Designing multi-person interactives for public spaces.

Nick Cristea, AllofUs, August 2016

Introduction

After several requests for a copy of a very spartan presentation focused on group dynamics, delivered to the UK branch of the IXDA on October 28th 2015, I decided to compile all of our experience into a more in depth piece.

It is not in any way a scientific study full of quantitative analytics or even any qualitative interviews, more a collection of real world observations, notes and insights from 12 years of designing and producing interactives for public spaces.

Despite its title this is also not a comprehensive look at the process, skills, and software necessary, that would take a lot longer to compile. What I hope this does do, is to introduce some high level concepts on how to design experiences that take advantage of, and encourage, multi person interactions. If that sounds interesting then please keep reading and of course let us know what you think.

At the beginning

We started with a tree. An interactive installation at the ICA that allowed us to play with a number of different ideas that we had been discussing as part of a research project called Feed at our first agency Digit.

The Typographic Tree from an 2002 exhibition at the ICA, London

It was live in the gallery for a week and almost as soon as it switched it on strange things started to happen. By completely hiding the technology behind our exhibit with very natural looking objects visitors were immediately intrigued and comforted, but unfortunately no one dared to step onto the grass.

After solving this problem the next behaviour pattern began to emerge. There were those who embraced the moment and stepped forward to interact and those who point blank refused to do anything more than watch from a distance.

We have coined these behaviours ‘the Actor’ and ‘the Spectator’, and even though many spectators become actors, once they have learnt the rules and warmed to the opportunity by watching others, many prefer not to.

The Actor and Spectator behaviour pattern repeats itself everywhere in public and has become a critical part of how we think about designing exhibits on which I will provide a little more detail shortly.

We were of course delighted to now have people using the exhibit and we settled in to discretely observe whether they enjoyed themselves. What we quickly learnt is that because the interface was so natural, they simply had to use their voice, they quickly began to experiment with how they could creatively hack it. A couple began to whistle to each other, back and forth over the mushroom, and another group decided to collectively sing while dancing around the mushroom as if it were some kind of maypole. A young man disappeared and then quickly reappeared with a guitar which he started to play and sing, and some clever kids used their phones to get their friends singing and interacting from afar.

In contrast to the other exhibits which were struggling to generate much attention it felt like we had hit the jackpot. The combination of visual friendliness, zero learning curve, instant visual feedback on a massive scale and an open ended tool meant that people were quickly adopting the exhibit as their own and engaging in their own unique way.

Again this has become a fundamental principle for us.

Zero learning curve + open ended creative freedom = maximum potential engagement.

Actor and Spectator

With the possible exception of the ATM or cashpoint it could be argued that every digital interactive within a public space must consider how it functions for both actors and spectators.

The spectators may or may not be known to the actors, and in certain situations this dictates whether they share the same content view or whether they have different views; carefully constructed to protect privacy, present higher level interpretation or simply to best enjoy the show.

One example of where this worked surprisingly well is for an exhibit that focused on the work of Edward Gordon Craig at the V&A. He was a highly innovative theatre designer who worked with Stanislavski, the godfather of method acting, and we quickly realised that the best way of communicating his philosophy, creative approach and tools was to place the user in his shoes.

Taking the approach that all interpretation would be communicated solely through interaction, we designed and built a next generation digitally enhanced theatre box with which users could get hands on and play with the backdrops, lights, and on stage actors.

Designed to accommodate two users at a time, the free form nature of the interaction stimulated a great deal of conversation between visitors as they worked together on a single shared canvas.

Visitors who did not know each other were often very patient and waited their turn but would occasionally jump in, offering up feedback as a spectator and making suggestions. This often led to direct interaction and shared creative ownership as spectators become actors. The propensity for strangers to step forward like this is very much determined by their core behaviour profiles which I will come back to in due course.

The result of manipulating these objects and experimenting with how they change the dramatic effect was projected onto a double sided screen. While the primary users were focused on their own experiments they were also, often unwittingly, controlling a large scale visual attractor that marked the entrance to the gallery. And when no visitors were interacting we simply played back sequences that had been recorded earlier.

An interpretative exhibit thus became a performance piece and a dynamic source of ever changing content for the gallery.

