment sectors, and in medias. It’s a challenge for science center to keep showing entertaining and educational content. Indeed who wants to see something in a science center that you can see on the TV or somewhere else ? The approach used by science centers against this is to integrate what can be seen as meaningful interactive experiences with authentic objects and concepts that can’t be replicated out of the space of the science center because every object used is unique. In this way, space and material is way more important than in every other exhibition [3].

The challenge of children education

Although aimed generally at children from preschool age through to about age 12, experience has demonstrated the value of having separate areas designed to serve the developmental requirement of toddlers (aged 18 monthts to 3 years), preschool and kindergarten children (aged 4-6) and primary and middle school children (aged 6-8 and 9-12). In addition, children’s spaces must accomodate accompanying adults and family groups including parents, grandparents, and both younger and older children.

The range of exhibits that may be conceived for a children’s exhibition space is very wide, but in virtually every instance there will be an interactive element. Interactivity in the children’s gallery can be :

  • Low tech : relying on such activities as storytelling, role playing ,dress-up ; directed seeing, and puzzle solving ; facility demands might include low dividing walls surrounding a play area or special floor surfaces, but these are generally manageable within most building types
Example of a low tech activity by the “Mazes & Brain Games” of the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences
  • Medium tech :  which might involve working with clay, printmaking, such activites may demand water supply and drainage, food storage, animal care, and clean up facilities
example of medium tech experiment
  • High tech : using technology such as scientific apparatus or multimedia that may be as demanding of smart exhibition space as any sophisticated black box exhibition
example of high tech experiment from International Spy Museum of Washington, DC [6]

Intercreative exhibition spaces

More and more museums of all types are creating spaces and exhibits that offer different generations and market segments opportunities to interact creatively through diverse means such as performance problem solving hands on experience, experiment, creative writing, filmmaking, and many other activities. We may call the intercreative exhibition spaces.

Intercreative centers require specialized types of supports, storage and workshop space. They may feature living collections, moving water or wind tunnels, or industrial, transportation, medical, or military technology. Part of the ethos of these exhibitions is that visitors are invited not only to look at exhibits, but to learn by doing, so facilities must be designed for visitor participation, either right in the exhibition spaces or in immediately adjacent areas [3].

Science club in the fleet Science center of San Diego [6]

 Planning and design of intercreative spaces may require the participation of specialists in the art, science or performance activity intended, or in the design of art studios, laboratories, workshops, rehearsal or performance venues, multimedia production facilities, TV or recording studios, or other specialized environments.

Most science centers resquires flexibiliy in their galleries so that the space can be completely reconfigured for each exhibition. Intercreative exhibition spaces require smart technologyu capability and flexbility of the location, setup ; and replacement of stand alone exhibit modules which are likely to change anywhere from every 2 months to every 3 to 5 years. For intercreative spaces incorporated within an exhibition space, the following requirements may apply and be specified in the design requirement for individual exhibits :

  • Access to power and data grids extended accross floors, majors walls, and ceilings
  • Level changes or the ability to build in structures provinding new levels and enclosures
  • Ability to create equipment pits in selected areas
  • Capacity for at least one school class (30 children) at one time
  • Storage for supplies and props, housekeeping and installation equipment nearby
  • Good service access via loading docks freight elevators, or hydraulic ligts
  • Public access for all age groups
  • Water supply and drainage
  • Air compressors
  • Sturdy washable surfaces
  • Specialized sound and light systems
  • Suspension capability for exhibit elements including electronics
  • Special acoustic treatments [3]
Intercreative space of the coSA center

An overview of Science Centers and institutions around the world

As we previously said before science center are getting more and more present worldwide. A few institutions are trying to promote their visibility such as the international science center. It is a yearly global event illustrating the impact and reach of all the world’s science centers and science museums. The last event was last year, because of COVID.

Cover of the website [8]

An other institution is the Association of science and technology centers, you can see their goals underneath.

Strategies of the association [9]

If you want to get an overview of the different Science Centers around the world you can go visit those links :

Sources :










The basics of exhibition design #3

Appraising the visitors by the use of interaction through films, sounds and materials

What is the engagement and what are the different types of visitor’s content apprehension ?

