Designing Hybrid Museum Exhibit Environments

Environments Mini 2021

Spoorthi Cherivirala
27 min readSep 1, 2021


Chosen Client: Carnegie Museum of Natural History

Objective: “Create a temporary (3–4 week) exhibition featuring an issue currently on exhibit at one of the three museums. The client wants at least one piece of the artist’s work to be on display, but they also want to use digital technology to enhance the visitor’s experience in ways they are not currently doing. Consider how technology can augment content, increase learning and/or make the museum experience more interactive.” — Project Brief

Target audience: Students and faculty in the College of Fine Arts in Oakland

Location: Miller Institute first floor

Time-Frame: 4 weeks

Materials & Tools: Physical Model: Foamcore, Box Cutter, Hot Glue; Elevations & Floor Plans: CAD Tools on Illustrator; 3D-Rendering: SketchUp; Physical Computing: Tinkercad (Arduino); Visualizations: Adobe Illustrator

08.31.2021: Visiting the Miller ICA

Front doors bringing in light (Left), Sign at the front (Middle), Signage/ Explanatory Text (Right)
  • The person working at the museum mentioned that the doors were tinted with this transparent lining to prevent large amounts of light from entering the dark exhibit. If I choose to have a dark scheme or videos playing for my exhibit, this could be a potential consideration.
  • As soon as I entered, right in front of me was a sign with warnings and guidelines for the exhibit. Since this exhibit had no particular direction to follow, I think it was smart to put it there so everyone is forced to look at it.
  • The only large piece of text in the exhibit was this one hanging blackboard. It was on the left side by the information desk, maybe so that more people would read it in the beginning? The sign was definitely cohesive with the style of the rest of the exhibit.
Track lights on the ceiling (Left), Bathroom and small desk with flyers (Middle), Rounded corner with a television (Right)
  • The person who worked there mentioned that lighting was usually never an issue since the lights can be moved around pretty easily.
  • I noticed they rounded the edges of the stairs and placed a television on it. Perhaps this is to avoid people running into sharp edges in the dark exhibit.
Large screens on both sides of the exhibit
  • The space felt very open with 2 large screens on opposite sides of the room, and no other walls added. There was lots of walking space, and a large emphasis on digital screens to display information.
  • Also above around 8ft on the walls, there was nothing placed except the large screens, maybe because people don’t usually look that high up in small spaces?
Headphones for listening to real audio (Left), Space for the person working (Middle), Comparing the height of the exhibit to Shannon (Right)
  • I thought the audio clips through the headphones were a great touch to make the audience feel like they were really immersed in the exhibit. The audio was also extremely clear and easy to follow along.
  • The desk in the front had a starkly different color scheme compared to the rest of the exhibit. It made it appear as if the desk was just free-standing — not a part of the actual exhibit, and as if you haven't entered the exhibit until you passed the desk.
  • The last photo is us trying to gauge the height of the space comparing it to each other. The room was a little more than 2 Shannons tall :) This would mean that if I was to put up things on the wall higher than 6/7 feet, it would be unlikely to be seen.

09.01.2021: Considering Topics

Doing a little bit of research on the Anthropocene and climate change.

Important screenshots from the Al Gore: Climate Change explained in 10 minutes Video

Researching how geology and climate change are related,high%20atmospheric%20carbon%20dioxide%20level.

“…Geology also supports the theory that past periods of especially warm temperature were caused by high atmospheric carbon dioxide level. Of the many effects of global warming, geology is currently most relevant to sea level rise caused by melting glaciers.” — Columbia Climate School

In the present day, the contribution of volcanic emissions of CO2 into the atmosphere is very small; equivalent to about one per cent of anthropogenic (caused by humans) emissions.” — British Geological Survey

Ideas of issues:

  • Human energy consumption of fossil fuels and other non-renewable resources — large impact on the environment (air pollution, global warming, rising temperatures, and sea levels, etc)
  • Effects of anthropogenic activities on biodiversity, specifically bird species— deforestation, growing infrastructure and construction, hunting, throughout history
  • Emphasize how human emissions (anthropogenic activities) cause rising sea levels, melting glaciers, changing geology (climate change) significantly more than tectonic plates, and volcanic processes/ emissions (natural processes) do
  • Poor mining practices across the world contribute to erosion, sinkholes, deforestation, decreasing biodiversity, and significant use of water resources, degrading the environment