Edward Gordon Craig Theatre Design exhibit at the V&A, London

On Your Bike

Another very different example of where the role of the spectator has been carefully considered within the conceptual phase is that of Einstein’s bicycle, an interactive for the Science Museum to mark the centenary of his breakthrough publications.

From the get go it was acknowledged that this exhibit needed to be very different.

Commissioned by the Institute of Physics it was intended to be the hero exhibit, in support of a number of content heavy, more traditional interactives. Aimed at teenagers, there was a great risk of the exhibition being seen to be overly didactic and ‘boring’. A key requirement was therefore that this was press worthy: iconic, photogenic, and shareable.

It was the first time that the role of the spectator was arguably more important than that of the actor but we also realised that making something that looked extremely cool would backfire if using it was a let down.

Cycling through Einstein’s mind at the Science Museum, London

The manifestation was simple. The actor would play the role of Einstein riding his bike whilst exploring the abstract landscape of his mind. A place in which a number of interactive thought experiments that embodied his theories were disguised as mini games.

It worked a little too well. Everyone wanted to be seen on the bike, to have their photos taken, and when they then got on they lost track of time and the queues became an issue. In fact they got so carried away that they wore out the inside of the head with their shoulders when pedalling furiously and burnt out the potentiometers in the pedals that taught us some series maintenance and robustness lessons which I’ll save for another time.

In terms of a spectacle the exhibit did its job. It made an appearance in the Metro, Time Out, the Daily Mirror, The Daily Telegraph and the New York Times and even got to appear at Buckingham Palace with the Queen.

Passive Actors

Before we move on there is one more class of user that we should mention. In some instances it may be beneficial to make use of all potential interactions from users whether intended or not.

These passive actors can play an important role in feeding the exhibit with dynamic, random data and in drawing attention towards its existence for other people in the vicinity. Although they may be reticent to step forward and directly interact, ambient inputs using motion sensors, cameras or microphones can draw them into the action from afar.

The example below is an interactive video wall for Motorola featured at the M3 music conference in Miami. Configured to dynamically produce mobile phone wallpapers and ringtones it ran twelve hours a day for seven days and produced over 20,000 different visual assets and unique ringtones by responding to the presence and behaviour of people who passed in front of it.

Dance to interact with Motorola at the M3 music festival in Miami

Without interaction the wall would have been silent and dormant, but not everyone felt comfortable stopping to dance and so we ensured that it would quietly capture and respond to those who casually walked past. The large scale effect that they created would often pull them back to interact further, but even if they didn’t their passive interaction ensured that the exhibit performed its dual purpose as a vibrant chronological record of the event, and an asset generating machine for online users.

Another example is an interpretative installation for the Tate Britain, designed to showcase the working process of the painter Constable, through the use of X-Rays of his most famous paintings. This was a very high profile, paying exhibition and the audience demographic was all 50+ years old, so there was a lot of scepticism as to whether this would work.

We have never had to resort to providing instructions on how to use an interactive, nor support any exhibit with additional secondary interpretation and were determined to prove that we could engage any audience within a public space.

Using gesture to peel back the layers of Constable’s painting at the Tate Britain, London

By using a short range, wide angle camera as the principal input mechanic we knew we could capture the presence of both active and passive actors and in so doing ensure that natural movement through the gallery would keep the exhibit in motion and act as an attract loop.

As with many interventions in public spaces the first thing we looked at is how people naturally behave within Tate Britain. How they move, respond to artworks, interpretation and each other.

Distance plays a very important part in the relationship that visitors have with artworks and we looked to take advantage of the fact that people naturally move closer to see more detail, or read the label, whereas they will stand back to admire the artwork as a whole.

So using the camera we simply created different ranges that meant the exhibit would behave specifically for visitors at different distances — rewarding those who approached by peeling more and more layers off the original canvas revealing the underlying sketches and previous drafts.

Sightlines

With both actors and spectators to consider, the issue of sightlines becomes increasingly critical. As part of the overarching context for use it is of course a fundamental consideration within any form of public space design but the notion of multiple users with differing needs, for whom we may have alternative content strategies, makes it increasingly important.

The approach we take is most often led by the experience strategy at play, which itself is underpinned by the curatorial vision, content strategy, themes and narratives. Whilst this sounds very specific to a museum or gallery, it is also a surprisingly successful approach when tackling installations in retail.

