Behind the Scenes at the DAM

Prototyping & Testing Family Activities with Visitors

What do samurai, horses, guitars, fruits and vegetables, monster puppets, and blocks all have in common?  For starters, these are items that all currently adorn my (somewhat messy) desk. My amazing job at the Denver Art Museum is to develop new gallery games, art backpacks, and installed interactive spaces for families. One of the most fun parts of my job is that I get to create and test prototypes. (Check out the IDEO Labs blog for more info about prototyping: http://labs.ideo.com/). This involves assembling examples of games and activities using everyday materials, bringing them into the galleries in front of artworks, and testing them out with you, our visitors. Nothing here gets made without your input and feedback. Prototype testing helps refine choice of materials, helps us think about what will work best in the museum, and allows us to interact with our visitors, using your feedback to shape games and activities. 

The first step in prototyping is to have a solid set of goals and objectives for the game or activity. I then head over to our prep room, where almost every imaginable arts and crafts supply can be found. If we don't have what I need, I order supplies online. Once I’ve got all my supplies, it’s time to assemble! This is when my desk becomes crafting station 101, with tape, glue sticks, and other supplies scattered about. Whereas most people have filing drawers with, say, files in them, my filing drawers are filled with paper, wood, string, magnets... you get the idea.

 

For the Arcimboldo portrait game, which debuts April 26, visitors can compose their own three-dimensional portraits using magnetic pieces inspired by our Arcimboldo portraits. The prototype I created was a magnet board with a silhouette of the portrait Summer. I then attached magnets to a variety of fruits and vegetables, as well as sea creatures. The next step was developing a specific testing protocol and script with questions that addressed aspects of the game I was concerned about.  These questions range from a simple “Would you give the game a thumbs up or thumbs down, and why?” to “Did you connect the game with the portraits in the gallery?” I tested the prototype with randomly selected families with children between ages 5-12, in front of the paintings on level six of the North Building. My observations and notes of each family’s interaction with the prototype will help influence the final design—including the size of the portraits and pieces, as well as location of the games in the gallery.

One of the most fun items on my desk was a Build-A-Creature puppet prototype.  When exploring the idea of building creatures using puppets inspired by the painting The Vision of Tundale, I came across a puppet with attachable Velcro parts.  Since I wanted to do roughly the same thing, I tested with this puppet and with my own pieces that look like parts from the painting.  Visitors played with these puppet parts, as well as a flip book of verbs and adjectives to help start a story for the puppets, which I created from paper. Testing this prototype with visitors was absolutely crucial; it helped me understand how families might play with real puppets. The format I tested proved so successful it became the model for the final puppets and flip book—check them out now on the 6th floor of the North Building!

We can’t develop games without you!  Look for me on Saturdays in the museum galleries, prototype testing with visitors like you. With many more games and activities to develop, I guess this means my desk will only get messier.

Molly Nuanes was a special projects coordinator in the education department at the Denver Art Museum.