Building data into the audience experience

Data capture

As interactive exhibit software specialists we are well experienced in using client data to create exhibits and using data collected from exhibit use to inform clients’ future decisions. Both are important aspects of developing an effective interactive exhibit.

Where the use of data collection and display becomes even more interesting is when it is part of the experience of using the exhibit, adding a further level of interaction for the visitor.

Building a digital wall 

At the Great North Museum, visitors can participate in the creation of an exhibit – a digital version of Hadrian’s Wall. Using an interactive screen they can “carve” their initials and the place they have come from onto a virtual stone which gets placed into the projected wall. On further visits they can seek out their brick and see how much further the wall has developed since that brick was first placed.

Compiling a personal interpretation of exhibits 

The Intelligence Centre exhibit at Manchester Art Gallery holds no pre-determined interpretive content. Instead it uses a question and answer technique to enable visitors build a structured personal response to artworks themed on conflict and resolution as well as using collected data to collate trends in responses.

Generating your own results 

At Whitehill and Bordon Eco-town’s Eco-station visitors’ own efforts generate the results that are displayed as their activity on an eco-generator bike displays how much hard work it takes to provide energy for everyday requirements such as powering a TV, making eco issues directly relevant to their daily lives.

User-generated data is a great way to ensure that an interactive exhibit becomes directly relevant to each visitor’s experience and helps to keep the exhibit fresh and stimulating over time.

Welcome to Cheyanne

We’re delighted to welcome to the team Cheyanne Black who joins us as an intern having recently graduated as a mature student in graphic design from the University of Derby.

Cheyanne Black

Since Chris gives guest lectures at the University, he was in contact with Cheyanne’s tutor who introduced the two as he knew that Wide Sky’s portfolio would be a perfect example to research for her final project, an interactive experience in digital and print formats called Commemoration through Conversation which brings people together to share their stories of war, conflict and human loss. With elements of archiving and education, the project is very much in line with the aims of many of our clients so it made perfect sense to keep in touch throughout the last months of her degree.

We’re very impressed with Cheyanne’s achievements which include being shortlisted for the prestigious Penguin Random House Design Award for her cover of Carrie’s War and for the 5th Sheffield International Artists Book Prize for Tear Away The Taboo, a handcrafted direct mailer and leaflet insert inviting the public to an event to discuss taboos in today’s society.

Cheyanne’s ability to work with interpretation, archiving and education around themes of war and conflict are informed by time she spent prior to her studies as an army nurse in Hawaii where she was struck by the poignancy of survivors of the Pearl Harbour attack visiting the USS Arizona Memorial, possibly the last that these visitors, now in their 90s, will make. This sensitivity is clearly reflected in her work.

We’re so pleased to have such a talent on the team and have been keeping Cheyanne very busy with modelling, animation and graphic layout for a project interpreting the history of the 13th century church at Bedwas. She is certainly rising to new challenges and we look forward to presenting her with even more!

Developing our Content Management System

One thing that our clients really appreciate about the software we develop for them is that they have the ability to add to and update the databases themselves, as and when they need to. It helps them to be flexible in the way they work and avoid incurring additional costs when updates are needed.

Rob has been hard at work improving the user interface of this system so it will be even easier for clients to work with and will underpin our tablet tours, interactive touchscreen exhibits and other products. We’ll make a full announcement when it’s ready to go.

Power down properly to prolong the life of your hardware

Reducing the impact of bad habits on the health of your hardware is a good way to help prolong its life. One such habit is that of switching off your computer at the wall rather than powering it down properly. It seems like a time saver at the end of a busy day and is particularly tempting where one power socket feeds more than one computer.

But by doing this you run the risk of corrupting the data on your hard drive which is not such a great idea.

Our policy for clients is to make the necessary changes internally to the computer using our own software which runs in the background and powers the computer off and on at pre-determined times. If you want to run your exhibit outside your regular hours – say, for a special event – then you simply override the pre-set times by switching the computer on again. It will revert to the regular schedule by itself.

It’s a reliable way to save time and eliminate the risk of corrupting data by switching off at the wall and we recommend it to all our clients.