Another article has been dedicated to exploring the role of the experience strategy so I’ll stick to exploring sightlines for groups within this document.

Living in London you get used to places being crowded, but designing for a peak Saturday afternoon on Oxford Street or a Bank Holiday in the Science Museum is something else entirely.

An interactive in these scenarios needs to make itself known at a distance, acting as a beacon and a landmark, and if possible imbuing an underlying meaning that supports its purpose through its physical form and visual impact. It needs to pull people in and then when they get close it needs to hold their attention long enough that they are entertained while waiting to directly interact themselves. Once they do get to ‘have a go’ it is critical that they do not obstruct the view of others who are now either waiting in line or being drawn from afar.

A good example is the Threshold piece that we designed for the Who am I gallery at the Science Museum in London, which consists of a totemic vertical canvas with a corresponding floor projection.

It is positioned at the gallery entrance opposite the main stairs and features the title of the gallery along with a series of changing questions that setup the theme and purpose of the gallery. Positioned at a high level these can never be obscured regardless of crowd density, distance or angle.

Drawing the eye down and setting a playful, cutting edge and visually compelling tone for the gallery is a dynamic animation of coloured dots that fall and cascade around visitors who are standing at the base. Extending this visual invitation is a long floor projection that animates in towards the main gallery.

Both these mechanics are designed to be seen from a distance and pull visitors in to a point at which they can more clearly observe the interactions of people at the base. With a closer proximity to the actors their view is now focused on the lower half of the vertical display where through observation they can build a second layer of understanding about the theme of gallery and hopefully be tempted into interacting with it themselves.

For those who are in the sweet spot at the base, interacting directly with the exhibit there is another more detailed interpretation layer delivered through a highly playful responsive mechanic. We often shorthand this three stage approach as Attract > Engage > Interact and always make sure that the exhibit is designed to work with visitor’s sightlines for each.

Drawing visitors into the subject at the gallery threshold, Science Museum in London

A shared canvas

Creating a visual spectacle that appeals to the sightlines of those standing nearby, but not those directly at the exhibit, results in an opportunity to engage and delight with what we call a shared canvas. Mounted higher and usually at a larger scale than the individual interaction points these shared canvases can play a number of roles.

They can provide secondary interpretation that is delivered dynamically as the actors engage individually, show scores and player progress for competitive activities and a cumulative product when the actors are working collaboratively.

With the latter two examples the shared canvas very often encourages vocal participation from friends and family watching and can create an experience in which scores of people feel like they are actively participating.

Watching visitors crack the code at the Science of Spying exhibition in the Science Museum, London

These shared canvases are highly effective tools for managing queues, if designed to entertain the spectators, whilst also communicating the underlying ideas within the exhibit and should always be included in the conceptual thinking when considering audiences and sightlines.

Behaviour Profiles

When you are designing an interface that someone is going to use on their own you very rarely have to consider how they behave around others and how their underlying Myers Briggs sense of self will affect their relationship with the interactive.

Scale up the interaction so that there are now spectators and possibly other actors and you soon realise that predicting how people might behave in public is far more difficult but crucially important. The location and context can occasionally allow you to narrow the audience a little but even in the swankiest retail outlet or niche museum you will still get users of all ages and knowledge levels, with widely variant cultural backgrounds and levels of experience with interactive technologies.

Now factor in the fact that we have different learning styles and personality types, and you get a sense of the problem. To bring a little consistency to the conversations we have with clients we produced a simple 4 square grid to illustrate the challenge.

Anyone who runs an educational programme will already appreciate the difference between kinaesthetic learners to visual or auditory ones. We simplified it even further to distinguish those who like jump in and learn by doing (Hands On), and those who like to take their time, making sense of the interactive and how they should interact before doing so (Cerebral). In parallel there needs to be an understanding that the extroverts will have no problem stepping into the limelight (Show Off) whilst the introverts will stand back and wait until they feel ready, which is sometimes never if you are not careful (Shy).

