museum design-Betty Brinn Children’s Museum-projects

Designing exhibits and interactives  for children requires crafting solutions that accommodate, and take advantage of, the vast differences in the ways that children of different ages learn. A three-year old learns and interacts in very different ways than, even, a child that is four and a half or five. Unlike pieces for teens and adults, well designed children’s exhibits create a space for the kids to absorb “content” at a level accessible to their age and, additionally, provide valuable opportunities to exercise and develop gross and fine motor skills. These parameters need to be  balanced with the need for, frankly, the parents to think that their cool as well. My approach to designing for children’s museums is to relax and appreciate the space of making fun stuff for kids that just plant the seed of learning on various topics and that are, also, appropriately appealing to parents  such that they are excited about continuing to bring their children back to play and learn.  Following are pieces from projects for the Betty Brinn Children’s Museum in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The style that I’ve evolved for my work for them is geared toward a feel that is clean and descriptive, while evoking the feel of fun that, I think, educational teams and prospective donors want to see in the projects that their being asked to support. My goal is to provide work that translates the educator’s mission and wish list into reality, and that makes the fundraiser’s job easy.

the first couple of plates are my concepts for an entry arch for Betty Brinn’s “My Bodyworks” exhibit, which teaches kids about their body and it’s systems-

front and back views of the final concept-

Typically, on smaller projects, I’m brought in for a few critical parts of the process;

-at the point where the education team has roughed out the main content goals and may even have some blue-sky concepts. A this point, I take this initial discussion and translate the ideas into sketches  and my concept of what such physical properties, “real” structures, might look like. The team, typically, takes my work, a clarified visual that the educators can respond to objectively, and responds to it-generating direction for me to further refine the concepts. Following are first round, and then the refined, pencil explorations for Betty Brinn’s “Smoky Bear and Woodsy Owl” exhibit. The finished (fundraising sketch) is above, at the top of this page-

-I’m also called upon to take ideas for a project (the teams, or my own from the above step) and generate exciting fund-raising sketches, illustrations the covey the themes of the project clearly and, most importantly, convey the spirit of excitement and playfulness that inspires a donor to open their checkbooks,  to want to play in our game. Often, this is a bit of a challenging space for some in the process. Especially educators have difficulty resolving their passion for the importance of the educational message with the reality that donors, with their own creative desires, are an undeniable reality in the world of museum work. For me, not so much. How can I justify wishing to exclude donors from playing in a game that I myself really enjoy? For me, accommodating the donor’s requests is just another stimulating design parameter that I use to hone my skills at innovation. I, unapologetically, embrace the challenges that donors bring to the table as a valid part of the creative space. Here are a couple of examples of this sort of illustration-

-finally, I’m often contracted to “detail”, do construction drawings or ergonomic (human scale factor) drawings to direct the fabricators in their CAD efforts, of the approved elements as well as doing finished art (such as graphics, or even building smaller components ) for the installation. Some finished art examples from Betty Brinn’s “Mr Potato Head’s Spudquest” exhibit (a “pirate” map, with an antique parchment feel), and “My Bodyworks” (illustrations for the “smell path” interactive)-


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