Water, Wind, & Weather: Miami in a Changing Climate

Topic: Earth & Space Sciences Subtopic: Climate

Case Study

of an Exhibit

by Jim Spadaccini

Published on October 15, 2012

  • Description and goals

    Water, Wind, & Weather: Miami in a Changing Climate is a large-scale computer-based interactive installation exploring the changing global climate and potential impacts on Miami, notably the risks associated with sea level rise and links to strong storms. Miami Science Museum and my firm, Ideum, developed this project with funding from The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

    The original project title was: Hurricanes and Climate Change: Local Impacts and Global Systems. This title was more descriptive of the general aim of the installation, which was to help visitors make the connection between global climate changes and local impacts.

    The exhibit is a multi-visitor experience and contains both primary scientific imagery along with photographs and videos that help explain Earth’s climate system, human impacts on climate, and potential impacts of climate change. The exhibit uses a controllable 4-foot Magic Planet spherical display, four large display monitors, and three independent kiosk stations for visitor interaction. All content in the exhibit is presented in both English and Spanish.

    The Magic Planet display at the heart of the exhibit shows a variety of datasets including: temperature changes, sea level rise, wind patterns, current weather, strong storms, and other relevant global imagery. Over the years, Ideum has developed a number of exhibits with the Magic Planet globe and we’ve always been impressed by this beautiful and distinctive spherical display. For this exhibit, we (Ideum and Miami Science Museum) wanted to create an experience that was more interactive, more social, and more engaging than a standard single kiosk controlling a Magic Planet display. The Museum had a particular interest in designing a system that would support interaction by larger multi-generational social groups as these represent a large portion of the typical Miami visitor audience.

    Along with the Magic Planet, the Miami in a Changing Climate installation contains three independent touch screen kiosk stations that share different roles within the system and are dependent on the status of the others. A station may control the large spherical display by choosing and directing animated globe overlays. It can rotate the sphere horizontally and vertically by manipulating a smaller representation of the globe on the touch screen.

    While one station is controlling the globe, the others control two additional 32” horizontal monitors. These displays provide supplemental information on the subject of the chosen globe overlay using text, image, and video projections. The remaining two 32” monitors are installed vertically next to the sphere. These vertical displays provide key information about the chosen globe images.

    All told, the combination of the Magic Planet, the independent kiosks, and four display monitors present a dynamic visual scene. In the formative evaluation, conducted by Audience Viewpoints, visitors talked about how they were drawn to the exhibit:

    One visitor referred to the sphere as an “art object.” Another visitor said, “Yeah, like when you walk in and you see the sphere you’re ‘whoa, what is this?’” He said he came into the exhibit area because he noticed the globe. Another person echoed that attraction, “That’s the first thing you see. If that wasn’t there, but as soon as you start walking around, you see the big globe. Then you’re curious about that, how it’s moving around, how it’s being controlled and then you’re seeing the information here.”

    While the exhibit drew people in, it presented a fairly complex system for visitors to understand. As part of the design process, we relied heavily on the formative evaluation and made changes to multiple parts of the program. There were a number of usability issues – most of them concerning the relationships between the various kiosks and displays. While most visitors understood they could control the Magic Planet from a kiosk, many did not make the connection between the spherical display and the additional horizontal monitors. Others, focused their attention solely on the kiosks, not paying much attention to the larger screens—and were happy to view images and videos on the smaller screens in front of them. Based on these findings (and others) we tweaked the exhibit language and added other visual cues to allow visitors to better make the connection between the kiosks and the larger screens.

    Overall, visitors had “positive things to say about the exhibit including its visual appeal and the high level of interactivity.” Additionally, there was plenty of social interaction observed within visitor groups. What was less clear, in this round of testing, was whether visitors were getting the larger connection between climate change and local impacts. We hope to learn more about that over time. Still, many visitors made connections between the content and their own personal experiences and the evaluators observed a high degree of engagement particularly within visitor groups. I’ve attached the project’s semi-annual report, authored by PI Jennifer Santer that was submitted to NOAA, which includes some these findings and other information about the exhibit.

    During the development process our team spent a great deal of our time discussing the nuances of interaction between the three kiosk stations. There were a number of possible ways in which we proposed encouraging interaction and “sharing” control of the Magic Planet. With the number of kiosk stations, screens, and potential options, we needed to strike a balance between interactivity and simplicity.

    Ideas for onscreen (or inter-screen) communication between kiosk stations were nixed early on, with the hope that visitors would instead interact in person around the installation. The evaluation suggests that this was the case. However, there are a lot of other possibilities that we could have explored in developing this multiuser computer-based exhibit. Of course, we don’t know how well the other approaches would have worked. What I find rewarding about working on these types of interactive exhibits is that there aren’t too many examples out there: it is largely uncharted territory and there is much to learn.

    The project was funded through a grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). You can learn more about the grant and the project on the Miami Science Museum blog and on the Ideum portfolio site. The software is available for download at Github: https://github.com/OpenExhibits/ClimateChangeMiami . We will post the final evaluation of the exhibit once it is complete.

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