Age of Mammals
Age of Mammals
Age of Mammals
Age of Mammals
Age of Mammals
Age of Mammals
Age of Mammals

Age of Mammals

Second Story, Portland, Oregon, Los Angeles, California, 2010

Description

Project brief: A museum experience 65 million years in the making, “Age of Mammals” displays some of the Museum’s—and the world’s—most awe-inspiring fossil mammals, many of them exhibited for the first time. Adding “how” to “wow,” the all-new “Age of Mammals” also shows as never before how a special class of animals—including human beings—evolved amid tremendous changes in the Earth’s environment, and dramatically altered the Earth in turn. Second Story’s seven media installations play a vital role in the first large-scale new exhibition to debut at the Museum in twenty years.

Overture: A large-scale video projection in the heart of the “Age of Mammals” hall establishes the core theme of the exhibition: as continents move, climates change and mammals evolve.

Specimen interactive kiosks: A triptych of interactive touch screens connects three specimen groupings with stories revealing their shared evolutionary origins, challenges and adaptations.

How do we know? Mysteries surrounding animals and environments from the past are unraveled through these two activity-based interactive kiosks.

Paleoparadoxid: This multi-tiered interactive installation provides a variety of activities and behind-the-scenes expert insight to reveal how this unusual Los Angeles native was discovered, understood and exhibited.

Approach: Adding “how” to “wow,” the all-new “Age of Mammals” also shows as never before how a special class of animals—including human beings—evolved amid tremendous changes in the Earth’s environment, and dramatically altered the Earth in turn. Second Story’s seven media installations play a vital role in the first large-scale new exhibition to debut at the Museum in twenty years.

Overture: This motion-graphics piece depicts—in three minutes—the global events that have shaped our planet’s trajectory over the past 65 million years. Projected on a large central glass screen, the looped media program is a cinematic overture for the entire exhibition. Headlines punctuate the action as major global events—a giant meteor strike, ice ages and shifting tectonic plates—play out on the beautiful blue-green canvas of our planet. Visitors witness how continental movement affects the planet’s climate, and how we mammals have responded, migrated, adapted and flourished throughout the Cenozoic Era.

Specimen interactive kiosks: Three different perspectives on the evolution of mammals are conveyed in this suite of interactive kiosks. Designed as a resource to enhance the specimens on display, each installation allows visitors to identify and access in-depth information about the specimens before them, including their full scientific names, their geographic ranges, how they fall into the context of the distant past and related stories. Two of the interactive kiosks focus on the planet’s changing geography and climate and their effect on the evolution of mammals. Visitors can drag a play head across a time line and witness the global events on a map. They can travel across the Cenozoic’s 65-million-year history to see how ice ages, shifting continents and other events have influenced the direction of species. A third kiosk traces the origins of modern mammalian orders with an animated phylogenetic tree. The animation radiates and grows from a single point to convey the idea of an evolutionary explosion. Filament-like forking lines trace the diverging trajectories of species over the past 70 million years. The color-coded branches dramatically demonstrate how mammals evolved from a single origin.

How do we know? Two unique installations explore different aspects of paleontology, one focused on discovering extinct animals, the other on discovering ancient environments. A collection of fossils from the famous San Josecito cave in Mexico and the fossilized remains of an extinct ground sloth provide the backdrop for learning about the process of paleontology. By using side-by-side comparison studies, visitors are prompted to study specific fossil features and contrast them with other bones in the Museum’s collection. To further enrich the story, the activities are paired with time lines that chronicle milestones in the study of the ground sloth and San Josecito cave. With these two different methods for sharing knowledge, visitors are provided options for learning about past animals and habitats.

The interactive comparisons teach visitors about how scientists identify mystery animals and the environments in which they lived. In the ground-sloth activity, anatomy and locomotion of the animal are explained through a diversity of evidence, including a jawbone, a footprint and fossil dung (sure to delight young audiences). In the San Josecito cave interactive kiosk, visitors compare the fossil skeletons of seven animals to those of known, modern animals to deduce their identities. Upon completion, the mystery solved, visitors learn more about the environment around the cave when the animal lived, so many years ago.

Paleoparadoxid: The fossils of an unusual mammal were discovered in southern California, and this interactive kiosk tells the story of the detective work done by scientists to interpret the findings. The paleoparadoxid, now extinct, was a four-legged mammal with eyes positioned near the top of its head, not unlike a hippopotamus. The two interactive touch screens located directly in front of the specimen contain various activities that bring the animal back to life. One activity demonstrates the process of fossil examination where visitors uncover bones from a fossil matrix with the aid of an air scribe and learn more about each bone. Another activity allows visitors to examine fossils in depth and learn more about the details of a recently discovered specimen. In a final activity, visitors simulate the delicate preparation of the fossil specimen for display in the Museum. The interactive kiosk allows them to select a fossil from a bin and challenges them to correctly identify where it belongs on the specimen. Woven throughout the experience are interviews with the paleontologists who uncovered, analyzed and studied the specimen. While not widely known, this strange beast is poised to gain popularity and capture the attention of both young and old visitors.

Effectiveness: Overture: The entire suite of media at the Natural History Museum faced the challenge of appealing to young students while satisfying a rigorous academic community. Based on observed results and a glowing review from the esteemed Science magazine, we felt the kiosks spoke keenly to both ends of each spectrum. The Overture motion piece covered an epic expanse of time in a digestible and economical three minutes of screen time while remaining scientifically accurate. In describing the exhibit, Science writer Debra Pires said it “inspires the wonder I felt when I was younger while incorporating an accurate depiction of mammalian evolution that visitors of all ages can grasp.”

Specimen interactive kiosks: The interactive kiosks embraced challenging subject areas and made them colorful, accessible and visually exciting. “Even those who have never had a course in evolution,” said Debra Pires in a Science magazine review, “will probably find the phylogenetic tree of mammals easy to understand. As an educator, I was encouraged by watching children between the ages of 6 and 12 work on a topic at a touch screen until they had it figured out.”

How do we know? Focusing on the paleontological process, this kiosk used storytelling and activity-based learning to engage students. Los Angeles Times critic Suzanne Muchnic noted how the Natural History Museum interactive kioskss amplify the visitor experience: “In sharp contrast to the ancient specimens, up-to-the-minute interactive kiosks encourage visitors to do on-the-spot research about mammals on display, compare them with other animals or tap into the museum’s database.”

Paleoparadoxid: This kiosk took an esoteric, extinct beast and made it—and the process of uncovering the bones—as exciting in the imagination as a Tyrannosaurus rex. Reviewers have noted its complementary nature to the fossils on display. Debra Pires, in a Science magazine review said, “Touch-screen activities allow visitors to uncover and identify fossil bones and prepare the specimen for display. Thus they will not only learn something about the regional paleofauna, they will better appreciate the nuts and bolts of what paleontologists do.”

Collections: AIGA 365: Design Effectiveness (2011)
Discipline: Experience design
Format: Exhibit, Interaction, Artifact, Experience, Interface
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