Beyond the Screen: Part One

Over the next few weeks we’ll be presenting a blog series about the next evolution of responsive design.

The content was created as part of a presentation at Museums and the Web 2014 by Bluecadet Creative Director of Environments -Brad Baer, Lead Interpretive Planner of the Peabody Essex Museum -Emily Fry, and Daniel Davis – the Media Group Manager at the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian

When we think of Responsive Design, a singular experience on various screen sizes is what most often comes to mind. However, it’s equally important that interactives are designed to be responsive in regards to location, time, preference, & skill. Using examples from several museums and related industries, this series will focus on how you can more effectively work with staff and vendors to design sites, apps, touchscreens, and environments that better respond to patrons.

Richard Kissell, the Yale Peabody Director of Exhibitions and Education recently told the story of a young man who intended to propose to his girlfriend by inserting a diamond engagement ring into one of the Peabody’s display cases with several other precious stones as well as a beautifully written note that matched the style of the other text at the museum. The concept was brilliant, but the young romantic failed to realize something most curators have long known: a good percentage of museum text is never read. The couple walked directly up to the gems and after a few seconds, the young woman moved on to something new which caught her interest. A bit frazzled, the gentlemen insisted that the text was really interesting and that she should read further. A second time she glimpsed over the text and moved on. It wasn’t until a third effort that the woman finally made it to the end and realized it was a special diamond meant directly for her. Fear not though; despite the short attention span, she said yes.
Funny tales aside, the average attention span, currently, is estimated to be five seconds, as compared to twelve seconds ten years ago (Vidyarthi, 2011). While strategies have been employed in museums, universities, and cultural institutions to strengthen and lengthen the span in which we captivate audiences, museums are still exploring how best to adapt to multi-tasking audiences through installation design, curation and digital strategies.


  • The success of push notifications and apps like Foursquare show us the importance of geo-location. By creating experiences that cater to a visitor’s location we not only improve wayfinding but also make sure guests don’t miss out on a nearby friend or something of interest.


  • When we think of how many visitors experience museums, we realize that patrons typically allow a certain amount of time. While this might be an hour or a day, the goal remains to provide them with an experience that leaves them wanting more. Time-based designs can help craft bespoke experiences for each guest and even help them coordinate transportation to and from the venue.


  • Whether it’s language preference, how we like to receive information, or even specific styles that we’re drawn to, preference-based experiences help get the most out of a visit without having to dig through information that isn’t of interest. While this concept is relatively new to museums, other industries from athletics to air travel allow us to make several decisions well before events.


  • One can look at a television remote to see the importance of “skill-based” design. While there is a portion of the population that uses every button, there are just as many that use only basic functions like power, volume, or channel. Technology and video game companies are now creating systems that allow users to select a skill level to provide a custom display without excess information.