This week we had the opportunity to test two exhibits built by Exhibit Services on the floor with visitors before they were sent to Oklahoma. Aiona brought over a Zoetrope and Spirograph, and she, Ryan, and I set them up in the Tinkering Studio for about two hours of testing. Visitors had a lot of fun playing with them and made some amazing creations.
We began our test by configuring the physical space where the exhibits would be set up. We wanted them to be close to each other so visitors could see what other people were working on, while still having space to focus on their individual projects. As soon as we opened the Tinkering Studio gate the space was full with visitors wanting to try out these exhibits. Initially we thought three tables would provide plenty of room to work. What we didn't anticipate is that for the Zoetrope, if more than one person is working on a drawing it requires a lot of table space. We ended up adding a fourth smaller table for the Zoetrope spinner to make more room for visitors to work on their animations.
Lighting for the Zoetrope was very important to see the movement optimally. We adjusted the lights in the space several times throughout the course of testing. We suspect that a direct, overhead spot is ideal, but we need to do more experimentation to be sure.
This image shows the set up before we added the fourth table.
This is a fairly typical representation of what the testing time looked like. Several people worked on drawing animations while a few people tested with the spinner. The Spirograph remained a fairly individual experience.
As a way to allow many visitors to participate in the Zoetrope exhibit at once we recommended to visitors that they trace the squares in the rig and then remove their paper to draw at an open spot at the table. Intuitively, Ryan and I both did our first drawings in the rig, but that took a long time and only allowed one person to use the exhibit at a time. Tracing the whole square seemed very important to making a successful animation. Ryan did an experiment where he traced only the bottom line of the square, but he said it was hard to have a sense of spatial orientation without the sides and top. Some visitors used dark colors to create a strong "frame" around their animation, while others wanted to use light colors so the box wouldn't show when the Zoetrope was spinning. One thing that would have made the activity accessible to more people would be to have multiple tracing rigs. At times a line would form when many people wanted to make animations and there was only one place to get the paper. Other possible solutions we brainstormed were having pre-printed paper that was cut to the right length available so visitors could start quickly or having a rig that stamped or embossed the squares in one motion to allow more visitors to participate.
One of the highlights of testing was the level of thoughtfulness visitors brought to making animations. This visitor began with the idea of a character jumping up and down. He tested it, then went back and added a changing background to make his animation more complex. Many visitors took the time to make adjustments to their drawings or make several separate animations. There was also a great focus on narratives as visitors drew. Bubbles popping, flowers growing, babies bouncing, and dragons flying were just a few of the many stories we heard.
Another good quality of the Zoetrope was how it encouraged sharing of ideas. People watched animations made by other visitors. It seemed very natural for people to want to share what they made. Watching an animation made by another visitor was often what inspired people to make their own.
There were definitely a few challenges that arose as we continued testing. On several occasions parents would step in and make things for their children, as seen in the photo below. The Spirograph in particular was not intuitive to use. The motion of spinning the cog around the circle was tricky and the pen often jumped or slipped. Many times parents would hold their childrens' hands or make the drawings for them. We also noticed that the patterns made were very similar, no matter what cog you used. It didn't encourage as much experimentation as we'd hoped it would. Having cogs that are significantly different sizes or shapes would make it more interesting.
Another challenge was managing the space with visitors with younger siblings. Many children under the age of 5 saw the space as a place to draw. It was tough when older kids didn't have room to make their animations because younger children were scribbling at the table. We improvised a solution by setting up the Haba blocks table as a drawing table for younger siblings. There, they could draw whatever they wanted and the table remained free for the exhibits. The Haba table is also a much better height for young children. It was a little awkward to ask parents to move their young children to the other table (particularly when they didn't want to separate from their older children) but overall it was much better than being crowded at the big table.
We learned a lot from the experience of testing these exhibits on the floor to see how visitors use them. Hopefully we'll get to do more of this in the future!