Interactive Media and Digital Storytelling at the Penn Museum

When the Penn Museum launched its long-term exhibition Native American Voices: The People—Here and Now, its goal was to challenge some common misconceptions by showing how today’s Native American leaders are creating political, religious, linguistic, and artistic independence. A suite of interactives by Bluecadet (Philadelphia) helps tell those stories.

After collaborating with the museum on its critically acclaimed Maya 2012: Lords of Time, Bluecadet helped conceptualize Native American Voices and provided strategic planning, experience design, and design and development of key interactive components for the 2,000-sq.-ft. exhibition.

The Bluecadet team incorporated some traditional and even expected forms—totem poles and campfire, for example—to honor Native American traditions and diverse tribal cultures. Interactive media towers embedded with motion sensors serve as digital archives, and a series of touchscreens allow visitors to explore artifacts in depth. The digital components augment objects from the museum collection, video and audio recordings, and other elements designed to help visitors develop a new understanding of the original inhabitants of this land, as told in their own voices.

Bluecadet Founding Prinicipal Josh Goldblumsays his team’s biggest challenge was finding a design vocabulary that would acknowledge the diversity of the tribes represented in the exhibition, but provide a unifying force.

“We were tasked with presenting content collected from dozens of tribes and individuals spread out throughout the country, and much of the content was low resolution,” says Goldblum. “We needed to find a design vocabulary that would make this content look great and be visually compelling. That required us to cut, crop, clean up, and significantly edit the content so it was both visually rewarding and told a great story.”

To introduce and anchor the space, Bluecadet designed a motion-activated Central Projection—the “traditional” tribal fire in digital form—that offers a narrated, cinematic exhibition overview. Visitors gather around it to hear authentic recorded footage and see natural landscapes and original soundscapes that capture the diversity of contemporary Native Americans and their distinct stories, histories, and identities.

Framing the gallery space, four 15-foot-tall Interactive Media Towers—digital totem poles, if you will—feature vibrant artifact photos and maps, audio and video clips, and profiles of influential Native American leaders. The Bluecadet team designed an interface that allows visitors to easily scroll through this wealth of on-screen content, ensuring accessibility at varying height levels.

Each tower has a motion sensor, transitioning smoothly from the full-screen “attract” animation to a personalized, touch-driven experience that engages the user while beckoning visitors across the gallery with big, bold imagery.

Native American Voices features more than 200 objects from the Penn Museum’s expansive North American collections, and over the exhibition’s five-year run, close to 300 objects representing 85 tribes will be rotated for display. To help interpret these artifacts, Bluecadet created 12 Interactive Object Touchscreens that—with the tap of a finger—offer rotated views and dynamic, in-depth artifact information including history, geography, and language. In addition to exploring the nearest object case, museum visitors can use the touchscreens to view the entire collection or even sort the objects according to personal interests—curating their own unique exhibition experience.

Bluecadet’s work on the exhibition was shortlisted for the 2014 IxDA Awards.

Goldblum says the exhibition has been incredibly well received. “It really demonstrates the savvy and versatility of the museum team and their ongoing partnership with Bluecadet. By working early, strategically, and collaboratively, we created a tremendous amount of impact with some serious limitations in content and budget.”

See the Native American Voices video here.


Client: Penn Museum (University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology)

Location: Philadelphia

Interactives/Multimedia Design and Development: Bluecadet

Design Team: Josh Goldblum (creative director); Troy Lachance (design director); Aaron Miller, Victoria Jones (producers); Aaron Richardson, Kimberly Quinn (design and animation); Stacey Martens, Paul Rudolph, Mark Llobrera (developers)

Exhibition Design and Development: Penn Museum Exhibitions Team

Fabrication: United Services Associates, Quinlan Scenic Studios

Exhibition Graphics: Berry & Homer Large Format Digital Printing

Photos: Bluecadet

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