Engagement is the process of addressing a visitor directly by stimulating them and create positive memories or give new insights. For this to happens the designer has to make sure that he adresses all the target groups. The diverse audiences can be classified depending on the length of the visit (short, medium, long) or by the different interests and knowledges they have :

  • The expert : it’s a specialist, with a lot of knowledge around the topic. He often wants to sit and have specific informations to pursue his researches.
  • Frequent traveller : He has a reasonable foundation of knowledge and a general curiosity and is aware of museums.
  • The scout : he wants to travel freely in the space and have its own path to see the top layer informations. The challenge for the designer is to help him have a big picture without confusion.
  • The orienter : someone who has been here thanks to someone else or who doesn’t have any knowledge about the topic. He doesn’t know what to look for so is looking for something meaningful to them. Often children [1].

Falk’s different types of visitors [2]. To see which type of visitor you are go on this page :

Depending of the type of museum, the visitor can go through different types of interaction and content :

  • Comprehension : History and natural science are more likely to feature contextual or thematic exhibitions where the artifacts, specimens or other objects on display are not intended to be studied as individual objects but related to each others. Graphics may be multilayered and combine words and images to aid visitor comprehension. The visitor is more actively engaged in the process of making relationships, studying tje graphics and labels as well as relating or comparing the objects to one another.
  • Discovery : An other mean of visitor engagement is the one in which the visitor explores a range of specimens appreciating individual examples. This is found in many  natural history museums that have adapted visible storage means of display.
  • Interaction : the most kinesthetically involving mode of visitor apprehension is the one favored by many science centers and children’s museums ; in which staff, volunteers, exhibition apparatus or duplicate specimens identified as hands on Education Collection may be used to elicit a visitor response that  triggers the transformative visitor experience, the discovery of meanings that affects the visitor’s values, interests, or attitude

Where is there interactivity in museums ?

Digital and multimedia techniques are currently providing more ways in which a museum can be participatory. Interactivity in museums can be found through materials, electronic devices, interactive displays, films and sounds. The museum experience becomes a high controlled environment with multi media and multi sensorial stimulis, immersing the visitor in the themes and contents of the exhibition.

In order to be efficient, there are several things to take in account when designing interaction for exhibitions.

For all interactives, visitors need to gain an idea of what they are interacting with, what is does and how it works in as short a time as possible, so approachability is important.

Visitors have limited time and patience for exploring and expending mental effort on an exhibit. There has to be some kind of reassuring feedback within seconds of the visitor beginning to use an interaction, so that he or she can see that their actions have had an effect.

If a new interface is introduced, this should be done consistently. The controls either have to be consistent with the way things are already done, and therefore rely on the visitor’s previous experience to help him or her to know what to do. It is also important to consider that some interfaces are intuitive to use, and call for learning whereas other are not [3].

The Wii controller in A is more intuitive than the PS3 controller in B for non initiate users

Benefits of sound and films :

Moderne audiences have become accustomed to ambient sound and moving images. Exhibitors are increasingly aware of the diverse learning styles of the visiting public. Many visitors are reluctant to read labels and many are primarily driven by visual and aural stimuli. For them, film and sound are the preferred means of engaging with a subject. Increasingly, film, video and sound are used as scenographic elements in an exhibition theme, as part of an overall immersive environment.

Interactive screen are more and more common nowadays in expositions

Designers use every tool available to create a total display that communicates the storyline throught every element : light, materials, moving images, and sound. Projections or videos are often used to create a visual backdrop that overwhelms the senses of visitors and immerses them in the subject of the display. Powerful images and ambient sound effectively isolate visitors and draw their attention to a particular theme or idea. Overwhelming them with images, sounds, smells and textures forces them to engage directly with exhibition and its theme. This approach which is common to art installations as well as exhibitions often involves interactives devices.

Inside soundBox, interactiv experience using sound at the Adventure Science Center in Nashville. In this display, a group of people can mix a recording by standing our crouching to affect the levels of different parts. At another, motion sensors follow your hands and you can, like a conductor, influence the tempo of a virtual Nashville Symphony [4].

Devices such as acoustic guides, pda (personal digital assistants) sound booths and kiosks are useful additions to any exhibition and are important in enabling the visitors with different learning styles (auditory) to engage with its subject. But there are number of limitating factors that the designer must take in account when designing the experience, and the help of specialists is requiered.

