From Here to Ingenuity

Shop Talk with Our Exhibit Designers!

By Patricia Narciso

Mushrooms that make music? Scarves that travel through wind tubes? A real fire engine made ready for imaginative play? A water vortex that draws colorful balls into its orbit? Where do these ideas come from and who transforms the ideas into reality?

The creative play space at Educare Silicon Valley designed by the team at Children’s Discovery Museum features children’s chimes, musical mushrooms, and xylophones.

Our museum is fortunate to have a number of exhibit geniuses who design and fabricate indoor and outdoor play experiences specifically for our audience of active children and their family members. It takes a lot of creativity, problem-solving, attention to the unique needs of kids, and many hours of skillful designing and building.

We asked a couple of members of our exhibits team to share with us about how they got into their craft and how they approach their work day-to-day.

Q: What attracts you to designing and fabricating for children?

Terence Tang, Sr. Exhibit Designer: I have designed products in various industries: action sports, packaging, semiconductor, medical and dental, consumer electronics, mobile electronics, military vehicles, furniture, architecture, and toys. What is most challenging designing for children is you can’t assume anything. If you design the exhibit to be used a certain way, you can expect that the kids will use it completely different than you intended. This is the “surprise” that keeps me on my toes as a designer. Learning is ageless. What I learn from the children allows me to grow as a designer.

Q: When designing and fabricating an exhibit for children, what factors do you need to take into consideration?

Kevin Saxon, Exhibit Craftsperson: Designing and fabricating for children brings an intriguing challenge as everything must be made safer, stronger, and more durable. Kids will use (and abuse) the objects we make in ways that we may never think of, so we must consider the unknown and try our best to plan for it.

Q: What attracted you to becoming an exhibit fabricator/designer?

Benches that combine seating, environmental education, and donor recognition are the creation of Terence Tang.

Terence: I am not an exhibit designer by trade but a product designer (aka industrial designer). An exhibit is about space and how it is utilized. I think of space as my ultimate “product,” which is really just a matter of scale and proportion. I can easily implement my knowledge of the product development and design process into an exhibit “space.” What attracted me most about becoming a designer is how I can positively affect one’s life (emotionally, physically, mentally) using creative communication (sketches, digital media, 3D CAD models, and physical models). Design for me is really nothing more than problem-solving and you need to have a versatile and expansive “toolbox” to solve those problems.

Kevin: While growing up, I always had a strong interest in art and spatial thinking. Architecture seemed to be a practical use of that creativity for my studies in college, but after only a year in the department, I concluded it was not the field for me. I switched to furniture design and have loved it ever since — the same principles of architecture apply, but the scale of furniture allows the work to be much more accessible and executable. Although exhibits aren’t exactly furniture, they still require many of the same skills and considerations.

Q: What advice would you give to a young person who says they want to do your job when they grow up?

Terence: Experience different cultures/traditions (travel and absorb the culture), learn different languages, work a variety of jobs in different industries, get involved with your community. Knowledge is power. The more you know the better designer you will be. Design for the purpose of changing lives. Most of all, have fun. Once you have achieved “fun,” it is no longer work and you get paid to have fun!

Shade structures built by Kevin Saxon are made from rescued willow branches that are beautifully shaped thanks to the help of a specially designed steam bending tube.

Kevin: If you know you love building, working with your hands, problem-solving, and spatial thinking — pursue it as much as you can. When you decide to make something, follow it through until the end. The more things you make and complete, the more you will learn from them and the better designer and fabricator you will be in the future. Most importantly, have fun even when you are challenged and let your imagination run wild!