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Above a bakery in Portland, Oregon, a unique group of storytellers are quietly changing museum and exhibit experiences all over the world. In this Creative Inspirations documentary, we meet Second Story, creators of award-winning interactive projects for clients that include the Getty Museum, National Geographic, the Museum of Modern Art, and the Smithsonian Institution, just to name but a few.
Founders Julie Beeler and Brad Johnson introduce us to their uniquely talented studio where their signature interactive design is conceived and produced. Second Story creates immersive adventures that educate and entertain through compelling visuals, touch and play, and inspiring participation through curiosity.
We follow the team as they reveal one of their latest triumphs, the Age of Mammals exhibit at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, designed to both please the doctorates and the first graders who participate in their finished project.
(Music playing.) Heather Daniel: So usability testing is a great place for us to check in. We've been working kind of in a siloed environment, working with the clients, working with our team, and we can get kind of a tunnel vision of what we think we need to do. Usability testing is a great reality check, because it allows us to put it in front of a real audience and say, what works, what doesn't, what do you like, what don't you like? So we had the wide variety of people who had no background in natural history, to those who are very interested, and that's their profession.
Some of the feedback we got was, it was all over the place. They loved learning about specific species. They loved going and learning about what specimens are on display. They were really reading it. They're like, "Oh, a two-horned Rhinoceros. What's that?" Then on the world map, they would just loved scrolling back and forth, and the interactive nature of this really was compelling. They felt really drawn in right away.
Even if they just spent a couple of minutes, just going back and forth, and learning how the continents shifted and the climates changed, hey, that was enough. If you were the paleobiologist who spent a half an hour reading every single little story, and looking at every single little detail, you can be here for thirty seconds, and you can get something, or you can be here for ten minutes, and you can still be engaged. Jennifer Guibord: That's really the strong suit of the beta. When you get to a point where it's complete enough that all of the features are in, it looks close enough to the finished product, that the feedback that you get is valid.
If you put it out there too soon, then you're going to be sitting there with the user experiencing, "Well, it's not actually going to do that. It's not really going to look like that." You don't want that, because you want the visitor to feel like they're actually engaged with what's going into the museum. But you also want to be able to take it back to your team, and have enough time, and have enough energy left on the project that you can make the changes that go from a good experience to get it to the great experience that the museum really wants.
Heather: We have these tags that used to say the evolution, the co-evolution of canines in North America. We found that to be really academic, and that people were not at all interested in learning about the co-evolution of canines in North America. But suddenly if we put the dog flag up there, "Oh, dogs. I want to learn about dogs. Okay, let's click it." Or camels and arid animal - mammals. It was like these were things that weren't connecting to the audience.
So we found that if we just shortened up these titles, all of a sudden they became engaging and exciting. On the flip side, what we can see that comes out in testing is the things that what we're really concerned about that like, is this too tough of a concept for visitors, is this something that we're concerned about? This has come across in one of our more complex exhibit kiosks with the phylogenetic tree, which is this like very complicated visual. That's actually, that's been the most successful component of the entire project.
I mean, across the board, people love it. They have just spent so much time playing with it. So that's a great thing to have in your back pocket going to a beta review and saying, "Yeah, you may have some concerns about this, but people love this, like we need to keep this." So it can also be a great tool to inform clients, because they've also been working in the silo, and they may have specific ideas of what's not working and what's working, and to have that ability to say, "You know, no. This is what I know is working" is really powerful.
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