My name is Zach and I’m a graphic designer working at the Hatfield Science Center.  I handle all kinds of work that needs to be done for exhibits, posters and signage for the center.  Its a new field for graphic designers and I’m very excited to be a part of it.
     My work with the Tsunami exhibit started with a need to build some posters to explain the content and material the exhibit was focused on.  That remains the primary focus of my work, but the idea of the exhibit has changed to that of a whole experience and how to adequately handle the volume of people that move through the exhibit, making it easier to understand, easy to follow and easy to interact with the various activities.  All of this goes into how I design the visual material.  Its like telling a story and having all the material presented in a way that the viewer can follow through and learn systematically.  I also really enjoy working on changes to signs because observations are giving the organizers feedback as to how people are interacting with the signage, allowing me to design them better.
     It has been a unique experience for me and one that is not just limited to making decisions on a poster as a stand alone unit.  My design work has to fit into a bigger and broader picture and I learn quite a bit about how people respond to design and signage through the observations, which influences my design decisions.

 

Did you know?

…In the deep open ocean, tsunami waves can travel at speeds approaching a jetliner (500 mph)?

…The States in the U.S at greatest risks for tsunamis are Hawaii, Alaska, Washington, Oregon and California

These are some of the interesting information pieces we have been working with in our signage work for the wave lab exhibit. It is such hard work and require great interpretive skills to decide what bits of info to include in what signage piece and how to keep it all cohesive, attractive, while still conveying the overall message of the exhibit. In this case, the message is that “waves affect human life in a variety of ways”.

Then we brake into three sub themes to explore the topics of beach erosion, coastal living/tsunami challenge, and wave energy. Before she left to her new job in California, Laura Good had been working on the overarching themes and sub themes, while designing signage pieces meant to represent those themes.  She came up with this construction zone idea to tie all three spaces together as belonging to the same exhibit. Below are some photos showing some of these area signage pieces as they have materialized. Note the yellow bar with black stripes symbolizing the construction zone.

Lego Table Sign    Caution wet floor sign   Beach Erosion Warning Sign   Coming together

Keep in mind this is a work in progress and in prototype phase. I will keep post on the wave lab as we progress. Wait until you see the big banner being designed to go in the back blue wall for prototype next week. It is all coming together, although not at the speed of a jetliner :) .

 

 

 

Having more time to do research, of course! With the pressures and schedules of classes over, students everywhere are turning to a dedicated stretch of research work, either on their own theses and dissertations, or for paid research jobs, or internships. That means, with Laura and I graduating, there should be a new student taking over the Cyberlab duties soon. However, the other thing that summer means is the final push to nail down funding for the fall, and thus, our replacement is not yet actually identified.

In the meantime, though, Laura and I have managed to do a pretty thorough soup-t0-nuts inventory of the lab’s progress over the last couple years for the next researchers to hopefully pick up and run with:

Technology: Cameras are pretty much in and running smoothly. Laura and I have worked a lot of the glitches out, and I think we have the installation down  to a relatively smooth system of placing a camera, aligning it, and installing it physically, then setting it up on the servers and getting it set for everyone’s use. I’ve got a manual down that I think spells out the process start to finish. We’ve also got expanded network capability coming in the form of our own switch, which should help traffic.

Microphones, however, are a different story. We are still torn between installing mics in our lovely stone exhibitry around the touch tanks or just going with what the cameras pick up with built-in mics. The tradeoff is between damaging the rock enclosure or having clearer audio not garbled by the running water of the exhibit. We may be able to hang mics from the ceiling, but that testing will be left to those who follow. It’s less of a crucial point right now, however, as we don’t have any way to automate audio processing.

Software development for facial recognition is progressing as our Media Macros contractors are heading to training on the new system they are building into our overall video analysis package. Hopefully we’ll have that in testing this next school year.

Eye-tracking is really ironed out, too. We have a couple more issues to figure out around tracking on the Magic Planet in particular, but otherwise even the stand-alone tracking is ready to go, and I have trained a couple folks on how to run studies. Between that and the manuals I compiled, hopefully that’s work that can continue without much lag and certainly without as much learning time as it took me to work out a lot of kinks.

Exhibit-wise, the wave tanks are all installed and getting put through their paces with the influx of end-of-year school groups. Maybe even starting to leak a little bit as the wear-and-tear kicks in. We are re-conceptualizing the climate change exhibit and haven’t started planning the remodeling of the remote-sensing exhibit room and Magic Planet. Those two should be up for real progress this year, too.

Beyond that, pending IRB approval due any day for the main video system, we should be very close to collecting research data. We planned a list of things that we need to look at for each of the questions in the grant, and there are pieces that the new researcher can get started on right away to start groundtruthing the use of video observations to study exhibits as well as answering questions about the build-and-test nature of the tsunami wave tank. We have also outlined a brief plan for managing the data as I mentioned a couple posts ago.