Digitarium – Game Science Center in Berlin. The center shows applications with nex technologies, everything is based arounf interaction and implies the activ participation of the visitor with body movements, voice, occulary movement etc [5].

Materials :

The designer must consider a lot of things when deciding on which materials he will put on an exhibition, especially when for childrens. They must evaluate their fire rating, durability an whether they are suitable for a specific purpose. In addition to fire retardancy, and a material’s aesthetic properies, the designer must check its durability, order times, price, sheet sizes, ease of maintenance and assembly time and the skills of the contractors involved.

Fire retardancy is an important consideration to have when choosing a material

In reality, many designers develop a palette of materials they use consistently, introducing new ones cautiously and only when they are sure they will perform. A sample board, materials glued to a board is useful to show the range of materials used for each different aspect of an exhibition and is often shown to the client as part of a design presentation. It allows the designer to make minute adjustments to colours and finishes to ensure a good result.

One material data base among the one that exist,[6]

In many cases, the materials that are chosen will last for the duration of just one exhibition. Howevber in the light of green design imperatives, materials that can easily be reused for future shows are preferred. Particularly for commercial exhibitors, it is essential that colours and textures are consistent with the visual identity of the company, and that finishes are consistent with its branding material.

For museum displays some materials particularly those used inside showcases are tested for conservation purpose. A toxic glue that fixes a laminate or a painted surface might be a potential source of pollutants that can accelerate the deterioriation of sensitive artifacts.

Technical drawing and implementation of the exhibition

The models, sketches and drawing are important means of showing a coherent design strategy and to discuss and share important ideas with the client. At the end of the discussion the designer has to turn the provisional drawings into technical drawings that can be read by contractors and suppliers and provide the information for the final built project.

For each part of the exhibit, the designer produces drawings at different scales starting with the largest which show the overall site and how the built project will fit in. hese drawings are collected, numbered and given titles. It should include measures perspective and any technical details.

Example of detailed plan [3]

Technical drawings for exhibitions are similar to those produced by architects and interior designers. With all exhibition drawings, figures superimposed on section drawings speak very eloquently about the relationship of the exhibits to visitors. Drawing of a range of visitors interacting with displays helps to determine the correct height for display panels, controls, buttons, screens and other interactions points.

Interaction drawing of the setup of the UK Pavilion Expo in Aichi, Japan [3].

Drawing for interaction devices often need to show the exhibit or display in a number of modes to make clear how the user interacts with it and what changes are triggered by the interaction. This may also be specified in words on the drawings, detailing the stages in an interaction and the intended visitor experience.

Before a completed design is handed over, the designer produces a checklist, called a snagging list which highlights snags or construction defects. Then the last step of the exhibition can go with the assembly of all the contents of the exhibition.

Sources :

[1] Exhibition design, David Dernie


[3] Exhibition design, Philip Hughes




The basics of exhibition design #2 the design development

Developing the design using sketches, models and plans

Once the exhibition strategy has been decided on, most designers start to develop their designs using scale models, sketches and rough drawings of layouts. At this stage, it is important to be aware of all obstructions and height restrictions int the exhibition space. The next phase is drawing and modelling, to create and test 3D solutions. During this second phase of the design, they have to evaluate the objects and doings includings graphics, materials and lighting.

The medium of communication in a museum exhibition consist of 3D objects in 3D spaces trough which the visitor moves. The way things are agenced depends of the type of exhibition and of the building.

During the early stages, it is important to show ideas quickly and intuitively to clients and collaborators without going too far down the wrong track. Scale human figures glued into models help the designer to appreciate how individual visitors will experience the exhibition. Individual interactions with single exhibits are best developed through sketches.

Early phase sketches

Once the rough sketches and models have been made, the final plan will begin to take shape.

It is very important in spatial design to show all elements involved in the exhibition. The factors to consider are : visitor navigation, how the exhibitions relate to each other, the ease and comfort of visitor circulation, the duration of the exhibition and the ease with which fire exit can be found.

The activities that take place in the exhibition suite are the exhibitions themselves and their accompanying programming such as openings, performances, lectures, guided or audio tours, and in gallery activities for families and schools.

