Saturday, February 26, 2011

Click: National Zoo

Several weeks ago,  I spent an enjoyable few hours at the National Zoo in Washington, DC.  It had been a long time since I'd visited and I was intrigued by the level of exhibitry I found.   And as I looked,  I realized that the engineering of many of the exhibit elements was substantial--to withstand the outdoors,  repeated use by huge numbers of people, and in one case, a design for a fascinating people/animal interaction.   Here's a bit of what I saw.  First, the elephant exhibit--although we didn't see any actual elephants out that day!

A tilt-it, pin-ball like game about dangers in habitats that really encouraged people, even toddlers, to figure out how to work cooperatively in moving a ball through a maze.  
Giant models of dung.  Who wouldn't want to see these! 
I'm not usually a fan of lift-up tabs, but this slider design meant that you had the ability to think about 
 the two choices,  rather than just a random flip-up.  Nice design--and super sturdy.
I found the cell phone trivia game not very exciting compared to both the animals and all the other interactive elements in this section,  but I could imagine, for certain kinds of learners, particularly a restless kid in a group with others, it might really be intriguing.
Throughout the zoo, an emphasis on what we can do to help protect the world's wildlife.  I'd love to know if there have been studies that see whether this kind of signage and education really does encourage citizen action.

Now, on to the Think Tank, an indoor exhibit about how, why and if animals think.  There weren't many visitors inside on the sunny day I was there, and I think the exhibit probably is of greatest interest to visitors other than moms with strollers, of which there were many that day.

I loved that in the section on using tools, the designer used bright red tool chests as exhibit furniture.  And those yellow Post-its?  A design element, not real post-its,  but a great element that most visitors understand as a place to look first.  Here's a close-up.
And finally,  one of the most intriguing interactives I've ever seen.  The visitor could sit on something that looked like a rowing machine and play tug-of-war with the great apes who were on the other side of the glass--but it was totally up to the ape whether he or she wanted to play with you.  They weren't interested in playing that day,  but absolutely almost every visitor to the space wanted to try.   It was just a one-person interactive, but it made it possible for others to watch and consider and the uncertainty was a great element.
But of course, you go to the zoo to see animals.  And seeing 7 young lion cubs out to play trumped all the exhibit elements!

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