Forms in Context: Hybrid Exhibit Environments

Thien Le
19 min readSep 5, 2021

Environments Studio I

Project Brief: Create a temporary exhibition featuring an issue related to The Anthropocene or climate change currently on exhibit at a museum. The client wants to use digital technology to enhance the visitor’s experience in ways they are not currently doing. The task is to consider how technology can augment content, increase learning and/or make the museum experience more interactive. The exhibition will be temporarily installed within the first floor of CMU’s Miller ICA. The goal is to both increase awareness of the client’s exhibitions to the general public as well as attract more CMU students, faculty and staff to the museum.

Plan and Elevations

Mood Boards

Mood board #1
Final mood board

The adjectives that I think describe my mood board are, organic yet structured, simple, modern, and repetitive. As seen in many of the images, I like the repetition of shapes and structures because there is a sense of calmness in the repeating lines. I like the utilization of yellow and green together because they are both cheerful colors and although the topic itself is not so cheerful, I do not want the experience to be dark and scary. The color green along with the wood grain also incorporates themes of nature and The Anthropocene. The interior imagery utilizes pattern and also glass walls which I think is interesting because it makes the space feel more open but also has that element of greenery and nature. I included the imagery of the outfit and exterior architecture because I think it is a great example of balance between structure and animate. This reminded me of the migration of birds because on one hand they flow through the air, their patterns are very structured.

Initial Design Concept

I visited the Carnegie Museum of Natural History and experienced the Bird Hall which is a hall of birds in which people can learn about different populations of birds and how they became extinct or how they lived. As I was walking through this exhibit I wondered how it could be connected to The Anthropocene and realized that as time passed, bird populations began to decrease because of industrialization and human activity. With this thought, I began to research how and why some populations are endangered or are extinct.

Human Interference:

  • Destroying forests and habitats to build new structures
  • Spread of invasive species
  • Collision with man made structures
  • Light pollution the affects the ability of birds to navigate at night

What people can do:

  • Participate in bird monitoring programs
  • Reduce energy and water use
  • Reduce use of pesticides or use natural means of pest control
  • Prevention of trail construction in underdeveloped natural habitats
  • Reduce light pollution
  • Avoid plastic use
  • Create small bird habitats

With this information, I began to ask questions about how I can create an experience that can assist with bird conservation and teach people about human interference with bird populations and how those actions could possibly be reduced. Some questions I asked myself were…

  • How can I use technology to enhance learning and make it more visual and visceral?
  • How can I create a change in human behavior or mindset with my experience? What am I aiming to shift?
  • How can I present this information in an interesting way?
  • What can users do after this experience? What do I want them to leave with?
  • How much do I want to make the experience informational versus interactive?


Storyboard and concept feedback:

  • How much can Miller ICA realistically fit? Is there enough space to include everything? Think about what is essential and what interactions would have the most effect. The space is pretty small and in relation, the concept is very airy and open so that doesn’t really connect. Think about how to make the experience less cramped.
  • Think about how people can walk through and interact with the exhibit without stopping and having the wristband. How can it be more interactive without having a screen and a wristband? Think about ways interaction can be facilitated without a device.
  • People moving through space should triggers things instead of physically interacting. How can the environment transform as people continue through the exhibit? Space as interface.
  • I want a place where they can stop and think about why this is important because it may not be obvious from first glance.

Second Iteration of Concept

Incorporating Internet of Things

  • Visitors scan a thing with their phone as they walk in to the exhibit and as they walk through they can make certain motions to save information which will then be sent to their phone after they leave the experience. This is so that they are not on their phones the entire time scanning qr codes or taking pictures.

