AV & Multimedia
Streets Ahead

As Cooper Hewitt reinvents interactive capabilities for visitors, the head of engineering talks us through the different parts of the digital experience


Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum in New York has emerged from a $81m (£52m, €73m) three-year renovation.

Then-head of engineering Aaron Cope told Attractions Management about the interactive elements, which use cutting-edge technologies and custom-made hardware to create a pioneering visitor experience.

The experience hinges on the idea of a visitor account. Using an NFC-enabled “pen” users can scan object codes and save artefacts of interest to their personal museum Web page.

Cooper Hewitt developed in-house its own digital infrastructure and systems architecture, including the Collections Browser. Mass digitisation of the collection is almost complete.

“The Collections Browser became the scaffolding for everything that followed,” Cope says, including the Pen, Process Lab and Immersion Room.

Cope explained the new experience.

Collections Browser

" The Collections Browser runs on the museum’s seven interactive Ideum tables that vary in size up to 84 inches for multiple users of six to eight people. You can browse the objects on display, related objects and see an object’s context in relation to the museum’s historical collection. You can use the tables to create your own designs which you can save to your account. "
 


PHOTO: Matt Flynn/Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian

Visitors simultaneously view high-resolution images of the collection
Immersion Room

" The ‘wallpaper room’ is controlled by an interactive Ideum table which accesses the museum’s wallpaper collection – the largest collection of wall coverings in North America. Visitors project designs onto the walls of the Immersion Room, so instead of viewing a swatch, you can see the design floor-to-ceiling. You can design and project your own wallpaper, which can be saved to your account and retrieved later. "
 


PHOTO: Matt Flynn/Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian

In the Immersion Room, digital and projection technologies bring the wallpaper collection to life
 


PHOTO: Matt Flynn/Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian
In the Immersion Room, digital and projection technologies bring the wallpaper collection to life
 
 


PHOTO: Matt Flynn/Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian
In the Immersion Room, digital and projection technologies bring the wallpaper collection to life
 
The Pen

"A museum today is part of the Internet, and vice versa, and visitors arrive with what is essentially a super-computer in their pockets. The Pen is a response to that. It was a remarkably complicated piece of work. The device allows you to interact with the museum, create things on the tables or in the Immersion Room, but also save information from the collection itself to your account.

The idea of the Pen and the idea of the post-visit happened simultaneously. It’s the idea of bookmarking, of being able to return to and share something. All these objects have thousands and thousands of words written about them, and now there’s a way to access this after your visit via your visitor account. The museum starts to exist beyond the 90 minutes that you spend inside its four walls."

 


PHOTO: Katie Shelly/Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian

Everything collected on the Pen is accessible via a unique Web address provided by the museum
 


PHOTO: Katie Shelly/Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian
Everything collected on the Pen is accessible via a unique Web address provided by the museum
 
Process Lab

"The Process Lab is a dedicated section of the museum where people can create their own design objects. There are tools, activities and devices to spark people’s imagination, such as a making station and 3D printer. On an interactive table, there’s an application that asks users to think about how they’d improve an object or use it differently. It’s an opportunity to work through the different constraints that any design object must overcome if it’s to get out into the real world."
 


PHOTO: Matt Flynn/Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian

Visitors experiment with design through physical and digital activities in the Process Lab
 


PHOTO: Matt Flynn/Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian
Visitors experiment with design through physical and digital activities in the Process Lab
 
 


PHOTO: Matt Flynn/Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian
Visitors experiment with design through physical and digital activities in the Process Lab
 
Gesture Match

"Gesture Match uses a Microsoft Kinect to scan visitors’ poses and match the shapes to objects in the collection. It was made by Local Projects for the Beautiful Users exhibition. They wanted to create interesting and active ways for visitors to interact with the collection. That’s important because we’re not an art museum, we’re a design museum – and design objects exist to be used. Gesture Match and the Pen are an explicit invitation to visitors, which says: ‘You’re invited to do something; your participation is fundamental to design itself"
 


PHOTO: Matt Flynn/Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian

A visitor uses the Kinect-powered Gesture Match

WORKING ON COOPER HEWITT
Interior: Gluckman Mayner, Beyer Blinder Belle Architects

Garden: Hood Design

Retail space, visitor services desk: Diller Scofidio + Renfro

Casework: Diller Scofidio + Renfro, Goppion

Interactive media: Local Projects

Multi-user interactive tables: Ideum

Graphics and signage: Pentagram

Pen: Bloomberg Philanthropies, Local Projects, Diller Scofidio + Renfro, GE Design, Sistelnetworks, Tellart, Undercurrent, MakeSimply

Pentagram designed a new graphic identity and signage for the museum Credit: PHOTO: Matt Flynn / Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian
 


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SELECTED ISSUE
Attractions Management
2015 issue 3

View issue contents

Leisure Management - Streets Ahead

AV & Multimedia

Streets Ahead


As Cooper Hewitt reinvents interactive capabilities for visitors, the head of engineering talks us through the different parts of the digital experience

Then-head of engineering Aaron Cope
Pentagram designed a new graphic identity and signage for the museum PHOTO: Matt Flynn / Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian

Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum in New York has emerged from a $81m (£52m, €73m) three-year renovation.