When mapped together, albeit somewhat crudely, we get four different behaviour profiles:

  1. The Volunteer: Likes to get physically involved and is always the first to put up their hand. Will happily embrace taking the stage, especially if there is a chance of having fun with others or winning, and is confident enough to learn by doing even if they are being watched.
  2. The Guide: Interested in participating once they have a clear understanding of the conceptual framework, objectives and underlying meaning. Once armed with these they are more than happy to tell others and get pleasure from sharing their new found knowledge.
  3. The Maker: Learns by doing but prefers to do this without being the centre of attention. Can spend a long time interacting at quiet times and will be relatively comfortable during busy times if they are not the only ones ‘on stage’.
  4. The Academic: Will always take time to understand the exhibit in detail and observe others interacting. Depending on the form and availability of interpretation content at a spectator level this may then be enough of a positive experience for them. With smaller and more content rich interactives they can be persuaded to interact but any large movement physical interaction is often avoided.

Everything we design for a public space considers how we expect these different profiles to interact: when, how and for how long.

These are of course mass generalisations but if you stop and look at how people interact in public you will notice how common these four behaviour profiles are. What is also noticeable is how people can shift from one behaviour type to another when external forces such as groups apply, for which we have developed another tool.

Group Personas

Much has been said about the importance and role of pen portraits or personas as vital tools in the UX process but what happens when the interaction is not intended to be for just one person at a time. And what happens when the relatively predictable behaviour of one person is influenced by the presence and activity of another.

Pen portraits or personas are now well established tools within the UX process and when we started designing for public spaces we simply expanded the tool to incorporate multiple people.

Example taken from the National Museum of Qatar Visitor Experience Strategy

The example above is from an experience strategy that we produced for the National Museum of Qatar and you can immediately see unique criteria to consider such as the differences between a western family and local Qatari one.

As we drill down into one of these personas you can see that the considerations and profile definition is pretty much as you would expect at an individual level.

Group Dynamics

Where it gets interesting is when you start to identify and map how they interact with each other within the group and how that affects each individual’s behaviour.

In certain scenarios people can be persuaded to act out of their comfort zone, and in others they will instead retreat in a more controlled version of how they normally act. We have coined this Dynamic Behaviour Shifting and it is best illustrated with the simple schematic below.

The first two pairs that relate to parents and kids are easy to comprehend. Parents will often adjust their behaviour to best engage the kids in an activity — either simplifying their own intellectual interpretation to make it relevant for the child, or physically engaging much more than they would normally on their own; either as an example or to match their kids.

The shifts in behaviour between friends or couples are more subtle but equally interesting.

Extraverts will often bring introverts a little out of their shell, or provide the action to watch; and the cerebral thinkers will bring a little more contextual insight to those who just jump in.

Couples who know each other well act themselves, whilst those still dating will adjust their behaviour to match their partner more closely.

Another interesting set of patterns is related to how people physically move around the space: how they split and reform as groups, where they go and how long they spend at each point.

And when there are kids in the group you also have to consider the speed at which they might move and the potential randomness of the patterns

A typical family of four will vary rarely move as one. It most often splits into two pairs of adult and child, or adults and children. And in any typical visit they will change how they are split at least three times.

A parent will automatically change roles depending on the age of the child and will be constantly shifting from interpreting the content as an adult, an adolescent or even a toddler. The pleasure of their experience is tightly bound to that of their child. They will quickly move on if they fail to engage their kid and will often abandon the experience entirely if their child reaches capacity intake.

And kids get everywhere. Regardless of who we are designing for we have to consider whether we will be able to hold the attention of a kid who is accompanying a parent as they will otherwise find it hard to stop and engage for long.

Of course parents often use portable devices as mobile babysitters and you often see a couple of kids sat in a corner with a smartphone while their parents browse the gallery but this is not a successful group interaction. There is no shared experience, no conversation and no real value in dragging the children out, often at considerable expense, if all they are going to do is play mobile games.

School groups provide both interesting challenges and insights. The fluidity in how they move and interact can be architected if well planned and can often result in highly engaged kids. It can equally all go horribly wrong if not properly managed as there is often only 1 adult for every 8 children and they are often unfamiliar with the location and subject matter.

Albeit mostly paper based, some highly successful tools have been developed to provide guidance, curation, and challenges that engage different users. Their translation into mobile digital tools has however been patchy at best with little agreement on how, where and when to employ them without compromising the overarching physical visit experience.

Again this is a topic that really needs it’s own study, the the encouraging takeaway is that with considered use of simple UX tools it is possible to roleplay user scenarios and pre-plan for expected behaviours and needs.