Museum visitors come in all ages and sizes, bringing their diverse needs, interests, abilities and limitations such as : visitors ranging from 2 to 9 years old, visitors with mobility, visual, hearing or cognitive disabilities.

A very useful way of exploring the effectiveness of the access, adjancy and circulation design of the exhibition facilities in their entirety is to conduct a real or imaginary walk through of the space, putting yourself in the place of a particular category of user. The real walk through is to follow and crate visitor from the point of unloading through all the museum spaces and process, observing, listening to the comments of the the profesionnal staff, and taking note of concerns and difficulties as they arise [1].

Planning the jouney of the visitor [2]

All types of exhibition spaces or interpretive spaces have the common denominators of being structured to facilitate the visitor’s experience of art through the use of spatial design, light and color, material and finishes, smart technology, exhibit support.

Galleries for permanent display are planned to remain relatively unchanged for  a number of years, spreading the cost of initial finishes, or exhibit elements over a longer period of time. Changing or temporary exhibition spaces are envisoned to permit a complete change of content and exhibitry up to several times a year, and often to allow the space to acommodate exhibitions of different scales and sizes, sometimes concurrently. The need for constant change means that such galleries need high level of flexibility and technological support.

Planning circulation :

Circulation planning enables the designer to determine what experiences visitors will have and the sequence in which they have them. Its quality has a major impact on visitor satisfaction and has to be carefully thinked.

Spatial organization [3]

The basic rules of spatial organiation are to create separate routes through a display, avoid pincpoints and blockages (too narrow blocages), to test how many individuals can move comfortably through the exhibition at one time, and how many visitors can see the displays. Every circulation plan should anticipate the need for visitors to find toilets or other commodities and should conform to local building regulations.

Designer should aim to create 3 m between displays whenever possible, leaving lots of clear space. Indeed, open spaces with good circulation are an invitation to the user. It is interesting to note that depending on the culture, the visitors don’t have the same way to progress through the rooms, sot his has to be taken into consideration when designing the space [2].

There are several organization paths possible :

Enhancing information : The role of graphics and lighting in an exhibition :

Graphics :

Graphics are a key part of the visual theatre of exhibitions and visitor communication. The appropriate treatment of text is essential to good exhibition design and if mishandled, the most likely cause of difficulties for visitors.

Directional signs that draw people into an exhibition are often called wayfinding graphics. These are intended to tease and entice visitors but they also serve the practical purpose of showing them where to go.

The graphics has to be read and understood from distance. Graphic designers develop a hierarchy of signs of different scales in a consistent style : external signage, medium sized areas headings, subheadings and diminushes to object labels [2].


To be effective, exhibition graphics should communicate a clear and consistent use of imagery and text avoiding confusion.

In many instances, the design of exhibition graphics is constrained by the client identity. Sometimes designers must follow the corporate font and  use standardized layouts [2].

Designing for legibility :

Legibility refers to the clarity of letterforms, individually and when composed to form words and lines. It is related to the environment in which the text is situated. If it is mounted high on a wall, it must be bigger and clearer than text that is at eye level and can be read from close distance. The legibility is influenced by the contrast between the text colour and the colour of the background. Strong contrasts and good lighting can enhance legibility.

Designing for readability :

Readability refers to the ease with which a piece of text can be comprehended and is influenced by the words used and the complexity of the sentence structure.

The Ekrav method is a proven set of guidelines adressing legibility and readability issues, with recommandations for text writing and layouts. Designers should avoid long, densely written paragraphs.

A few graphic Rules :

  • Use simple language to express complex ideas
  • Use normal spoken word order
  • One main idea per line
  • Lines of above 45 letter, text broken into short paragraphs of 4 to 5 lines
  • Use the active form of verbes and subject early in the sentence
  • Avoid complicated constructions
  • Read text aloud and note natural pauses

Lighting :

The visual perception of exhibits, spatial relationships, surfaces and graphic treatments is governed by how they are lit. Designer uses lighting to interpret displays and to shape visitor’s perceptions of their experience. It plays central roles in exhibitions. Lighting is adjusted to emphasize changes in mood and tone.