Visiting the Carnegie Museum of Natural History

Idea 1: Human energy consumption of fossil fuels and other non-renewable resources have large impacts on the environment (air pollution, global warming, rising temperatures, and sea levels etc); deforestation leading to decreasing biodiversity

Idea 2: (Bird Collection) Anthropogenic activities have led to decreasing biodiversity, impacting the stability of ecosystems — deforestation, growing infrastructure and construction, and hunting throughout history has led to the extinction of several bird species

Species that are threatened by deforestation

Species that have become extinct as a result of human activity

Species that humans anthropomorphize

Other Notable Species for their evolution, endangered status, etc.

Idea 3: (Hall of Gems and Minerals) Emphasize how human emissions (anthropogenic activities) cause rising sea levels, melting glaciers, changing geology (climate change) significantly more than tectonic plates, and volcanic processes/ emissions (natural processes) do

How poor mining practices across the world contribute to erosion, sinkholes, deforestation, decreasing biodiversity, and significant use of water resources, degrading the environment

Ways to categorize: focus on around the world — different places, or focus on different materials/ gems

Mining for tin and iron

Structure of the rocks

Mining for human purposes — jewelry (Wertz Gallery)

Sorted by location

09.02.2021-09.06.2021 — Narrowing Concept

Notes from class on interaction design

Issue: Anthropogenic activities including deforestation, growing infrastructure and construction, and hunting have substantial impacts on bird species, leading to loss of biodiversity, habitat destruction, food, and ecosystem instability.


  • Start with past (extinction of certain bird species) — emotional appeal
  • Talk about everyday icons/ birds that humans anthropomorphize in media— connect to the audience
  • Discuss poor human practices towards birds (glass windows, deforestation, growing infrastructure, and construction) and the effects on birds (disrupting bird migrations, loss of biodiversity, and ecosystem richness/balance) → call to action — we can stop this (have tangible solutions for people)



I plan to design an exhibit that revolves around revealing the adverse effects of anthropogenic activities such as deforestation, expanding infrastructure, and hunting, on bird species, leading to drastic losses in biodiversity, habitats, and ecosystem richness.

I chose a color palette shifting from olive greens to brown to represent the natural environment, invoking an innate sense of sanctity and peacefulness. The somber, pastel colors are also intended to emotionally appeal to the audience, combined with displaying bird species that have become extinct due to human activities, making them more inclined to take action. These colors also depict the habitats of many bird species— juxtaposing their actual environment (ie. the tropical rainforest) within this artificial space, making the issue more relatable.

The top right image of a living room captures the clean, modern feeling I want the exhibit to embody, especially with see-through glass walls/ windows (similar to windows that birds typically run into) to exemplify how human construction has negatively affected the daily lives of birds. The images of drying leaves are to maintain an outdoorsy feel, and the image detailing bird feathers is intended for its color palette of browns and greens as well as highlighting the soft unique texture of wings.

The top middle image is from the Carnegie Museum, where green is used as an accent color for their exhibit signage and text, and harsh lighting is used on their display cases. The main serif font is synonymous with the rustic feel of the dark brown wood grain, fitting the more serious and formal tone of the exhibit. The two san serif supplementary fonts are very similar to each other, appearing fluid and smooth, blending in with the environment.

I chose smooth dark brown wood patterns for the ground of the exhibit — laminate (fake wood) texture — to ironically play on how deforestation harms birds, and humans excessively use these materials. Being inside the exhibit will force people to face this issue head-on.

Miller Floorplan and Elevation Illustrator Drawings


Part 1 — Focuses on the past/ history — person walks into the gallery, turns right

  • Dark wood texture and walls, brown colors
  • Talk about the extinction of bird species
  • Feature 3 species one by one, around the corner — interaction: when a person walks up in front of it, it lights up, and sounds the bird call
  • Emotional appeal- make people feel bad

Part 2 — Present — Humans anthropomorphize birds in media

  • more brightly lit, the color starts changing to greens
  • connect to the audience

Part 3 — Present — Poor human practices/ anthropogenic activities


  • Habitat destruction through human development (glass windows), deforestation, infrastructure, and climate change
  • Food loss through competition from other species or loss of food sources
  • Hunting and poaching
  • Toxic poisoning from manufacturing, leachate, landfills, etc


