Installation of the Curiosity Zone has officially begun! In just over a week our exhibition will be up and running and our exhibits will be together in their new home. In the run up to the opening the blog will be taking a look back at our very first exhibits and filling in some gaps in their history.

So lets begin with our third exhibit, ‘Outline’. As an idea it had been around even before this project began, but there had never been a suitable place for it in any of our exhibitions. It’s original concept was a slab of stone showing a suitable number of fossils alongside tracing paper, pencils and somewhere to display traced pictures.


But immediately we saw two issues we would need to tackle before we could progress the idea any further.

First of all what form the tracing paper would be dispensed in (individual sheets or a large paper roll) and secondly how we could provide a clean and simple way for visitors to display their work on the lightbox, but still remove it if they wanted to.

This far back in the project we hadn’t yet formed our Curiosity Advisors testing group so the only way to find an answer was to leave our prototype on the floor with a roll of paper for a few days and with sheets for the rest.

The footage and drawings left by our visitors pointed us towards sticking with sheets rather than a roll. Besides the fact the sheets seemed to produce much more varied drawings, the roll of paper also had more technical issues. It would require frequent maintenance by a member of staff, either when the paper ran out, or when a visitor wanted to take their work home or display it in the exhibition. We felt the sheets gave visitors much more ownership over what they had drawn and we liked that they would be the ones to decide which items would be displayed.

But to do this we needed to find an appropriate way for visitors to secure their work on our lightbox. Something strong, but semi-permanent in case they changed their minds. And a method that didn’t use consumables or leave residue when an item was removed. The team envisioned something like the device used in restaurant kitchens to hold orders.

The rows of marbles inside hold single paper sheets firmly but not so strongly that the sheet can’t be removed with a simple tug. It also reduces the worry of finger traps and negates the need for anything to be stuck to the surface of the lightbox.

Unfortunately for us no-one knew their official name. And it turns out internet search engines aren’t very good at deciphering ‘what’s the name of that thing they use in restaurants to hold orders?’

Richard persevered though and finally discovered their official name to be ‘tab grabbers’. With the quest for a suitable holder now over we were all set to finish the exhibit.

Except there was still one small niggle in the back of our minds. While the drawings we’d seen from visitors in our first test had been good, they’d been a little limited. We realised that because the fossils in the slab were never going to change, there was only so many drawings you could do. We debated adding other variables such as coloured pencils or fossil plates for rubbing, but felt they too had a limiting factor.

So we created a second table that featured abstract patterns and etched letters for rubbing, to help our visitors create more unique tracings.

Armed with our new table we left the exhibit on the floor for evaluation once more. We were pleased to see that visitors used both tables equally, with some even combining elements of both for their creations. Here you can see two of the drawings that were left on display by our visitors at the end of our evaluation.

But that isn’t the end of the story.

This is the only exhibit to have a potentially high turnover of consumables. As yet we don’t know how quickly the tracing paper will be used up and so how much on average it’s going to cost us over the years. The success of this exhibit hinges on knowing these things, but unfortunately we can’t know them until it’s officially on the exhibition floor.

It is also the only exhibit to have it’s own title. Not an exhibit name, but rather a direction to our sharing site. Again we have no idea how successful this will be until we trial it on the exhibition floor longterm.

So Outline still has a lot of answers to give us. But it’s certainly not the only one. All of our exhibits are essentially ’beta-final’ versions that we are prepared to tweak if it turns out they don’t work for our visitors. After all you can’t really know if any design works until your key audience have used it for an extended period of time. For many people installing an exhibit might seem like the end, but for us it’s just the beginning of a new chapter of evaluation and discovery.