For this project, my collaborators–Jules Naujoks, Mara Stokke, and I - knew we wanted to work on an environmental piece, but without any prior environmental experience, it was up to us to research this field. We wanted to create something that was interactive and fun, but secretly educational. Without knowing how exactly dive in, we started with our discovery phase.
Knowing little about the experiential design industry, we took the opportunity to meet with talented professionals within this specialty and explored a number of interactive exhibits to grasp how exactly we were going to pull this off. We were drawn particularly to the flow, world building, and interactive elements from the Star Trek and Horror exhibits at Seattle’s MoPOP. From there, we discovered a few names that seemed to appear in all of the key pieces: Curious Beast, Belle & Whistle, and NBBJ. We decided to meet with all three of these companies to get further insight into this relatively new field of experiential design, all while developing the concept for our own pop-up exhibit. Though we played with numerous ideas, we landed on what seemed to be the perfect medium between fun and educational: Superheroes.
Superhero Academy places the viewer in the footsteps of superheroes and acts as a history lesson for prospective superhero students attending the academy. We first developed moodboards, type, and a floorplan for the space we would be using. From there, we user tested for line lengths, researched best practices for accessibility of content height, and tested the construction of walls, podiums, and interactive elements. We then began sourcing materials, with our small budget in mind, and started creating elevations and sketches of the space.
Throughout this process, we were faced with several difficult challenges. For one, this was going to be a temporary pop-up exhibit, which meant we had to work non-destructively within the space (no drilling into any walls, scraping the floors, or chipping any paint). So how were we going to mount all of our content on the walls? Since we were using gator board for several of the walls, we were able to use Velcro to adhere the foam board displays. Another challenge we had to work around was that we were utilizing a public space, which meant we were unable to fully set anything up until the day of the opening. With the use of Gator board, we were able to modularly design each panel for quick assembly.
The exhibit featured a quiz where were participants were assigned one of three super powers. Once the participant was assigned a power, they were directed to a specified section of the exhibit where they could “test their abilities.” For the power of X-Ray vision, we created red reveal glasses that could be held up to a comic book cover to see the before and after versions of the Comics Code Authority. For the power of intangibility, we created a faux stone wall, made from heat-gunned Styrofoam and spray paint, that participants could pass through. The “stones” were mounted on a magnet sealing screen curtain so that, as they walked through, the wall would seal itself back up.
Other interactive elements include laser-cut felt that participants could be arranged to create their own superhero, a Batman vs. Superman voting tube, a prize wheel where participants could get their own superhero backstory, as well as life sized superhero cutouts to pose with that utilized the illustrations I created.
To advertise the exhibit, we created a poster series to be displayed around the school. Each poster featured superhero illustrations and played off of each character’s personality—Spiderman was hanging upside down, Antman was tiny, and the Hulk barely fit onto his poster. We also used some alternative advertising with the help from our friends Spiderman and Kitty Pryde, who casually sat at their own table alongside other colleges and school clubs. For the time that they were there, this tactic turned heads and drove several people up to the exhibit.