  • disrupting bird migrations
  • loss of biodiversity
  • loss of habitats
  • ecosystem richness/ balance diminished
  • hunting and poaching

Part 4 — Call to action as people exit the gallery

Emphasize: Past -> Present -> Future — emotional appeal

09.07.2021–09.09.2021: Revising Concepts

Desk Crit Questions to Consider

  • What is the entrance? How do you enter the gallery? What about outside the gallery/ vestibule?
  • How much would fit in Miller — esp w past, present, future?
  • Sensors — the person stands on it and bird calls are heard

Hybrid spaces reflection

What other types of environments are becoming hybrid? Give at least one specific example and note whether or not you think the hybridization of the environment improves the user experience

I’ve noticed several technological products/spaces being incorporated into larger spaces such as personal study rooms for meetings — noise canceling (also located in Gates) and vending machines for tech products (saw these at the Facebook headquarters and at several airports)). They represent this progression towards hybrid environments where tech is intended to provide convenience for the visitors.

Study space (left), tech vending machine (middle), Google office space (right)

One hybrid environment that is still in the process of developing includes Tesla rest stops. My dad owns a Tesla, and on long road trips, every 300 miles we have to stop at a supercharger location for 20 minutes to recharge. Elon Musk’s proposal for a full-fledged rest stop entails creating a lounge space where there are pop-up restaurants, services, and other amenities while your car is charging outside — similar to the environment in a showroom. As hybrid cars grow in popularity especially in California and superchargers span the country, I think this hybrid environment would be beneficial to those who are forced to take a break to recharge — having a way to spend that time that doesn't involve waiting in your car or roaming the street to window shop. It would definitely improve the user experience involved with recharging your car to be a more positive one that you might even look forward to. It might also promote the idea of electric vehicles, which are a more sustainable long-term option for transportation.

Existing Tesla Supercharger station (Left), Map of current superchargers (Right)

Other existing hybrid environments that I can think of include fast-food restaurants such as Mcdonalds' which have automated their ordering process with kiosks in their store, or airports. I think self-ordering kiosks both improve and harm the user experience. On some occasions, it is more convenient and quick to order on one of many machines without worrying about the cashier not understanding your order or waiting in line. It would also be beneficial for the company by saving money on wages for fewer workers, despite a high initial investment. At the same time, there is less personal connection/ face to face interaction in the process, more effort required on the consumer side to scroll through and find their items, and less flexibility with how customized your order can be.

McDonalds self-ordering kiosks

Exploring New Technology

Interesting links with a lot of IoT products:

Motion sensors:, light sensors:

Contemplating Interactions:

  • Motion sensors near the exhibits — When a visitor passes them, the light turns on and the specific bird call is sounded
  • Philips Hue lighting system, the lights grow brighter (less dim) as the visitor moves through the exhibit
  • At the “Present birds in media exhibit,” there’s a voice controller (google home?) and the person can state what object they want to touch/hold, and it’ll be pushed out to them on the shelf (Maybe incorporate eye-tracking technology)
  • Glass window/ wall in the center can open up and close when there are people next to it — maybe it changes screens to a window with bars to exemplify more bird-friendly technology (Insteon Technology- controls and monitors windows)

Philips Hue Bulbs and Lighting System: “Philips Hue is a very famous IoT device and is used as a personal wireless lighting system that allows to control your light and create the right ambiance for every moment.”

Google Home Voice Controller: “Google Home Voice Controller is a smart IoT device which allows the user to enjoy features like media, alarms, lights, thermostats, control the volume and much more functions just by their voice.”

Insteon: “Controls lighting and appliances, Insteon lets users monitor windows, doors, water leaks, smoke and more via sensors”

Eyelock: “creates iris-based identity authentication technology. It’s suite of IoT products serves the automotive, financial, mobile and healthcare sectors.”

Clear glass wall- Have it turn opaque, or have a closed-off exhibit section

Japan public bathrooms that turn opaque when someone enters and locks door

Interesting Museums

Developed Concept & Parti Diagram

Edited Concept: Removed a lot of elements to make it simpler to understand and more accommodating for the small space in Miller ICA.