The approach to lighting is determined by the nature of the exhibition venue. Daylight is powerful but has to be exluded if there are conservation considerations, because the UV emitted by the sun are harmful to many material and make then degrade. An other approach is to blank out all the windows and create a full artificial environment. The lighting design is recorded on a lighting plan and may be demonstrated with a 3D visual rendering.

For most exhibitions, the light focused on displays to emphasize the content.

In some cases, it may be important to create an even distribution of light throughout the space, regardless of the displays. Relaxation, teaching areas and important circulation routes are examples., but also when visitors are expected to do some physical activities such as interacting with some devices. It is interesting to note that visitors tend to find ambiant light more comfortable. The transition from low ambient light levels to areas of high ambient light must be carefully managed, to avoid sudden increases in light levels that are uncomfortable to the eyes [1,2].

Sources :

[1] Exhibition Design, David Dernie

[2] Exhibition Design, Philip Hughes

[3] How to design your exhibition

The basics of exhibition design #1 the research phase

Before explaining in detail the strategies used by Science Centers to promote learning and conveying message, it is necessary to have more insights about what are the basics of exhibition design, and what is the process used by exhibition designers.

I’ll present this methodology showing first the early research phase of the exhibition, the consideration of the space, light and graphics to emphasize the content, and the basics of interactivity and some tools used in exhibition design. Then, I will present the basics of science exhibition history and properties and I’ll show and analyze a few best pratices examples.

The 3 phases of the exhibition design process :

In his book, Exhibition design, David Dernie explains that the exhibit design processes goes through 3 phases :

  • Research phase : the exhibition idea or concept is created, tested and refined. The principal outcome of this phase is a deep institutional understanding of what the exhibition is about and why the museum is doing it at this time ; in this way, and at this scale. This understanding is recorded in the exhibition brief.
  • Design phase : is when the interpretive plan and all the research conducted to date is transformed into 3D through the creativity and insight of the designers working collaboratively with representatives of museum departments, interpretive planners, and evaluators.
  • Implementation phase : is the building and installation of the exhibition. Project and financial management are crucial to ensure on time and on budget culmination of the exhibition process.

Exhibition design is a reccurent and iterative process, adapting and adjusting to exhibitions of varying sizes and budets, level of complexity, purpose.

But why are exhibitions created in the first place ?

Exhibition are the principal means by which museums can be of service to us. They can confirm, question or shake our beliefs or they may arouse a new interest or deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world we live in. The purpose of museum exhibitions should be both educational and entertaining.

The first questions that the designers have to consider are ; why is the exhibition necessary, what is the best way to communicate content, who are the visitors and what kind of experience do they want to offer ?

Where does Museum Exhibition Ideas come from ?

Successful museum exhibition program should be both research based and market driven : the idea of an exhibition can come internally from the analysis and interest of the museum staff or can be oriented from the public interest and demand. The target audience depends on the type of exhibition, and sometimes designers need the insights of other professionnals such as educators when designer exhibits for children, for example.

Each museum staff member who wishes to do research  should prepare an annual personal research plan. It should propose a methodology that addresses both the academic and the pratical implications, financial and project a schedule for completion of the research. Each individual’s research plan should be subject to review and approved.

Who is the exhibition for and why ?

Surveying visitors is crucial to learn who they are and why they attend, as well as which museum offering attracted their visit on that particular day. With this information, museums can better communicate with their current audiences and expand them, learn how to be relevant to their needs and to the needs of the communities in which they live, and determine how better to serve them [1].

The research phase : writing the brief

The development of an exhibit begins with a planning stage and meetings with the client to discuss their expectations of the exhibit. Every detail should be described in what is called a brief. It is the formulation of the understanding of the project by the designer, and it specify the tasks and details the informations to take in account. The client and the designer have different roles that can be resumed as follows :

When writing a brief, the designer has to consider those inputs :

visual identity and brand information: it is important for the designer to understand the client’s identity so that he can then design content in accordance with this vision.

target audience research: another important step is to obtain information about the main target(s) of the exhibition. The target audience depends on the type of exhibition, so for a science center, children are more likely to be targeted, whereas an art gallery would be more targeted at adults. The designer often uses external research teams to learn about the learning styles of his visitors, what he likes and dislikes, and what he does not like.

