Family Learning Forum

A Project of the USS Constitution Museum

Why prototype?

Exhibit prototypes can test:

  • Functionality – Will it work?
  • Clarity – Do visitors understand how to interact with the exhibit?
  • Comprehension – Do visitors understand the exhibit’s key idea or story?
  • Interest – Do visitors want to engage with the exhibit? Do they unexpectedly show interest in certain elements?

Kinds of prototypes

Prototypes can take many forms. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Alternative labels – Can be simply presented on a clipboard: fast, cheap, and often informative.
  • Cardboard mockups – Can cheaply identify physical problems, and communicate to fellow staff and visitors how you imagine an exhibit working. These are also useful in the exhibit development process
  • Temporary signage – Using a paper version of signage, such as directional signage, can help you assess the workability of the idea before you spend large amounts of limited funds.
  • Interactive prototype – A prototype that may look a lot like your final version. If you need to test an idea on unfacilitated visitors (visitors that are not given any explanation of the prototype) you will need a prototype that looks a lot like the final version, however painted wood and laminated paper will still be significantly cheaper than your final interactive.

A prototype example: prototyping exhibit instructions for a recruiting activity

One of the simplest exhibit elements to prototype are instructions. We tested several versions of instructions for our recruiting activity with paper and tape. The resulting changes made all the difference in the world for our users (see recruiting interactive).

Be prepared to revise exhibits

Information gained from prototyping, and evaluating visitor interactions, will most likely lead to exhibit design changes—changes that will improve the visitor experience and opportunities for learning. You must know what you are prototyping for, but be open to unforeseen outcomes.