Interactive Technology Observation at New York Hall of Science
There are a lot of examples of excellent interactive exhibit pieces at The New York Hall of Science in Queens and I understand how hard it can be to keep exhibits up-to-date. This particular exhibit piece, called The Number of Molecules Inside is supposed to weigh the user and tell them how many molecules make up their body and what percentages are carbohydrates, fat, protein and water. The user can then compare themselves to other organisms and print out a report. I chose to observe this exhibit piece because of a few clear weaknesses and lessons that can be gleaned from it.
I approached this exhibit piece and saw a “Start” button on screen. My first instinct was to touch the screen, but there’s a trackball and arcade button in the cabinet. I tried the screen touching anyway, getting no response. I used the trackball to move the pointer over the button and tapped the arcade button. From here, the interface is fairly straightforward. Had the screen been touch responsive, it would have been quite intuitive. I clicked around a bit but from from my height, using the trackball wasn’t comfortable. I saw a group of kids running toward the exhibit area. I wanted to see how they interacted with it.
First of all, they all ran up to the screen at once, making the weight information totally irrelevant since there’s a scale beneath the platform where a user would stand. The tallest kid immediately started playing with the trackball, and was actually more interested in how that worked than the exhibit itself. Eventually, he did start to navigate around the interface. His friends, however decided to use it as a jungle gym and were hanging from the guard rails (which were in place, I presume, to show that it only works with one person at a time on the scale). The kid clicked around a little, but it didn’t seem like there was any meaningful lessons learned, except for perhaps how to use a trackball.
Perhaps this kid was a little too young to get any kind of meaningful interaction out of the exhibit, which was odd because the trackball was so low. I presumed, because of the height of the screen and trackball, it was meant for kids his age. The platform is very large, I presume to accomodate handicapped users. The railings have some effect, but it’s still a problem.
Despite all this, I think there’s a potential for meaningful interaction. My suggestion would be to do away with the interface on the computer entirely. The screen can show a live count of molecules based on the weight from the platform, with a grid or rotating slide show of comparison to other organisms. That way, kids can see immediately when they step on the number of molecules that make up their body and the information isn’t obfuscated by the click-through interface.