reception of visitors: another preliminary step is to take into account the arrival areas and the organization of the arrival and visits according to the number of visitors. It is all the more crucial nowadays in times of covid to limit visitor entries.

storyline: the storyline is a document describing the elements of the exhibition and quickly retracing the exhibition in zones, or different stages. It is a way of tracing the exhibition’s route. At this stage it is superficial.

the tone of the exhibition: the tone of the exhibition is as important as the exhibition itself. It differs according to the type of content, and must be taken seriously especially for historical museums recounting wars or other dramatic events.

the content document: this is a detailed descriptive list listing the different contents, their types and description that should be present in the exhibition. It can be more or less provided depending on the museum, and serves as a basis for the designer to design the museum experience.

back home messages: the designer must discuss and agree with the client on the purpose of the exhibition and the key messages to be conveyed to visitors. The designer is not only responsible for the style of the exhibition but also for its comprehension and the overall visitor experience. It is also necessary to ensure continuity between the information displayed on the various media: the website, the leaflets and the content present in the exhibition. All this must allow the visitor to have a global view of the message to be retained.

creative workshops: In general, designers designing an exhibition create creative workshops where they share their ideas and inspiration on their vision of the exhibition. This is the starting point of the creative phase but it also help the designer and the client to make sure they have the same language and tone when thinking about the exhibition [2].

Creative workshop of an exhibition design

Sources :

[1] Exhibition design, David Dernie

[2] Exhibition Design, Philip Hughes

Ars Electronica Science Center

Science Centers strategies around multisensorial design for better learning capabilities

Introduction :

In this blog, I will explore the topic around Science Centers and their “hands-on” approaches and integration of the multisensory aspect of interaction. I am convinced of the importance of the senses (sight, sound, touch, smell, taste) and emotions in the perception and memorization of interactive experiences. In this way, multisensorial design and hands-on approaches could help in the educational field, and that’s a strategy that many Sciences Centers are using nowadays. Through this blog, I wish to explore the relation between multisensorial design and exhibition design with this example of the Science Centers ; to explore how these senses work and how to integreate them into experiences could help to find the more adapted ways to create successful and adapted learning experiences for the general public and people with sensory or other impairments.

Questions this topic raises :

  • Which strategies are the best for public implication and a better learning ?
  • What are the basics of exhibition design ?
  • How to create funny but educational experiences ?
  • Why is multisense particularly interesting for exhibition design and learning ?
  • What are the strategies used to incorpore the disable people into those experiences ?
  • Is the haptic interaction an essential approach of exhibition design ?
  • What are the learning strategies during those pandemic times whereas those haptic feedbacks are impossible ?

Why design for 5 senses is crucial :

In this TED Talk, Jinsop Lee explains why designing for all the senses is important to enrich design experiences and avoiding design incogruities.

It is particularly important to ask ourselves those questions [1] :

  1. Why: what is the desired effect of your design?
  2. How: what is the desired experience?
  3. Sampling: what objects/materials elicit that experience?
  4. Analysis: what are the sensory properties of the samples?
  5. Integration: what is the sensory experience going to be?
  6. Design: translating the findings in a coherent design!

What is exactly a Science Center ?

Sciences Center or Museum are educational facility that uses particular methods to teach science, technology, mathematics, engineering etc. It generally uses of interactive displays, events and activities but also new technologies and media to help teaching and learning. Their main mission is to make science accessible and encourage excitement of discovery. They outstand from “classical science teaching “ in school because they imply direct curiosity and interaction with the public which involves its whole body through the experience [2].

A few great Science Centers that I expore in further details :

Ars Electronica

The Art Electronica Center is a Science Center based in Linz and founded in 1979. It focuses on the interlinkages between art, technology and society. It runs and annual festival and manages a multidisciplinary media arts R&D facility know as the Futurelab [3].

Ars Electronica Science Center

ART+COM Studios

The ART+COM studio is a german company which realises media installations and spaces that convey complex content in a targeted way and make information tangible. They design for exhibitions, museums and brand spaces [4].

The Exploratorium

The exploratorium is a museum of science, technology and arts based in San Francisco. It is known as one of the famous museum of SF especially for its « hands-on » approach and science of learning. It offers visitors a variety of ways to explore the museum through exhibitions but also webcasts, websites and events [5,6].

Sources :