How do we design an interactive exhibit experience to allow people explore diverse regional identities through color representations?
As a team of five international students who possess cross-cultural experiences and constantly reflect upon our identities, we were motivated to reveal the similarities and differences across regions through our design, using colors as a medium.
We were tasked to design an interactive public exhibit. Starting from there, we brainstormed project ideas. My artistic nature prompted me to propose designing an interactive exhibit around two major elements of design — colors or typography, while other team members brought ideas related to social media, social labels, regional differences to the table.
We individually looked into current and previous efforts in our topics of interest.
We were then able to narrow down our focus and phrased it as:
How do we design an interactive exhibit, showing the intersection of colors and regions, to let people express their regional identities or explore that of others?
We collectively and creatively mocked up and performed the experience, exploring the context (issue, actors, and relations) to develop new ideas and uses. The initial ideation using experience prototyping was helpful in prompting us to generate proposals for how things could be, especially when there was not yet a shared vision.
Through building a physical performance to communicate our developed ideas with over 15 students, we inspired a discussion on our proposed experience. Bringing the feedback and unanswered question back to our team, our next step was to run a design research sprint to address them.
To approach the design challenge systematically, I took the initiative to design the research — breaking down the design problem statement into three main aspects, writing the research questions that guided our study, and proposing research methodologies.
I determined that a focus group discussion was appropriate for a broad and abstract topic like identities. The semi-structured, small-group discussion format would create a relaxed and comfortable environment for our participants to share their deep-seated attitudes and cultural perspectives.
We also incorporated the cultural probes technique to prompt for visual input in the form of a photograph or a drawing from our participants. We created three activities, one of which was designed based on a common psychological exercises, the lifeline exercise, to let our participants re-work their life stories and reflect upon places that were dear to them.
To find out what made an engaging and memorable exhibit, our team interviewed four subjects. Speaking with David Choberka from the University of Michigan Museum of Art (UMMA) and three frequent museum goers, we collected perspectives from both the exhibit planner and the visitors.
We recruited three subjects who came from different cultural backgrounds and have had rich experiences studying, working, and traveling all over the world. We wanted to see how moving between various regions might have influenced their identities and their perceptions of those regions/cultures. We also observed how they used colors to describe places either visually or verbally. As the moderator, I led the participants to complete the exercises and facilitated the group discussion.
By the end of our research sprint, we held a debrief session to discuss our study and generate insights through affinity diagramming.
We chose high-traffic, international airport, a non-traditional exhibit space, to be our design context. Such airports are the intersection where people from different regions/cultures come and go. We assumed that travelers, those who are flying from/to a different region with their own regional identities, would be drawn to this topic. Also, wait times for international flights tend to be long, which would create opportunities for travelers to take a moment to interact with our design.
As we decided on the context, we developed hypothesized target user groups based on our own observations and international travel experiences.
Grounded on the context and target audience we specified, we identified a few design opportunities in this space. For example, most international airports make free WiFi accessible to travelers; most of them would require users to acknowledge the policy in the mobile browser, followed by an advertisement page. We could use that as an entry point and lead them to interact with the exhibit.