Most of us spend the majority of our young lives in a classroom, eying the clock, waiting for the clangor of the bell to send us off to a weekend of fun and frivolous free time. But if you were anything like me as a kid, your Saturdays might still have been spent at an educational destination like a zoo, aquarium, or a museum. Why did I relish learning there instead of behind a desk? The reason is simple: immersion.
It’s hardly a revelation that humans learn better by doing and experiencing than passive, vicarious observation. Exhibit-based destinations and attractions offer the baseline level of immersion by requiring guests to leave their homes and step into a new space. But is seeing an artifact or animal behind glass more effective than viewing a picture in a book or a video online? What truly differentiates a museum, zoo, or aquarium is its ability to make visceral connections with guests by bringing them into the world of a given subject matter and establishing a richer context.
Recently, IDEAS had the pleasure of hosting an online conversation with a cohort of two dozen exhibit designers and operators discussing how to bring passive subject matter to life for guests through immersive design. The talk brought a variety of perspectives to the table as we discussed trending topics in the exhibits industry, from gamification and integration of mobile technology to cultural sensitivity and artificial intelligence. Stories and experiences across the industry revealed three major actionable takeaways about the importance of immersive exhibit design:
- Take Guests on an Emotional Journey
Guests connect to subject matter through stories that personalize its context. Effective exhibits make the presentation of artifacts, animals, and other subjects climactic moments of full experiential story arcs that grip emotions, fascinate curiosity, and reveal a different perspective. Emotional connections are formed by finding the human stories within a given subject and channeling them into visceral vistas of the world through that subject’s specific lens.
- Engage All Five Senses
Exhibits must reach beyond sight and sound to immerse guests in the stories of their subjects. Experiences that engage the more intimate senses of smell, taste, and touch create memorable, emotional moments that increase the likelihood of knowledge retention. Multisensory elements can also effectively punctuate more traditional, passive exhibits with unexpected moments of surprise and delight.
- Think Beyond the Smart Phone
Tactile, interactive elements integral to an exhibit’s narrative and experience can deepen audience buy-in beyond the use of their own personal devices. Technologies like RFID, proximity sensors, or even old-fashioned pen and paper give guests the agency to impact the physical exhibit environment, temporarily or permanently. This affords a sense of ownership over and affinity with the experience that will last long after their visit ends.
Over the next three weeks, we’ll be publishing as series of blogs, each of which explores one of these insights and discusses how designers can implement them into new experiences, deepening their connections on guests and pushing exhibit-based entertainment and education to new levels of impact. Stay tuned!