Learning Through Gesture and Play

Learning Through Gesture and Play

In honour of World Ocean Day earlier this month, the Ocean’s Gallery at the Discovery Centre in Halifax celebrated its grand opening. The opening feature of this gallery is a dynamic multi-visitor experience that introduces visitors to a playful ocean environment. The exhibit, My Ocean World, was created with hand drawn illustration and brought to life through an animated projection. Visitors interact with the ocean environment through a gesture tracking motion sensor. Developing this exhibit challenged us to consider several different factors to create a delightful, fun, and engaging experience for visitors of all ages.

Oceans-7One of the first things we had to address was what makes a gesture triggered experience special for visitors? Unlike touchscreens which track precise finger touches, gesture tracking involves a motion sensor tracking movement of larger shapes, such as hands and arms. Visitors tend to be very familiar with touch screens, due to the ubiquitous presence of smartphones in our lives. Interaction design for touch tables borrows from that familiarity to mimic the touch interactions that we are all so familiar with (pinch and zoom, swipe, drag). In contrast, gesture-triggered projected experiences are much less common. This can be a challenge, as there are fewer accepted standards; however, it is also an opportunity to delight visitors with the unexpected. This physical set up allowed us to offer an out of home experience to visitors that would bring a sense of wonder and delight that could not be found in their everyday lives.

Oceans-8Our next challenge was how to create a hand-drawn, playful ocean world that would invite curiosity? First we explored the scale of our world – we were zoomed out to the middle of the ocean or were we closer into the land and shore? Second, we looked at the perspective – how would the world look ‘right side up’ from all sides of the ‘jellybean’ table? Third, we pondered what animated elements would appear within the scene – what was the balance between natural and man-made elements? In the end, we agreed on an exaggerated scale that allowed us to feature both the shore and the middle of the ocean. Elements near the edge of the table would be angled in towards the middle of the table, to appear right side up, while elements that would be higher up in the 3D world, such as clouds or birds, would appear top down. Natural and man-made elements would co-exist, and in some cases, even interact.

Oceans-4Once we had a beautiful scene, we set about bringing it to life. Our questions focused on how to make the interactions simple, fun, and easy to do? We started by creating 13 custom animations from the hand drawn creatures and manmade features. Each animation would have a default animated movement, as well as a unique response to the motion trigger. Some animations came to life on their own, such as crabs crawling out from under their rock, or turtles hatching from their eggs. Other triggers caused previously unrelated elements to progress into a coordinated response. Initially the paired animations required a sequence of gestures to trigger the coordinated response; however, through user testing, we discovered that simple and unexpected won every time. For example, a wave would hit a paddler boarder who would fall off his board, a school of fish would be caught by a fishing boat, or a boat would crash, releasing oil into the ocean. Can you spot the others?

Oceans-5The next hurdle was the technical challenge – how do we make sure that hands of all different shapes and sizes could be detected? Adult hands are much larger and more predictable than the hands of young children. We improvised with small objects, like the lids of mason jars, during initial development. We also ensured we tested with our youngest audience to ensure their tiny and quick moving hands could be detected, whether they lay them on the table or hovered them well above. Additionally, in April, when Vancouver hosted the 2018 Museums of the Web Conference, NGX hosted a pre-conference tour where participants were invited to participate in the user testing for this exhibit before it shipped to Halifax. With all this user testing, we knew that the table would be fun and reliable once installed in the new Oceans gallery.

Oceans-6One of the best parts of working with science centers is the reminder to have fun with learning. We took this playfulness to heart. From conversations about bird poop to the way a whale blows water out of its blowhole, we learned many different facts about the ocean world. The final experience resulted in an eye catching centerpiece for the new gallery with its multi-layered interactive gesture ocean, featuring hand drawn animations, fun sounds, and a playful learning experience.

To learn more about World Ocean Day, check out these important organizations:

This exhibit was created in collaboration with AldrichPears Associates and 3 Dimensional Services

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