The three C’s

Our argument has always been that mere facts and objects are not enough in a time when you can access everything within seconds on the internet, and that we need to create more tactile and immersive experiences that engender novel, memorable, and shareable moments in people’s lives. Do this well and not only will they leave with a smile, but they are more likely to remember the visit and what it was about, and will help drive marketing as advocates for the place when they speak with friends and family.

In an academic sense, the rationale for stand out interactive interpretation is now also getting stronger with the growing consensus that it proves to be a more effective tool for multi faceted learning and for the retention of knowledge.

However a big part of the reason that most people visit public spaces as a leisure activity is to socialise, to share new experiences and have fun together, rather than wander around interacting on their own. Researchers have shown that the more people talk about what they are doing and what they have learnt so their capability to retain knowledge increases further.

It makes a great deal of sense therefore to encourage the interaction of visitors with each other in every way that we can. We have already covered how to design to support different behaviour types, and the way that groups move and affect each other, now I will try to provide insights on how to best coerce people into active interaction and conversation with each other.

There are essentially three core approaches that we look to use: Competitive, Collaborative and Conversational.

Competitive

Our first commission came from the Science Museum and we have been working with them on and off for over 12 years now. And if there is one thing that visitors respond to, with only slight variation due to age or sex, it is a bit of friendly competition.

The challenge mechanic is well established in various guises: the quiz, the treasure hunt, the race, the battle and so forth.

Traditionally these work well both as single player Vs computer, or player Vs player. The banter and bragging of course increase as soon as there are more than one player involved, and gets even noisier when the players know each well.

Our very first competitive orientated exhibit, still going strong after 12 years in the Energy gallery, was a happy accident in player Vs player competition, and is admittedly highly simplistic in nature although rather unique in form.

Designed to teach kids the basics of energy consumption it takes the form of a multiple choice quiz in which the answers are located on a giant rotating drum that the kids have to rotate to locate and select their corresponding response. The quiz is staged over several rounds that are graphically laid out along a horizontal landscape along which we take each user before they journey up into the sky for the final score

It was always intended to be a single player Vs computer, with kids competing and replaying multiple times to get the highest score, but because we have three independent players alongside each other it wasn’t long before we realised that we had created some highly competitive behaviour between the three sets of players.

Kids competing to win in the Energy gallery of the Science Museum, London

It started with comparing scores at the end, when bragging rights were enhanced because we provided personalised congratulations based on how well they had done.

Once the kids had essentially memorised the correct answers it turned into a race to complete first, starting together on a count of three. This is when they became increasingly sneaky, using their friends to act as accomplices who would go around the back of the exhibit and slow the rotation of other user’s wheels.

Whilst completely unintended we took a lot of lessons from this first exhibit in how to create a far more active, noisy and fun interactive experience, whilst still supporting single use scenarios.

In another example, an installation at MAST in Bologna, the exhibit challenges visitors to satisfy changing market demands for confectionary. They compete both against the clock (versus the computer) and other users (first to satisfy market demand and total score).

The use of the vertical shared canvas increases the sense of competition as each player is constantly reminded of how well other users are performing, and reinforces the need to be quick to grasp new market opportunities before other players. The leaderboard with it’s all time top scores helps to reinforce the same competitive challenges even when there is only 1 player.

Compete to build marketshare with custom designed sweets at MAST, Bologna

With the vertical canvas providing the challenges and the scores, the horizontal canvas amplifies the competitive marketplace by showing newly made player products as they travel from right to left and into the market.

If another player has created a small batch quickly they will get to market first but may not be able to satisfy demand, whereas rivals who opt for slower mass production can take over the market even if they reach it later.

In a final twist there are also occasional gaps in the market that appear for new sweets. The reward for being the first to create a new market category can be considerable if successful but users have to invent these whilst continuing to match existing market demand.

One Round at a time

A common difficulty within public spaces is how to manage the reality of players stepping in and out of an interactive at any time. It requires considerable forethought and intricate game mechanics to support.

One way to resolve this is to split the interaction into a series of short rounds, or self contained mini games. We did just this when working on the hero exhibit for the Science Museum’s Atmosphere gallery. Featuring 5 competitive mini games related to climate science the cumulative scores were only realised in a more abstract graphic sense, and were in fact more reflective of all players combined positive or negative effects in the environment.

