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Information Fun Houses for Museums, Demonstrations, and Tours

Amusement Parks: Way More Than Only Amusement

I love amusement parks. Always have. (I love theme parks too but that’s a distinction for another post). The rides and attractions are fun, fascinating, and enchanting; they manage to boil down basic human experience to its essence: thrill, fright, enjoyment, surprise, delight, amazement, etc.

I’ve been thinking about one classic attraction in particular. As you may have guessed from the title of this post, I’m going to talk about fun houses. Fun houses have this wonderful quality of being able to completely consume a person’s attention and crystallize an experience. Further, there’s this tremendous capacity for creating shared experiences (how many people walk through a fun house by themselves?).

Experiencing Information — Smoke & Mirrors and Friends Nearby

Research has demonstrated that novel experiences create vivid memories and create bonds among those who partake of them together. It strikes me that harnessing the novelty of a fun house-like experience could support, in a really fun way, good execution of information architecture and design.

Let me explain.

The goal of a good information design is to highlight and make memorable the most important information. Learning and information absorption are further improved with discussion and the social dynamic of shared exposure. A fun house model for information presentation could help accomplish both of these things:

  1. Fun houses are a series of novel and focused moments of experience — absurdity, fright, thrill, unbalance, etc. Why couldn’t playful technologies be employed to present the most important information experientially within a series of novel experiences? The very format itself would support information design in that the key pieces of information, by necessity, would have to be distilled to their essence in order to be presented to an audience quickly and with great impact.
  2. Most informational presentations are not usually designed to be shared experiences. Museums, demonstrations, tours, etc. are typically comprised of media intended to be digested in a single-serve fashion: reading placards, quietly sitting and absorbing a short film, listening to pre-recorded audio over headphones. The fun house interaction model invites — almost demands — a shared experience.

Essential Elements of Information Fun House Design

  • The walk-through would naturally encourage small groups or clusters of people to navigate the attraction. And, yes, I just called it an attraction as though we were in an amusement park.
  • The experience would be guided by the layout of the physical architecture. Each point of information would be highlighted in a dedicated space crafted to be revealed in an instant (e.g. turning a corner, tripping a sensor to immediately reveal the information, etc.).
  • The information itself would be presented in a manner most suited to its absorption. If it’s a burst of sound, then the space would be darkened and void of visual stimulation. If text is the preferred format, then said text would fill the audience’s visual field. If tactile sensation best communicates a particular point, then an architecture of control would require the audience to feel the information (e.g. requiring them to pull, touch, or sense a motion) in order to move forward through the experience.
  • Various information displays of a certain theatricality would be employed to envelop the audience in each momentary experience. Big sounds. Big video. Big reveals. Surprises. Dimensionality. Smell. Friction. Atmosphere. Echo. Air movement.
  • Information would be structured very simply: few words, key numbers, essential points, simple demonstrations.

Of course, complex topics could be tedious and expensive to structure this way in their entirety. Supplemental narration could be employed interstitially between reveals. More traditional interpretive materials could supplement the experience at the exit of the attraction — not unlike a gift shop at the exit of a good ride.

I can imagine this approach employed at trade shows, museums, building tours, and possibly even as sales tools for product demonstrations.

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