Ideas for Interactions:

  • The first part of the exhibition is to show how humans really don’t understand how our actions have a direct relation to birds because they are so abundant that most people don’t pay attention to them, but once we begin to learn about them, we grow more empathetic. This can be portrayed through the use of projection and physical interaction with birdhouses. As people open the birdcages, a projection will appear to reveal to them information and what the problem actually is. (Gain empathy and present information)
  • The next part is an interactive map that explores what is happening in different parts of the world and then a clock interface or timeline to show how drastic these problems are. For example, certain populations, animals, and plants disappear due to the repercussions of having a low bird population. These changes could be triggered through motion with the interface. Purpose is to show that the environment will drastically change because of human interference with nature and to emphasize the scale of the problem. (Visualize the future if interventions aren’t taken)
  • Immersive room experience where visitors can be shown a more positive future if they take the right steps now. Their motion will dictate the choices they make which will also give them positive interventions they can take. This would be the last part of the exhibition just so they can leave with more optimism. (Create hope for the future)
  • Present problem in a sad way → Provide them with more optimism and options to create positive change.
  • Problem is presented at large scale→ Hone it down to Pittsburgh and individual life.
  • How do I show individual people’s actions having a big impact in both a negative and positive way?

Parti Diagram

  • How can I experiment with motion, and changing of different sensory elements? What would this add? How would this change the user’s perception of certain spaces and the exhibition as a whole?

The lighting of the entire exhibit would have to be dark because projections and interfaces would be more readable if they were displayed along a darker background. I think that as the user progresses through the space, the atmosphere and lighting will get brighter to signal a more hopeful and bright future in a world where birds are more abundant than they are.

Concept Feedback:

I realized when talking to Mihika that while I had a broad and general idea of how users would feel in the space and what they would do, I didn’t really have a more specific idea of the physical interactions that users would have. I think it would be less redundant if users did not just interact with a screen in both rooms 2 and 3 and see videos and images. I also think it would be more impactful if people played with something to learn instead of being presented with imagery. I think that the way the interactions are presented could be in a similar way but the actual interactions are different. Mihika recommended a game of some sort to actually make it interactive instead of viewing things on a screen. This slightly changed my previous idea of interactivity because I think that one part of interaction is doing something to see something, but another part is actually doing an action and participating in something. Experiment more with motion in the first part, screens take users out of the space which is not the goal so think of ways motion can enhance immersion.

Next Steps:

  • Storyboard interactions in much greater detail. Keeping in mind what people are doing, where they are doing it, and how many people are doing it.
  • Create interaction in the first part that play with sound, lighting, and motion. Experiment more with motion in the first part, screens take users out of the space which is not the goal so think of ways motion can enhance immersion.

Physical Model

Third Iteration of Concept

First Space: Present information to people in interesting and visual way.

Problem: Information on the topic of declining bird populations are dense and not many people know about it.

Solution: Presenting it in a new way could engage visitors more than having text and pictures float across the screen.

Idea: A wall of birdhouses that will open and project imagery, information, adjust lighting, and play sound as people walk by. Once they begin to learn about the issue, they grow more empathetic to it.

First Interaction

Second Space: Experience personal negative actions and their repercussions.

Problem: People don’t understand the scale of the problem or how their actions could possibly impact bird populations and in turn, the world around them.

Solution: The goal is to have users reflect on their way of life, and to see different ways the world around them negatively changes because there are no birds.

Idea: Interactive floor on entire space that shows actions that impact birds. Starting out, there will be less serious actions that will progress to more serious actions and consequences. As people move throughout the space, the screens around them change to show that reality. Users don’t yet have to think about picking the right choices just yet because the purpose is to just show them the different actions that impact the greater environment and birds.

Second Interaction

Third Space: Understand how own personal actions can help to alleviate the issue and provide users with actionable steps towards a better future.

Problem: Now that visitors understand the issue and how they have impacted the environment with their previous actions, they need to know about what actions can change the future and how to partake in that.

Solution: A more personal experience in which users can make choices and visually see how the world can change. Have users interact with the physical world to make the future seem more tangible and real.

Idea: Sensor enabled wall that allows users to choose from a variety of possible solutions and understand the path and steps that it takes to get to that future. They would first walk in and be introduced to solutions and slowly as they walk through, the wall will light up revealing possible pathways and the user would have to make a decision and follow it. Basically an interactive maze with lights, text, and images.