First draft of my Parti Diagram: This really helped me figure out where elements of my storyboard would occur in the story of the human’s experience in the actual Miller Gallery space.

09.09.2021–09.13.2021: Revising Concept

Feedback from Mihika:

  • Think more about the media section — doesn’t seem as connected to the rest of the exhibit about the environmental effects
  • Try to find specific local environmental organizations for the future section and something that people can take away from the experience (flyers, stickers)
  • Explain the glass wall well — needs explanation to understand

Feedback from Peter

  • Move around walls and consider where they can go
  • Where does the desk person sit? The front desk is very far away from the entrance
  • Think about the boundaries between the sections, how do people know they're entering a new “section”? Do you add a poster, or change the colors, or lighting?

New Version of my Parti Diagram


  • Make the extinct species exhibits a lot larger (almost double in size) — seems too small in that space, maybe extend them to the elevation on the left side
  • Remove the media references section and instead expand the environmental impacts wall to go all the way through
  • Made the future section smaller and increased the size of the effects to incorporate ecosystem instability
  • Incorporate those objects as a “kids corner” of some sort for families that come to Miller
  • Considered the 5e Experience Model

Different Version of Parti Diagram

  • More changes: Made only 1 present section so that it’s easier to understand
  • Made the proximity motion sensors more functionally accurate and increased the sizes of the extinct exhibits
  • Instead of having an opaque/ glass wall in the center of the exhibit, have the wall run all the way along horizontally, with a set of glass doors to the “present exhibits” so that the entire present exhibit represents the glass/ opaque/ human development concept
  • Added a simple cityscape projection onto the wall on the right elevation beside the concept of human development

More Changes

  • Moved the front desk on the other side of the wall to be closer to the people who are entering the gallery but it creates a large empty space in front of the curved wall — desk no longer needs to be rounded to match the shape of the wall
  • Moved the glass wall backward to create more space for the extinct exhibits
  • Thinking about different colored walls for the 3 different sections

Model Making

Initial Model: I haven't glued the walls to the bottom floor plan yet so that it’s easier to attach the paper to the walls

Making curved walls for the middle wall and the rounded corner through perforating it
Experimenting with different colors for the walls

Experimenting with placement of the walls — where should the desk be positioned in relation to the wall? where should the wall be in relation to the exterior walls? How close is the person to the visitors entering the museum? Which direction is the person facing? What color should I make the middle wall if the side walls have specific colors?

Researching Local PA Environmental Non-profits Allegheny Bird Conservation Alliance: In 2016, the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy joined other leading conservation organizations to form the Allegheny Bird Conservation Alliance (ABCA) as a strategic partnership to focus efforts around bird conservation and foster collaboration. Audubon Society of Western Pennsylvania: Connecting People to Birds and Nature Since 1916, Audubon Society of Western Pennsylvania connects the people of southwestern Pennsylvania to birds and nature through our programs, projects, and places. Aviary The National Aviary is America’s only independent indoor nonprofit zoo dedicated to birds. Located in Allegheny Commons Park on Pittsburgh’s historic Northside, the National Aviary is home to more than 500 birds representing more than 150 species from around the world, many of them threatened or endangered in the wild.

Other environmental organizations Grounded Strategies works to improve the social, economic, and environmental health of distressed and transitional communities by building capacity to reclaim vacant and underutilized land. Phipps: Experience industry-leading sustainable architecture and green practices, stunning seasonal flower shows, exclusive commissioned exhibits, renowned orchid and bonsai collections

Call to Action — How to Reduce Extinction Risks

  • Be Aware of Endangered Species: Of the nearly 10,000 bird species in the world, more than 10 percent are officially classified as threatened or endangered. Understanding how many birds are at risk to become extinct is the first step toward raising awareness of how to lower the risks of extinction for the birds that need the most intervention
  • Support Bird Conservation Programs: Joining a birding organization also helps support conservation work, or making donations to conservation groups, bird rescue organizations or wildlife rehabilitators
  • Protect Diverse Bird Habitats: Creating a bird-friendly backyard can provide critical habitat for local species. Other ways to preserve habitats include visiting wildlife refuges, purchasing duck stamps, helping with beach or river cleanups and encouraging native landscaping in parks
  • Be a Responsible Birder: Following proper birding ethics, including bird photography ethics, and being considerate of other species at all times. Avoid any behavior that may stress birds. This includes backyard birding and being a responsible bird feeder, keeping pet cats indoors
  • Curb Artificial Risks to Birds: While natural evolution will inevitably lead to some bird extinctions, the negative impact of artificial threats cannot be overestimated. Invasive predators, fishing line, balloons, wind farms, litter, and even holiday decorations can all be grave threats to birds
  • Live in Balance With the Planet: Conscientiously recycling, reducing one’s carbon footprint and taking other steps to conserve all natural resources are great ways to minimize extinction threats

