This post was contributed by Museum Exhibits Director Robin Meisner and Research & Evaluation Specialist Suzy Letourneau.
This spring and summer – well before renovations even started – the exhibits team created and tested a range of prototypes to try out some ideas and get feedback on activities, labels and components for the new Coming to Rhode Island spaces. Such mockups – which are often made of scraps of wood, cardboard and tape – help the Museum’s design process by providing insight into how something might be used or interpreted by visitors, how it might look and feel, and how it might ultimately be made.
By prototyping, both in the Museum’s workshop and with visitors in the exhibits, the team is able to create a more thoughtfully developed experience for children and families. Some of the prototypes tested include:
A full-scale cardboard mockup of a section of the replica of Fort Adams!
Through this process, the team explored the layout of the new space, made adjustments for visitor flow and children’s play, and discovered tricks for fabrication of the final wooden fort structure.
A self-portrait drawing activity with prompts to help visitors reflect on what’s important about themselves that can’t be seen.
From this prototype, the team learned that visitors valued both sharing about themselves and reading others’ responses, so they added a portrait gallery to the exhibit. Most visitors wanted to leave their portraits behind for others to see, and one group said that looking at all the portraits was “like seeing the whole community.” Both children and adults thought carefully about what to write about themselves. One parent said, “It took me a minute to think of what was really important about myself, and that was surprising to me.”
A series of labels to help caregivers connect children’s pretend play with their developing social-emotional skills.
Initial prototypes drew on interviews with caregivers about the role of pretend play in children’s ability to empathize and take others’ perspectives. By testing multiple versions of the labels, the team was able to adjust the language and add concrete examples, ultimately helping caregivers find personal connections within the messages. Many caregivers said the labels made them think about how their own children like to pretend in the Museum (and at home), and how children learn to relate to other people, even those who live in a different time or place. One caregiver described the benefits of pretending by saying, “When kids put on those costumes, they really feel how people felt when they wore those clothes and did those jobs.”
Coming to Rhode Island is supported by The Children's Workshop Foundation; CollegeBound Saver; June Rockwell Levy Foundation; Murray Family Charitable Foundation; Rhode Island Council for the Humanities and the National Endowment for the Humanities; The Ryan Family Foundation; and Nancy Smith Worthen, in memory of Margaret L. Worthen (as of September 30). The Irish gallery was developed in collaboration with The Museum of Newport Irish History and the Fort Adams Trust.