innovative prototyping

“The essential part of creativity is not being afraid to fail.” Edwin H. Land

Innovation is rarely the result of a thunderbolt of inspiration. It builds on the work of other creative thinkers and benefits from incremental prototyping and testing. The projects shown here represent a range of approaches to prototyping, each innovative in its own way.

Expedition Health
Expedition Health
Expedition Health
Expedition Health
Expedition Health
Expedition Health
Expedition Health

Expedition Health
Denver Museum of Nature & Science

Expedition Health exemplifies our longstanding commitment to prototyping as a key process in developing innovative projects, and represents an approach we have honed over many years: creating a cohesive suite of components that can be tested as a mini version of the final exhibition. This allows the project to be evaluated for interpretive effectiveness as well as visitor engagement. The overarching concept we developed for this health science exhibition, illustrated here, drew on several intersecting layers of technology including a barcoded Peak Pass that gives each visitor a unique identity, a networked system that retrieves and stores data from interactive components, and a printed Peak Pass Personal Profile take-away that displays data and imaging unique to each person’s visit.

At the prototype installation Sign-In station, visitors received a Peak Pass barcoded card, signed in with name, age and sex, and selected a buddy to accompany them through the exhibition. For the prototype version, the buddies were scripted actors playing the part of expedition participants. In the final version, the real buddies—twelve Coloradoans selected from 500 applicants—were filmed on the actual trek and during training. From this dozen, nine were chosen to be onscreen.

Following sign-in, visitors experience a mini version of the exhibition comprised of a dozen highly interactive components and several authentic specimen displays. The installation was tested with visitors for ten days, including two weekends. An independent evaluation firm, People, Places & Design Research, collaborated with DMNS in-house evaluation staff to develop evaluation instruments and collect and analyze data.

At See Your Own Heart Rate, a visitor grips sensors that pick up her heartbeat and display it along with an EKG pattern that scrolls out in real-time across the lower third of the screen. Her buddy appears in the role of a virtual learning companion, interpreting a photorealistic computer animation of a heart that beats in sync with the visitor’s actual heart. Her data and EKG image is stored in a database so that they can be printed out later. This component exemplifies the multiple layers of technology involved in the complex system that we developed in the design development phase of the project. Prototyping allowed us to accurately estimate costs for final implementation and confirm for DMNS that the project would be within the target budget.

Several prototypes involved full-body activities that incorporate transparent technologies to acquire and image data. In Measure Up, visitors see themselves on a large monitor, with arms raised. After a countdown, a picture is taken and height and armspan measurements are displayed—surprisingly, nearly equal in almost all cases. This was one of the components that the project team was not completely sold on prior to evaluation, but it proved so popular in prototyping, consistently generating extended discussion among users, that it was retained in the final exhibition and is the source of an image printed out, in monochrome, on the Peak Pass Personal Profile take-away.

This 4” x 8” souvenir card is dispensed from a high-speed printer at the exhibition exit. A graphic representation of user’s EKG from data obtained at See Your Own Heart Rate and a screen grab with data from Measure Up are featured on this personalized take-away. Resting Heart Rate and Target Heart Rate data come from a bike riding component. The visitor’s silhouette and data are generated at Size Up Your Stride, a full body walking activity that incorporates transparent imaging technology.

Visitors’ first response upon receiving their Peak Pass Personal Profile is to compare themselves to friends and family members. Prototyping bore out our supposition that a personalized approach to health results in a high level of engagement and extended conversations among visitors. Beta software, electronic hardware and integrated computer systems all worked nearly flawlessly, providing the DMNS core team and management with confidence that the final version would be reliable and maintainable.