But, if you’re running hardware that has not been set up in this way, please follow our tip: simply power your computer down properly. It doesn’t take that long really and can save you a lot of hassle in the long term.

Keep your touch screen clean

A clean screen on your touch screen exhibit will help ensure your visitors’ experience is a great one and make it easier to maintain and prolong the life of your equipment.

An IR (Infra Red) or SAW (Surface Acoustic Wave) touch screen has its “send” and “receive” sensors at the top, bottom and sides of the screen. These can become blocked if dust and debris build up which in turn might make them less effective or even stop working entirely.

We recommend using an air duster to blow out the dust and debris quickly and easily.  Importantly, it does so without wiping dust into the sides and corners of the screen as is so easy to do when using a cloth.

The right package for each client

Much of the work to be won in our sector is put out to tender and winning that work depends on getting the balance of our whole offering just right.

With public money so often at stake, a price that reflects excellent value for money is essential as, of course, is the demonstrable ability to fulfill the contract requirements.

Experience counts for a great deal too. Not just the body of work but how each project is dealt with right from the start. One thing that our clients report back to us as being particularly valuable is our structured development process. It allows us to manage time and cost (supporting the client requirements for clear pricing and meeting their deadlines). It also enables us to communicate project progress and manage any design changes, a regularly recurring theme in our industry.

In any project you need to manage time, cost and quality. Getting the development process right is what makes the right package work.

Welcoming Rob to the team

This month we were joined by a new addition to the team. Rob Presland has come on board as senior developer, boosting our programming capacity and bringing new skills and experience on board too. Expect to see more online and app projects in our portfolio.

With a strong project management background Rob will fit in nicely with our structured development ethos. He also brings with him extensive experience in e-learning and technology for education, for example, in developing online assessments and resources.

Rob Presland

Rob says, “I am interested in how the disciplines involved in e-learning can enhance the experience that users have of interactive exhibits. One of the key things about online learning is to keep people interested and engaged throughout the whole experience, enhancing the quality of their interaction. I’m looking forward to bringing this experience into a new field and, hopefully, opening up new possibilities and choices for Wide Sky Design’s clients.”

Charity update: The Smile Train and The Brain Tumour Charity

As regular readers of our newsletter will know, we make a donation for everyone who opens our newsletter each month. Our chosen charities are The Smile Train and The Brain Tumour Charity.

So far we have donated £71.65 to each charity and we’ll be continuing to make our contributions – every time you read our newsletter, “Into the blue”.

Why not sign up to get regular news and ideas about interactive exhibition design?

Charity update: Lend With Care

Last year we ran a competition around our newsletter with £100 to the charity of choice to the winner. Our winner , Andrew Deathe at the National Waterfront Museum, asked us to put the money into Lend With Care, a microfinance provider that lends to individuals in poor communities around the world to help them develop sustainable ways to earn a living.

Lend with care

So far we have supported nine people in places as diverse as Equador, the Philippines, Pakistan and Cambodia, with business that range from farming to general stores and carpentry. When loans are repaid (and we have seen no defaults so far) we simply find another individual to support.

And on the subject of giving, we’d like to highlight the challenge that the team at Equinox Design are undertaking in aid of Breakthrough Breast Cancer. A team of 20 are aiming to raise £5,000 by completing the Ben Nevis Challenge. They’re doing rather well but still need some further support – you can find their Just Giving page here if you’d like to contribute.

Is your interactive exhibit securely backed up?

Whenever we hand over our software to a client, we provide a copy on a USB stick with a manual that explains how to re-install the software should the need arise.

If you have an interactive exhibit but have not been provided with a back-up copy of the software, we’d strongly recommend that you make a copy, backing it up safely. A solid state hard drive need cost no more than £50-60 so it’s a cost effective investment that can prevent all kinds of problems, even the complete loss of your exhibit should the worst happen.

Hard drive

Our top tips for a contingency plan:

  1. Make sure you have a back-up of your software, either from your original developer or one you take yourself.
  2. Make sure it is kept safe, somewhere where it will not also be affected by any disaster that strikes your exhibit.
  3. Allocate responsibility for maintaining that back-up to a specific individual so that you always know where it is kept – and make sure that the details are passed on should that individual leave.
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