Three large shared canvases that covered the floor and ceiling of the gallery combined to create an ever changing virtual ecosystem that responded to the combined activities of players in a highly dramatic spectacle.

Central exhibit at the Atmosphere gallery in the Science Museum, London

In this way players competed directly to win each round, and could therefore step in or out, but were also made aware of how the nature of competition in itself was contributing to the collapse (e.g. via the fossil fuel collecting game), or salvation (e.g via the renewable sources game) of the global climate.

Collaborative

Another approach is to build interactive engagement through the principles of collaboration, more suited when designing to explicitly emphasise themes of cumulative effect The alternative energies installation at the Siemens Crystal centre in London motivates players to work together to generate enough energy via renewables sources to trigger a large tesla coil in the centre.

It is a big dramatic payoff for all the energy that users need to to put in using physical gestures, but must again deal with the issue of having between 1 and 4 players and players stepping in and out of the exhibit.

Tesla coil renewables exhibit at The Crystal Siemens centre, London

Equations are used to continually monitor the number of players and adjust the necessary required input accordingly so that it is never too easy for four players or too hard for one.

Since there needs to be clear and consistent feedback to the user in terms of targets and current progress the fine tuning is done by silently and continually adjusting the value of their input, a helping hand or handicap as it were.

Passive Collaboration

Another example looked at solving a very different problem. How to make a meaningful and choreographed exhibit that would entertain large groups of under fives who we knew were only going to play by their own rules.

Having young kids of our own meant we were pretty well prepared for how misused our Morse Code Keys exhibit would be and it was designed accordingly.

Instead of pretending that we would be able to corral some form of organised collaboration or non violent competition we instead built a highly orchestrated piece that engendered what we call passive collaboration. Kids were encouraged to climb, sit, stand and jump on a series of oversized, brightly lit keyboard keys. As they did each key lit up and emitted a sequence of tonal pulses that represented its value in morse code.

Morse Code Keys at the Science of Spying in the Science Museum, London

Each key belonged to a predetermined soundscape and was played out to match a master rhythm pattern. This way each kid could get a satisfying response from their actions whilst at the same time contributing to a musical performance.

The interpretation for kids this age was of course incredibly simple. Each letter has it’s own morse code, and together they can be used to communicate messages.

The unique physicality of the exhibit attracted the target audience, provided a memorable and shareable experience, and kept them engaged long enough for parents to pass on the simple facts about morse code.

Conversational

It is not always appropriate to use an overt competitive or collaborative mechanic. The context, subject matter, and depth of engagement may demand a more focused attention on individual interaction, especially when complex subjects are being discussed or more advanced problem solving challenges are in play.

The approach we take in these situations is not to abandon the concept of group interaction but to design the exhibit so that it encourages conversation. More often than not these take the form of large single canvases on which each user has their own specific viewpoint into the interactive whilst retaining clear views of the interactions of other users.

Not only does this help users discover content and features, much like examining the food other diners are served when trying to choose off the menu, but it also encourages users to engage for longer and persevere when tackling more challenging content or activities.

Sharing ideas to solve ‘COG’nitive challenges at MAST, Bologna

In the example above, from MAST, users are presented with a series of design challenges that focus on materials and fabrication techniques for various engineering solutions involving cogs. Since many of the visitors are students, and they come together in groups, we have found that many of the challenges are solved by visitors helping each other, through conversation and hands on demonstrations.

The table format helps to orientate users so that they face each other in some way to make the process of talking to someone else more natural, and in the example below from the V&A we actively encourage people to switch places, moving around the table for different tactile experiences with an array of different material samples.

Connecting with other visitors at the furniture galleries in the V&A, London

This example also contains a trick that we often use to try and stimulate more conversation — hidden easter eggs that when discovered momentarily link the different users by taking over the entire shared canvas.

Since each material sample is linked to an object within the furniture gallery, and this object appears on the table surface in front of the user when triggered, there are natural instances when multiple users trigger the appearance of the same object; and these are used to visualise connections between the materials, sparking conversation between the users.

The last example, from the Mishkat centre in Riyadh, takes the table format to its extreme with three 6m long tables, united through a single top down projection, that fills a 27m entrance space. Nine Kinect cameras mounted in the ceiling enable every inch of the undulating table surfaces to be highly responsive through gesture. Users can trigger ambient disturbances in the animation sequence that cycles through different states and runs the full length of the space, as well as triggering the appearance of content nuggets that are hidden within visual seeds in the animation flow.