Revised Concept

Added details for the Future Section (call to action, organizations, something to take home), wall colors, proximity exhibit sensors, moved front desk location, entire different room with opaque walls instead of single wall

Prototyping Interactions

Explanation/ Diagram of the Interaction

Screen Recording of the Interaction

09.14.2021–09.15.2021: Designer role reflection

How is the role of an architect and an environments designer different? Be specific when talking about projects, skillsets, tools, approaches, etc.

As we briefly discussed in class, an architect focuses on designing the actual building, concerned with technical components including the height of stairs, wiring, etc, while a designer assumes the building has already been built according to proper standards and addresses the experience that a person in the space will feel. While architects might focus more on the functionality and structure of the building, the designer will prioritize the mood, layout, lighting, colors, and how these factors affect people’s emotions and experiences, mapping out their interactions with the space.

Architects use AutoCAD and other BIM modeling software to create floor plans, elevations, and section views of the space to precisely prototype the structure of the building, and share that information with engineers to coordinate plumbing, lighting, electricity, and other technical aspects. Designers more roughly prototype the building — perhaps with software like SketchUp to visualize their concept or ideas for the space before deciding on details. This would be a more rudimentary model since the purpose is to convey and experiment with ideas rather than depict exact measurements. Experience designers would not be the ones creating the actual floor plans for the space, but would rather be provided it from architects, and would perhaps know some front-end coding depending on their prototypes.

Experience design definitely requires a large amount of user feedback and testing to determine what the client hopes to achieve and convey through the space. I can imagine there are numerous iterations of designs and concepts (ideation, prototyping) before determining the most fitting design. While architects also collaborate with clients to determine how the building will look on the outside, the experience designer would work with the client to design the inside and the immersive experience of the actual person in the design. These approaches would be different, and experience design would be driven by human-centered design elements.

Working on the Physical Model

Gluing the walls to the bottom piece now that the floor plan was finalized (Left), Redid the wood flooring so that the grains of the wood are smaller- more realistic with the scale of the model (Middle, Right)
Gluing colors to the different sections of the walls (Left), Experimenting with a piece of clear plastic in the middle of the exhibit to represent the glass wall (Middle), Split the plastic sheet into two sections to go on either side of the solid curved wall piece (Right)

SketchUp Model

Creating material for the walls (first attempt)

Extinct Species Exhibits on curved walls (Right), Guidelines/ Rules for the front wall (Left)
Touchscreen informational wall for the Future Exhibit (Left), Learn more, QR Code to take home (Right)
4 Exhibits for the Present Section

09.16.2021: Design Changes & Feedback

Changes based on feedback from Daphne & Peter:

  • Take into account scale, the font text might be too high up for people to read and too small at times; QR code is way too big to scan
  • Make the screen a lot lower and smaller so that people who are close to it and touching the desk can actually read the screen
  • Make the text shorter on the screen so it’s easier to see
  • The front desk person may cover the text on the wall if you put it right behind them
  • Decided to make the posters white so that the logos don’t stand out as much
  • Decided to remove the entirety of the “touch” exhibit about birds in media due to its irrelevance to the serious environmental theme of the rest of the exhibit

New Iterations

For the future section, have a screen and visitors can interact with it on the table in front of it. They can add actions and create a plan. On the right side is a QR code that can be scanned and people can take everything they learned home.

More Iterations of Material

Finalizing Interactions

32" Single Localizer Sound Dome

Audio isolation, Stereo quality audio, Provides a listening experience similar to headphones for an individual listener.

