User-Centered Research Process

It is part of the HCI process to collect qualitative data and design directly off the needs and social context of our users. To begin our design process, we spent time with the children, parents, and museum staff we were designing for. Since the prompt for the exhibit was a specific book, The Very Clumsy Click Beetle by Eric Carle, we integrated it into the activities we did as much as possible. We spent time with our users by doing a reading at the Carnegie Library Children’s Area, taking five children to the Pittsburgh Children’s Museum, through interviewing museum educators, and through visiting the Museum’s fabrication shop.

Visits to the Children's Museum

As a first step in embarking on our research we did the simplest thing possible; we did a team visit to the Children’s Museum. The objective of our visit was to familiarize ourselves with the layout, current exhibits and experience the fun of the Children’s Museum first hand. We payed special attention to how sound was currently being used since we knew that sound would likely be present in our final design in some capacity. During our visits we were also able to engage with many of the Museum Educators, speaking to them about their perspectives working at the museum and working with children.

Takeaways

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  • From the gravity room and multiple story crawling area we learned that physical experience are extra memorable.

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  • Some exhibits need to be explained or hopefully discovered.

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  • The children seemed to be especially drawn to exhibits in which they could see themselves.

Expert Interviews

Stephanie Ross has worked for the Children’s Museum as both a docent and a Tough Art resident. During one of our visits to the museum we sat down with her for an interview, where she generously shared her knowledge. She gave numerous pieces of advice on how to make a successful exhibit for kids—these ranged from “make it for all ages” to “children will climb on anything!” Stephanie also shared several heartwarming stories from her time on the job. Many of the things we learned from her would be on our minds throughout our design process.

Takeaways

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  • The best way to discourage children from crawling on an exhibit is to make it soft.

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  • From an adorable story about a boy who gives his babysitter a gift we learned how exhibit takeaways can be a chance for children to show love.

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  • The disney channel isn’t all powerful yet, children can appreciate small, simple, genuine experiences.

The Manchester Shop

We view our users to not just be the children who will interact with the exhibit, but also the Children’s Museum staff that would have to fabricate and maintain the final piece. As an effort to get more familiar with their process and priorities we visited the Children’s Museum’s Manchester Shop. The shop contains the Children Museum’s facilities for building new exhibits and houses many pieces of old exhibits.

Takeaways

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  • Don’t just think with words you can also think by prototyping with materials.

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  • Check out the Simple Exploratorium Interactive cookbook.

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  • Simplicity is the way.

Children's Library Observation

Eric Carle’s Very Hungry Caterpillar might be pervasive into the community, but the Very Clumsy Click Beetle is less well known. We brought the book to a reading of two and three year olds at the Carnegie Library and read to the children. Afterwards, we watched the tactics used by the librarian and saw how she kept the rambunctious ones focused on the material. Exaggeration was key as she told the stories; it felt as though she brought the narratives off the page.

Takeaways

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  • Educators often use the Eric Carle books to educate children about colors, days of the week, and counting.

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  • The Hungry Caterpillar is a huge celebrity; they had a rug depicting the caterpillar and every child we spoke with was very familiar.

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  • All the whitespace in Eric Carle's books can be used for pointing at key events to help comment on the story and maintain the children’s attention.

Visit to the Children's Museum with Kids

In order to develop the best possible prototype we needed to be able to understand the ways children interact with exhibits. We had to know how children approach new exhibits, what keeps them engaged, and what they take away from the experience. The best way to learn these things was to see them in action. To this end, we brought four children and their parents with us to the Children’s Museum and let them play for a few hours. Each new exhibit brought curious questions, unique reactions, and even some technological and scientific discoveries. Everyone had a lot of fun, and we got a lot of valuable insight.

Takeaways

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  • We often think of the parents as the educators, but the children we took with us thoroughly enjoyed explaining what they learned to each other and especially to their parents.

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  • Roxy (2yrs old) was delighted by the small car where she could sit in the driver’s seat and choose the radio station. Through observing this we learned about the draw of adult life made small.

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  • Making connections between exhibits is exciting. Nora (9 years old) enjoyed discovering that there was the same technology in the Reach interactive and in the XOXO exhibit.

Our Findings

From our research process we collected over 167 data points, stories we were told, observations we made or advice we received. We synthesized all these data points in a process called affinity diagramming in which we review each note and organize them into a hierarchy of larger groups. We came out with three major findings, “I want to play, too”, “ I want to do it myself ”, and “I know this and I NEED to share right now!” We then used all of our data and these insights in particular to inform our ideation and overall design process.

“I want to play, too”

(The poles in this exhibit are specially spaced to allow wheel chairs to enter)

The Children’s Museum has visitors of all ages from infants to grandparents. A successful exhibit should offer something for visitors of different ages and abilities. We witnessed first hand how an exhibit can facilitate collaboration across ages. In Chain Reaction, an exhibit near the MakeShop, Nora (age 9) arranged the magnetic tracks so the ball would run along the tracks and fall smoothly to the ground while Roxy (age 2) pressed the big red button to cause the motor to move the ball up to the top.

“I want to do it myself”

A good portion of the Museum experience is facilitated by parents and museum educators, however a successful exhibit should be accessible to the child with minimal assistance. This is important because it eases the burden on museum staff and because it gives the child a sense of independence and empowerment. While prototyping the paper coin machine a boy was being very secretive about his drawing. When Stephanie asked what he was drawing he said he was making it for his baby sitter because she made such a difference in his life. He gives the coin to his babysitter and thanks her and she cries.

“I know this and I NEED to share right now!”

We observed a lot of excitement over learning and a resulting eagerness to share that knowledge from both parents and adults. For example when Nora learned that the exhibit, Reach, created sound by making contact between the moon and one of the stars, she ran to get her dad from the cafe to teach him how it worked.