Third Interaction


Motion light and sound interaction

Feedback & Reflection

  • Create more specific storyboards about exactly what would be shown when users walk through the space and floor screen interaction.
  • Usually, when people interact with something, they expect it to happen in front of them but in the first space, the visuals are behind them.
  • Use physical model to test idea and to understand scale.
  • I think that 5–8 actions and consequences would be enough for the second room. 5–8 actions will then show 5–8 consequences for human intervention in nature in regards to birds.


  • In the first space, how do I design it so that the users interaction feels more responsive and that when they move, they intuitively know where to look?
  • For the second space, what is it like to walk through the responsive floor? Should users be given a path or should there be indications that the floor is responsive and allow users to freely explore the space and see how it changes?
  • In the third space, how can users make decisions without physical touch?

Different Configurations of Space

After thinking more about my space and interactions, I wasn’t sure if my current configuration of the space would work because I want users to follow a path across the space and if the entryway into the next room was in the middle, it would break up the movement and the question would be, what is stopping the user from not finishing the path and experiencing the room in its entirety and just going straight into the next space? Because of this, I tried to come up with a new parti diagram with the goal of having the user fully experience the room and seamlessly enter into the next one.

Current Configuration

My first iteration of the new parti diagram created an entryway that was not at the middle of the wall however because of its position, I think that it would be too easy for users to go straight through and not experience the second room at all.

With the second iteration, I think that it is easier to follow a path because the entryway into the third space is far away from the entryway into the second room, however I don’t think that it can be intuitive for users to enter the third space because they have the option to turn right and exit the experience altogether.

The third iteration of the parti diagram eliminates both problems of the user to fully experiencing the second space and intuitively walking into the third, but I think the limitations of the space could be an issue because I’m not sure if the walkway to exit from the third space is enough for people to walk through. However, I still think that this is the best option because it makes fulfills all of the requirements and with the extra wall space, I can include posters that describe what the room is and how to use it, I just have to shift the walls and adjust the size of the other rooms.

Experimentation with layout

Interaction 1 Storyboard

What I changed from my last iteration with this interaction is changing the walls in which the birdhouses and projections are displayed. I did this because I think the projections would be better experienced if it was flush against one wall instead of having entryways blocking the peripheral vision of the user. An issue that I noticed with the last iteration was that the user might not notice the projections and may just be too focused on the birdhouses but I think that typically, when people go to museums, walls on the left are expected to have something on them and as soon as they walk in, projections and sound will be played immediately which should indicate to them that their motion triggers something in the space.

Interaction 2

For the second room, I needed to do more research on how exactly our world would look like because of reduced birds in order to visualize this to the visitors.

Reasons why humans need birds:

  • Birds control pests. If there were too many grasshoppers or pests, it would destroy crops and fields and people would not have food.
  • Birds pollinate plants and spread seeds. Without them, we would not have many of the flora and fauna that we do now. This can be made personable because people would not be able to enjoy nature to the same extent that they already do.
  • Carcass scavenging. When an animal dies and is still intact, birds like vultures, buzzards, or condors eat the dead bodies. Without this, our world would have much more diseases to deal with.
  • Because they are sensitive to habitat change and are easy to count, birds are an important tool for measuring the health of environments.
  • Habitats like forests, marshes, and grasslands support people across the whole planet, storing carbon, keeping the climate stable, oxygenating the air, and transforming pollutants into nutrients. But without birds, many of these ecosystems would not exist. Birds maintain the delicate balance between plant and herbivore, predator and prey, and are integral parts of food chains and food webs.
  • From the technology of flight, to the invention of zippers, humans have drawn inspiration from birds for centuries. A significant example: Darwin’s studies of finches in the Galápagos proved instrumental in shaping thoughts on evolution through natural selection.

When thinking more about this interaction, I realized that my idea had to be more specific and interactive than I imagined. Some criteria that I established for it was that the user shouldn’t follow a designed path but rather be surprised when their motion triggered a change of state. Another was that I don’t want the change of state to only be changing of images and videos on the screen in a slideshow manner. I just think that it would be too simple and wouldn’t really take advantage of the interaction so I have to come up with more creative ways to display information about harmful actions.