Then-head of engineering Aaron Cope told Attractions Management about the interactive elements, which use cutting-edge technologies and custom-made hardware to create a pioneering visitor experience.

The experience hinges on the idea of a visitor account. Using an NFC-enabled “pen” users can scan object codes and save artefacts of interest to their personal museum Web page.

Cooper Hewitt developed in-house its own digital infrastructure and systems architecture, including the Collections Browser. Mass digitisation of the collection is almost complete.

“The Collections Browser became the scaffolding for everything that followed,” Cope says, including the Pen, Process Lab and Immersion Room.

Cope explained the new experience.

Collections Browser

" The Collections Browser runs on the museum’s seven interactive Ideum tables that vary in size up to 84 inches for multiple users of six to eight people. You can browse the objects on display, related objects and see an object’s context in relation to the museum’s historical collection. You can use the tables to create your own designs which you can save to your account. "
 


PHOTO: Matt Flynn/Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian

Visitors simultaneously view high-resolution images of the collection
Immersion Room

" The ‘wallpaper room’ is controlled by an interactive Ideum table which accesses the museum’s wallpaper collection – the largest collection of wall coverings in North America. Visitors project designs onto the walls of the Immersion Room, so instead of viewing a swatch, you can see the design floor-to-ceiling. You can design and project your own wallpaper, which can be saved to your account and retrieved later. "
 


PHOTO: Matt Flynn/Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian

In the Immersion Room, digital and projection technologies bring the wallpaper collection to life
 


PHOTO: Matt Flynn/Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian
In the Immersion Room, digital and projection technologies bring the wallpaper collection to life
 
 


PHOTO: Matt Flynn/Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian
In the Immersion Room, digital and projection technologies bring the wallpaper collection to life
 
The Pen

"A museum today is part of the Internet, and vice versa, and visitors arrive with what is essentially a super-computer in their pockets. The Pen is a response to that. It was a remarkably complicated piece of work. The device allows you to interact with the museum, create things on the tables or in the Immersion Room, but also save information from the collection itself to your account.

The idea of the Pen and the idea of the post-visit happened simultaneously. It’s the idea of bookmarking, of being able to return to and share something. All these objects have thousands and thousands of words written about them, and now there’s a way to access this after your visit via your visitor account. The museum starts to exist beyond the 90 minutes that you spend inside its four walls."

 


PHOTO: Katie Shelly/Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian

Everything collected on the Pen is accessible via a unique Web address provided by the museum
 


PHOTO: Katie Shelly/Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian
Everything collected on the Pen is accessible via a unique Web address provided by the museum
 
Process Lab

"The Process Lab is a dedicated section of the museum where people can create their own design objects. There are tools, activities and devices to spark people’s imagination, such as a making station and 3D printer. On an interactive table, there’s an application that asks users to think about how they’d improve an object or use it differently. It’s an opportunity to work through the different constraints that any design object must overcome if it’s to get out into the real world."
 


PHOTO: Matt Flynn/Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian

Visitors experiment with design through physical and digital activities in the Process Lab
 


PHOTO: Matt Flynn/Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian
Visitors experiment with design through physical and digital activities in the Process Lab
 
 


PHOTO: Matt Flynn/Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian
Visitors experiment with design through physical and digital activities in the Process Lab
 
Gesture Match

"Gesture Match uses a Microsoft Kinect to scan visitors’ poses and match the shapes to objects in the collection. It was made by Local Projects for the Beautiful Users exhibition. They wanted to create interesting and active ways for visitors to interact with the collection. That’s important because we’re not an art museum, we’re a design museum – and design objects exist to be used. Gesture Match and the Pen are an explicit invitation to visitors, which says: ‘You’re invited to do something; your participation is fundamental to design itself"
 


PHOTO: Matt Flynn/Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian

A visitor uses the Kinect-powered Gesture Match

WORKING ON COOPER HEWITT
Interior: Gluckman Mayner, Beyer Blinder Belle Architects

Garden: Hood Design

Retail space, visitor services desk: Diller Scofidio + Renfro

Casework: Diller Scofidio + Renfro, Goppion

Interactive media: Local Projects

Multi-user interactive tables: Ideum

Graphics and signage: Pentagram

Pen: Bloomberg Philanthropies, Local Projects, Diller Scofidio + Renfro, GE Design, Sistelnetworks, Tellart, Undercurrent, MakeSimply


Originally published in Attractions Management 2015 issue 3

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