That makes this my last post as research assistant for the lab. Stay tuned; you’re guaranteed to hear from the new team soon. You might even hear from me as I go forth and test using the cameras from the other side of the country!

 

If you’re a fan of “Project Runway,” you’re no doubt familiar with Tim Gunn’s signature phrase. He employs this particularly around the point in each week’s process, where the designers have chosen their fabrics and made at least their first efforts at turning their design into reality. It’s at about this time in the process where the designers have to forge ahead or take the last chance to start over and re-conceptualize.

 

 

This week, it feels like that’s where we are with the FCL Lab. We’re about one-and-a-half years into our five years of funding, and about a year behind on technology development. Which means, we’ve got the ideas, and the materials, but haven’t really gotten as far along as we’d like in the actual putting it together.

For us, it’s a bigger problem, too; the development (in this case, the video booth as well as the exhibit itself) is holding up the research. As Shawn put it to me, we’re spending too much time and effort trying to design the perfect task instead of “making it work” with what we have. That is, we’re going to re-conceptualize and do the research we can do with what we have in place, while still going forward with the technology development, of course.

So, for the video booth, that means that we’re not going to wait to be able to analyze what people reflect on during the experience, but take the chance to use what we have, namely a bunch of materials, and analyze the interactions that *are* taking place. We’re not going to wait to make the tsunami task perfect to encourage what we want to see in the video booth. Instead, we’re going to invite several different folks with different research lenses to take a look at the video we get at the tank itself and let us know what types of learning they’re seeing. From there, we can refine what data we want to collect.

It’s an important lesson in grant proposal writing, too: Once you’ve been approved, you don’t have to stick word-for-word to your plan. It can be modified, in ways big and small. In fact, it’s probably better that way.

This past week at HMSC, we have been getting back to my old favorite – exhibit design and prototyping. Katie and I have been planning the prototype of the video booth that will go in to the new wave tank area, which is intended to capture visitor reflections when they test out their wave-resilient lego structures in the large tsunami tank.

 

 

 

The idea behind the booth is visitors will build and test their lego structures in the tank, and then have the chance to review footage of their “crash” via an overhead camera above the tsunami tank. The video booth will encourage visitors to reflect on their footage and video record their response. Eventually, the reflections we capture will be used to research how visitors reflect on design and test activities in an ocean engineering context.

Depending on the application interface that is being designed for us to run the video review and record capabilities, the prototype will start simple with a touchscreen device behind a curtained booth. We are hoping that “curtaining” the booth will give it an element of mystery for visitors, and hence a hook to use the exhibit – inspired by our lab group’s visit to the Science Factory last summer, where we played for a long time in a darkened booth that allowed us to explore photosensitive materials.

With the help of Becca and Susan’s interpretive expertise, myself and Allison are also in the process of working on some signage to help visitors explore how different construction materials will affect their lego structure wave-resilience. Mark had the idea to weaken different color legos to represent different materials resistant to wave impact, an idea which Harrison began experimenting with last spring. In this way, the weakened legos are models of different construction materials and, in essence, are weakened using a drilling tool so they have less “cling” to the base plate their fixed to during tank testing. Some are heavily weakened to represent wood, some only moderately to represent concrete, and some not at all to represent steel. The idea is to encourage visitors to experiment with differing “materials” and to generate hypotheses about material effect on design as they build and test their structures.

I love exhibit prototyping, so these tasks have been very enjoyable for me so far! I’ll post some pictures once these get out on the floor.

 

With all the new wave exhibit work, visitor center maintenance, server changes and audio testing that has been going on in the last few months, Mark, Katie and I realized that the Milestone system that runs the cameras and stores the video data is in need of a little TLC.

Next week we will be relabeling cameras, tidying up the camera “views” (customized display of the different camera views), and checking the servers. We’ve also been having a few problems with exporting video using a codec that allows the video to be played on other media players outside the Milestone client, so we’re going to attempt to solve that issue too. Basically we have a bit of camera housekeeping to attend to – but a good tidy up and reorganize is always a positive way to start the new year me thinks!

Before the holidays, Mark had also asked me to try out the newly released Axis network covert camera – which although video only, is much smaller and discreet than our dome counterparts, and may be more useful for establishment angles, i.e. camera views that establish a wider view of an area (such as a birds eye view), and don’t necessarily require audio. With the updated wave tanks going in, I temporarily installed one on one of the wave kiosks to test view and video quality. During the camera housekeeping, I’m going to take a closer look at its performance to determine whether we will obtain and install more. They may end up replacing some of the dome cameras so we can free those up for views that require closer angles and more detailed views/audio.

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