Last week, I had the pleasure of returning to one of my favorite historic sites in California – Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park. It’s located in Coloma, CA, approximately 50 minutes east of Sacramento. Its significance lies in the fact that James Marshall discovered gold here in 1848, beginning the California gold rush. The area is beautiful and full of history so both nature lovers and history buffs can find reasons to visit.
If you’re planning a trip this summer, this area of California is certainly worth considering. Here are just a few reasons which hopefully spark an interest:
- It’s considered one of the most significant historic sites in the country
Location of first gold discovery
- You can hike, picnic, and pan for gold
- There are hundreds of artifacts on display including an 1865 Concord Stagecoach
- You can wander through 20 historic buildings and see a replica of the original sawmill
- The drive from Coloma to Auburn is breathtaking (and a little scary)
One of the challenges of designing and building exhibits is the interactive. Visitors learn more when they can interact with an exhibit, and if your audience is from an elementary school, having a hands-on experience is required. Kids are tough on exhibits, and they are very tough on interactives. Ideally, we would design every physical interactive (no electricity required) as if it were a piece of playground equipment rated for 150 lbs. However, most clients want the playground equipment left outside, so we design interactives for their exhibits that look better and teach more than playground equipment. And then, after an install, we get client photos of schoolchildren climbing all over what we built. If they could have climbed onto the top of the exhibit wall, they would have.
Audio-visual interactives have a different set of challenges. Fewer moving parts, but much more expensive components. Consumer electronics manufacturers change what models they offer monthly, so the monitor we showed in the design eight months ago may have vanished from the market by the time we need to buy it. Three years after it was installed? You might find it refurbished on eBay. We used to have video interactives play segments from DVDs on an ‘industrial grade’ DVD player costing $800. Now our videos play off of a flash memory card in a digital video player smaller than a paperback book. We’re always seeking out smaller, more dependable equipment. It’s a series of small steps, but when we look back at an exhibit that’s ten years old, I just shake my head at the technology we used. It’s like watching somebody use a portable CD player. Sure, I had one, but the current tech is so much better!
Digital photo frames are very popular, and they seem to be such an obvious idea. We use them more as a graphic that can change than as an interactive, since you can’t trigger them. Unfortunately, they are built better than they are programmed. Our exhibit designers think the frames are capable of much more than they are, so the search is on for a frame that lets the client easily manipulate what is shown. Have you had a good experience with a particular brand of photo frame? Believe me, I’m taking suggestions!
March 15th, 2013
Earlier this week, Drew and I were in the New Orleans area meeting with a potential client. On Wednesday, we had the opportunity to visit the Audubon Zoo. It is one of the best in the country. We visited in the morning and it was swarming with people. It has often been on the leading edge of trying new things. Here are a few we really enjoyed.
Themed Gift Shops
The gift shop near the Zoo’s entry has some of the best sales in the industry. This is attributed to its immersive, themed environment. The gift shop near the swamp even has baby alligators in it.
A recent addition to the zoo is a water play area. It has increased attendance and paid for itself in one year. It has a monumental alligator with a giant pail in its mouth that pours water on visitors. There are several slides in the alligator too. There are themed water guns in the shape of animal heads. And other fun things for the youngest of park goers. These include a spinny interactive that is an animal match game and water sprayer. In the toddler area, the water doesn’t spray out powerfully; it is more of a mist. This is great for toddlers. This area was designed as a place for whole families to gather. Many families have wide age ranges from toddlers to teenagers. In the cool zoo there are fun things for all so the family can stay together. There are also cabana like tables and a food area. They know their audience.
Most enclosures are very open. You feel very near and connected to the animals. During our visit, a giraffe reached over for a leaf near a viewing area within five feet of visitors. It was a very personal encounter. A big wow! The gorillas seemed to be staring right into our eyes. A parrot on a branch in the open had his own speaker and was dancing to music. In the future, you will be able to compare hand sizes with an orangutan and wade next to elephants!
Many enclosures house several different animals. The South American area had llamas, capybaras, emus and other animals all together. Many animals were munching on food. The sun bear’s food is hidden throughout his enclosure – in logs or in his stream. He spends the day searching for goodies just like he would in the wild. Several areas had toys for the animals. The Orangutan had a rope hammock that I want for my farm. It was to die for! The giraffes had branches hung way up high they were playing with. These somewhat simple elements are great for visitors and animals alike.
Each zone of the park had scenic elements that replicated a piece of the geographic region the animals were from. I especially liked the Mayan ruins and walking through a bamboo forest. All the graphic panels utilized a design that was distinctly cultural. There are many play areas throughout where you could stop and climb and have fun. I especially liked the swamp play area where there was a kid trap. This rope tunnel mimicked a crab trap.
What do you do to please your visitors or customers?
Taylor Studios in now on Instagram. On what? Instagram! As smart phones become more of a necessity than a novelty, we should all be embracing the new features that are available. As an exhibition design and fabrication firm, a heavy emphasis is placed on visuals and we’ve found Instagrams’ interface to be the perfect medium for sharing. Instagram serves as a ‘visual feed,’ offering a place where your happenings and highlights can be showcased through pictures.
The pictures can also be accompanied by hashtags (words preceded by a # sign) that are used to help classify and categorize photos enabling you to reach out and connect to other users with shared interests. Broad terms like #museum #wildlife and #nature cue into general categories, but more specific hashtags can also be used to cue into special events, areas, or exhibit highlights. This is a great way to get your photos in front of people who may not already be aware of your site and its offerings.
In addition to the photo and hashtags, location can also be documented and photos can be explored via the Photo Map. Instagram creates a map based on where images are taken and tagged. That means, as areas are explored, the photos taken can be linked to that location. Establishing your location as a check point and encouraging visitors to tag their photos there will allow you to see how visitors are interacting with your site and what they deem ‘photo worthy.’
As a company that does a lot of traveling, the photo map feature is great because we are able to tag photos taken on site as we install exhibits, travel to conferences, and explore opportunities, and present that information in our map view. It will be neat to see as TSI continues to cover the country (and others, like China!) with our adventures and installations.
So—are you ready to start visually showcasing your site? It is easy (and free!) to set up an account, install the app on your smartphone and begin sharing and reaching out to potential visitors.
And of course, we’d love to have you follow us too! No smart phone? No problem, you can still view our Instagram Feed or via our Facebook Page. Happy posting!
January 18th, 2013
It’s Fr-otter Day everyone! If you have no idea what I’m talking about, read last week’s post.
In honor of Megan’s birthday this week:
And Planes, Trains, and Otter-mobiles!