Taking part in a stream of conversation at the Mishkat centre for renewables, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

Encouraged with overarching messages, in both Arabic and English, users on both sides of the table reach across to open the content seeds interacting with each other in the process.

Conversation is initiated through the visitors shared ownership of the narrative that unfolds through their interactions, and is enhanced when users trigger substantial dramatic events that change the theme of the canvas (from solar to geothermal, to wind and to nuclear).

The Fourth C

Increasingly there are opportunities to take the learnings from the three C’s of engagement and blend them together into a combined solution; where conversation, collaboration and competition are all subtly used to engage, guide, narrate, and choreograph the interactions between users and with the underlying content itself.

Often this is realised through creating different rounds of interaction which switch between engagement styles, but equally this can be facilitated with different strategies for actors versus spectators, and/or at different levels of the content engagement within the exhibit.

In the following example, the hero exhibit for Who Am I gallery at the science museum, there are two multi user tables which together accommodate 12 people.

Centre tables in the Who Am I gallery of the Science Museum, London

Users are all linked together with a sequence of rounds that pose personal questions related to identity through a circular touchscreen interface. The answers that they provide are collected in a secondary screen that acts as a digital petri dish; visually accumulating their responses into a unique avatar.

Most of the questions are personal in nature and private but every so often there are questions that are related to traits such as reaction time. Visitors interact as normal but at the end of these rounds we compare the results from all users and use the top down table projection to celebrate the winner in a highly visual way.

This helps to break the solitary interactions, diverts the user’s gaze across the table to other people taking part and thus sparking conversation.

After all rounds have been completed we compile and send all of the responses and personalised avatars as a collaborative data set to a giant 10m wide video wall backdrop that represents the collective history of visitors and their underlying identities.

Backdrop of the Who Am I gallery in the Science Museum, London

Takeaways

As of August 2016, there is surprisingly little publicly available research collated on the design approach and success or failure of physical interactive exhibits. Most publication focus on the creative product in a coffee table format, and most museum research remains locked into their visitor insight teams as proprietary private data.

As interactive technologies become increasingly prevalent in our day to day lives and the public spaces that we inhabit, so the importance of engendering positive, social and memorable experiences increases. The translation of the lessons we have learnt with events and exhibitions into spaces such as retail has been painfully slow. But as retailers counter the threat from online commerce the bricks and mortar experiences will need to become increasingly experiential, dramatic and memorable.

While this document does not cover the design process, which we are saving for another conversation, or even how mobile technologies fit into public behaviour which still require more study, the principles articulated in this document have proven very reliable across many different types of projects and should provide a great place to start when embarking on projects of your own.

We will endeavour to follow this up with a more specific look at using physical interactives within corporate environments as well as retail spaces so get in touch or follow us if you are interested.

We hope you enjoyed reading and found something interesting to takeaway, please help spread the word and share the article with your own networks.

Thanks

AllofUs has been incredibly fortunate to attract some very talented people and without these exceptional visual designers, creative technologists, user experience designers and project managers, none of the projects referenced in this document would have be possible.

So in no particular order I would like to thank:

Mark Hauenstein, Leslie Quarcoopome, Tom Moody, Nic Mulvaney, Tim Diacon, Ting Yu, Tim Crook, Sarah Gautier, Silje Rodvik, Phil McNeil, Matt Barnes, Marie Laurent, Laura Lejano, Kamran Karvani, Jem Robinson, JC Ehle, Chris Mullany, Hana Sutch, Geoff Moore, Gemma Lane, Emma Johnson, Derek Boatang, Daniel Felstead, Blaise Galinier, Rob Millington, Maximo Recio, Steve Johnson, Will Grace, Miquel Lopez, Matt James, Andreas Odenahl, Richard Sullivan, Lily Madar, Jon Caplin, Laura Pison and Saul Hardman.

If you have any specific questions related to the projects referenced, or want to check out the many other projects we do, you can find more details on our website Allofus.com, and you can contact myself or Orlando Mathias, who has also been here from the very beginning.

We have a number of other articles planned which we will announce via Twitter. You can follow us at @allofustweet as well as here on Medium.