Behind the Scenes — A Look at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science

Before I began this program, my friend Maddie told me, “Design can change the world.” I nodded, trying to pretend like I knew what she was talking about. “You have to do this program. It will change your life,” she continued. Again, I nodded without really grasping what she was saying. Every day in this program I began to understand her words more and more. On Monday, I saw her words at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science.

My class went on a class field trip there. We learned like children, giddily mulling over facts and drawing each other’s attention to interesting facts such as the largest and smallest mammals ever. We engaged like children, yet we maintained the facade of adults.

Previously when I had visited museums, I did not have this childlike presence. I was an adult, reading the facts next to the images, taking everything in so I may regurgitate the information at the right time at a social event or party. Monday was different. I viewed the museum through the lens of a designer. These lens are new to me, so I used them with the curiosity of a child.

My glasses first led me to a sign about the main exhibit on Mummies. One header font. Same font for the body. High contrast. ADA Standards. One large image.

The museum design staff informed me the images in this sign were provided by the museum hosting the exhibit. Furthermore, the scientists were very specific about what was written in the body and header. They didn’t want to the general public to be educated incorrectly by a museum. Additionally, there were a lot of opinions other than the scientists that had to be heard. It was the designers who were amalgamating this information and compiling it for the general public. Designers transformed into educational designers. It was something I had never thought about. Design without the constraints I had naively placed on design.

My glasses then led me to a projected moving image on the ground of fish swimming around my feet. I walked through it and nothing happened.

“You have to try and kill the fish like a bear would,” the museum designer informed me.

Five of us tried for a minute or two and we finally got one. It was extremely exciting, but I would have never known what to do if the employee had not told me.

On this matter, she responded, “Children figure this out almost immediately. Through prototyping and testing children, we found we did not need instructions.” Ultimately, my experience was less significant in the scheme of UX because it was not designed for me. There was something simplistically inspiring about that. Everyone won’t be appeased, so you delight your main user.

Finally, my glasses led me to an interactive design that replayed my stride. I was led to Step 2 first, which was confusing and I had to navigate around Step 2 to get to Step 1. After I walked through Step 1, I went back to Step 2. The done button was placed in the bottom right, so I pressed it. It exited me out of the experience, which was not my end goal. I tried it again and through thinking, I extrapolated how to interact with this design. You had to move through tabs at the top; I had originally thought the done button was a continue button.

Children did not seem to click the done button or if they did, I did not see. Conversely, other adults had the same error as I did. In this case, delighting the main user was overridden by the fact that the placement of the done button was so frustrating to me. I wanted a continue button there. My frustration was doubled when I found the done button was located in the same position in many other designs in this exhibit. The museum Product Manager had informed us they were working on the designs in this exhibit as their user feedback has been the least positive through this design. My frustration faded because I knew they were working on improvements.

Lightbulb. User frustration can be lessened by the fact that they are being heard and that you are working to eliminate their annoyance.

I began to review these three aspects of educational designers. After feeling slightly overwhelmed that museum designers had to compile information from about five different sources, prototype and user test with all ages for most exhibits, I saw the full picture of working within constraints. After you work gracefully around these constraints and everything feels right, you find out you incorrectly placed a button. ARGGGH! Since the design is finished and the budget has run out, there is no way to edit that improperly placed button. More ARGGHHHs! I would be extremely frustrated with that, especially since you everything else is so wonderful. But that is being a designer. “Getting it done is better than it being perfect.” And I learned something else about designers: They are extremely patient with others. (In regards to themselves, that is another story.)

I finally took off my glasses and realized that design remained ever-present in my present and future vision. It is changing the world, changing education, and that is something I want to be apart of.