Changing Layout

Once again I have encountered problems with the visitor experience of my space. I realized that the wall across from the entryway into the second room would be empty because I planned for the motion of the user to be triggered onto the wall connecting the first and second space, not the third. This prompted the question of why would the user turn right to experience the interaction when they could have just walked into the next room. The problem was also that I didn’t direct the motion enough so I could not really determine the movement of the user. Because of this, I had to change the layout and directly design the path of the visitor using walls. My current solution to this is to slant one of the walls so that it is more visually stimulating for the user. The entryway would be close to the side of the slanted wall and so as the user walks to the next room, the motion would be sensed and their motion would make things appear on the wall. Before, there were too many walls and ways that the user could walk through that made it difficult to direct them.


  • After finding out the configuration, think about where sensors for the first room would be so that people already see things as they walk to the space, it’s just the question and exploration of discovering how that image, video, etc. is triggered.

I decided to choose the design with the straight slanted wall instead of the curved one because I think the user would have a more cohesive experience if the entryway into the next room was more direct rather it be curved and ambiguous.

SketchUp drafts

After showing Tay my SketchUp model, he asked many questions that led me to rethink my design. Some questions he asked were how the attendant would get into the space, why I would isolate the attendant, and he also pointed out that architecturally, it would be easier for viewers to understand where to go if I rearranged the walls. With this, I decided to take part of the wall out in the front and move it back to create a nook where the attendant can sit. This will also allow visitors to see a slant when they walk in and be nudged that way.

Updated Parti Diagram
New Layout

Graphics for Model and Visualizations

When creating the graphics that visitors would experience in my exhibit, I had to think about how to make it look cohesive so I decided to stick to a color palette so that visually everything will tie in together even if the content was different.

Color Palette

Interaction 1

For the final model and visualizations, I did not change much about interaction 1, the main problem that I had was space because I had to think about what size the information should be to make it legible and understandable. The descriptions and titles had to be near visitors’ eye level and the actual size of the graphics could not be too small or too big because the distance between the wall and where the users stood was not that large so they couldn’t step further away to see it which is why I could only fit 4 graphics and information about the problem in this interaction. This however, forced me to pick what I believed would be the most important to show to visitors rather than bombarding them with too much information that is too dense and not helpful or informative at all.

Interaction 2

After iterating on concepts and understanding what would be essential for visitors to see in order to grasp the concept of their actions having an effect on declining birds, I decided to simply create a wall that moves with them rather than having a path that they are guided to follow on the floor. In this way, I think it would be more surprising for them when they realize that their motion moves the screen and information is revealed. This also is a metaphor for how humans sometimes don’t know that their actions have consequences that affect people and things other than themselves and they are surprised when they do learn. It may not be delightful or happy, but the information that they are presented with should give visitors a realization into how they are contributing to the larger issue.

Interaction 2 Sketch
Interaction 2 Graphics

Interaction 3

For the last interaction, I had to think about how to get visitors to interact with the wall without having to physically touch it and I also had to figure out how to create a takeaway that would be effective in them wanting to solve these issues after learning about how simple solutions can have large impacts. For the final design, I decided to create small circles with the title of the solution and have a design that was linear so that the user moves from left to right. I also decided to have a small description of how and why the solution should be implemented in order to give a more well rounded solution. For the takeaway, I was deciding on if I should have a qr code at the end in which visitors can scan to receive more information but I thought that this would be too common and not as unique that I would like because it would be as personable as it could be. The solution that I came up for this was to create a table that can print a card detailing the specific path the user took on the decision wall and provide them with more information on implementing that into their lives. In this way, I think the takeaway would be more personalized, specific, and physical leading them to actually want to help contribute to the solution rather than it being a qr code on their phone that they could easily not even look at again. In order to implement the motion tracking, I thought about how the Amazon Go Store has cameras and sensors that detects customers’ movement throughout the store so that they could check out quickly. In this way, I created a qr code that visitors scan when entering the space and as they walk through, sensors and cameras detect what options that chose and when they approach the table, they place their phone on it and it collects information about their movement and immediately prints them a physical card that they can take home with them.

Interaction 3 Sketch
Interaction 3 Graphic
Interaction 3 Storyboard

Physical Model

Final Presentation