Philips Hue Smart LED/ strips — lights based on proximity

Controlled wirelessly, The Phillips Hue line of bulbs was the first smart bulb of its kind on the market, Illuminates the display case by motion

Ultrasonic Distance Sensor

Connected to lights and sound to detect visitors within 2 feet, Sends out a sound wave at a frequency above the range of human hearing, Determines the distance to a target by measuring time lapses between the sending and receiving pulses

Electrochromic Glass: When a visitor enters the present exhibit, the electrochromic glass turns from transparent to opaque

Opaque State: Applying a low voltage of electricity when the door is closed, the glass darkens coating the lithium ions and electrons transfer from one electrochromic layer to another.

Clear State: The polarity is reversed, causing the ions and electrons to return to their original layers and their clear state.

Inspired by the “The Tokyo Toilet Project”

Screen Mirroring Concept according to peoples touch

Screen Mirroring

Visitors can interact with the interactive tabletop device which sends information to the screen above it through casting over wifi. Calling them to action, visitors can select relatable ways they can contribute to preventing the worsening of bird extinction in their community and add actions to their plan, which is displayed on the screen with associated pictures.

Creating Visualizations

Past Exhibit & Entrance

Visitor enters exhibit (left), visitor interacts with the past exhibit (middle), visitor enters present section, changing the glass (right)

The visitor enters, interacts with the front desk attendant, reads the instructions, and walks to the past exhibits on the right. The proximity motion sensor turns on the lights and the bird call is sounded through the sound dome. Next to the exhibit is a screen to see the extinct bird in flight, and the screen light sensor turns on according to the visitor's proximity. Since there aren’t any people inside the clear present exhibit, the glass wall is transparent, but after the visitor goes through the doors, the glass turns opaque.

Present Exhibit

The visitor enters the present exhibit, so the electrochromic glass turns opaque. On the back of the wall is an explanation of why the glass wall exists and what it represents about the modernization of society. Each exhibit discusses a different cause and effect of the loss of bird species. When the person approaches it, the proximity motion sensor turns the lights on, and the targeted sound dome releases noise similar to the previous exhibit.

Future Exhibit

Visitors can interact with a smart device embedded into the tabletop, calling them to action where they can select ways they can contribute to preventing the worsening of bird extinction. As they add actions and learn about new ways to contribute to their own community, their personalized plans are displayed on the larger screen including associated pictures. After creating a plan, the QR code on the right can be scanned so that visitors take everything that they learned home, including the different non-profit organization information, their plans, and unique bird calls.

Final CAD Floor Plan & Elevations

Final Physical Model

Video Prototypes

Final Tinkercad Interaction Video & Diagram
Screen Interaction for the Future Exhibit

Final Concept & Parti Diagram

Order of Movement
Simplified & Full Info Parti Diagram

Final SketchUp Model

Self-Reflection Meta-Cognitive Experience:

What motivates you?

Thinking about the end goal, and actually seeing one of my ideas come to life makes me motivated to keep working. Throughout this project, I was also motivated by my interest to learn new software at every lab, and I looked forward to being to apply those skills to supplement the concept I had for my project. It was interesting to see all of the software we used was very different but useful at conveying certain interactions or ideas we needed to express, and I hope to be able to apply these skills in future projects and create more advanced designs. Bouncing ideas off classmates and their creative ideas also motivated me to keep iterating and thinking about my own ideas.

What distracts you?

When something doesn’t turn out the way I originally visualized it as in my mind, I’m often stuck, not knowing what to do next. Trying to pursue too many ideas and concepts often distracts me, where I spend a lot of time figuring one out, and the rest are left not as fleshed out. Attempting too much also leaves me overwhelmed and unsure about what I should cut out. Sometimes I can be too invested in an idea and be unresilient to change.

What keeps you engaged?

Learning new design skills that I can actually apply to meaningful projects as well as personal projects keeps me engaged. As someone who likes coding, learning new software was very fascinating. I enjoyed the opportunity to consolidate all of our skills into one project, learning simplistic 3d rendering with SketchUp, some graphic design with illustrator, creating visualizations with photoshop, some coding with C+ and Arduino as well as physical prototyping with our model. I appreciated how there were so many different components combined to create our whole final project, and I feel like this can be likened to a project in the real design industry. Working on this project really made me enjoy and appreciate the versatile nature of E and want to pursue experience design in the future.

Final Presentation