A new museum exhibit featuring digital signage and kiosks is helping visitors explore the sinking of the Titanic while taking them on an expedition to discover its watery grave.
The Sea Research Foundation's Mystic Aquarium in Mystic, Conn., home of Titanic-discoverer Dr. Robert Ballard's Institute for Exploration, recently opened "Titanic – 12,450 Feet Below," a long-planned, multimillion-dollar exhibit that "takes guests on a journey to new depths of discovery through the eyes of the team that found Titanic," according to the aquarium.
The aquarium has incorporated interactive digital signage and kiosks to let visitors experience the events surrounding the sinking — and the eventual rediscovery — of the star-crossed vessel.
The exhibit is the result of a creative collaboration between Ballard, the ocean explorer and president of the Sea Research's Institute for Exploration who first found the legendary shipwreck in 1985, and Tim Delaney, a former 30-year Walt Disney "Imagineer."
"Titanic – 12,450 Feet Below" incorporates interactive displays created by communications and exhibit and event marketing firm EWI Worldwide:
- Iceberg Encounter Kiosks: Microsoft Surface 2-enabled touchscreens — an interactive map and quizzes help give attendees insight into the life of the iceberg.
- "The Sinking of Titanic" wall: A projected graphic representation of the ship sinking, illustrating key moments in the ship's breakup and trajectory toward the ocean floor below.
- Interactive fish and Titanic video footage wall: A large-scale interactive video projects a montage of Titanic video footage captured by Ballard and his team from 12,450 feet below. The wall switches to become an interactive fish wall with sea creatures found on the ocean floor. Exhibit visitors can interact with the projected fish, causing them to swim closer or retreat.
- "Titanic Explorer" kiosks: Three Microsoft Surface 2-enabled touchscreen kiosks allow guests to select from up to six content strands: multiplayer quizzes, original interview clips, video clips on demand, never before seen photos, "fast facts" and "Titanic - By the Numbers."
- "Titanic Discovery Table": The central technology feature of the exhibit, the Titanic Discovery Tables provide a hands-on, tactile learning engagement that uses HD touch table technology to allow guests to dive into a variety of topics, for instance, Ballard's personal files or a video/still image archive, either on their own or with group interaction.
In a recent interview Alex Nichols, "technical evangelist" for the EWI digital engagements team, drilled down to take a look at how interactive exhibits change the experience for museumgoers. In the Iceberg Encounter Kiosks, for example, there is a segment dedicated to the Morse code warnings that nearby ships sent to the Titanic, attempting to warn the ship of the approaching iceberg that would eventually sink it.
When a visitor touches one of the ships displayed, the kiosk shows the Morse code message is sent, and then a button that says decode, Nichols said. When viewers touch the decode button, the display shows the text of the message.
"One of the things we really thought about with that was 'Do we put a button to decode, or do we display the Morse code, or do we just automatically show the text of the message?'" Nichols said.
"The decision we made was to put that in there because it gave people control of the experience; it gave them more opportunities to interact with the experience; and it let them learn this at their own pace and really feel a sense of discovery when they hit that button and they see what it translates into."
That sense of interaction and control is an important differentiator for digital consumer engagement, whether in a museum or a retail store, Nichols said.
"You want to make sure that you're giving them the level of interaction where they feel like they're in control of what's going on," he said. "It's a small thing, adding a button to do something, but those design considerations are really what set an experience like this apart from just designing it like a website."
Sara Giessen, senior art director for EWI, said the interactive displays also were a way to provide an educational experience, while respecting the wreck site and not disturbing its sea floor environment.
"We wanted to create something that was educational and entertaining, and we also wanted to be respectful toward the remains of the Titanic, and interactive is a great way to do that, because we aren't digging up artifacts from the bottom of the sea floor," she said. "We were able to use digital artifacts from Bob Ballard's archives ... that are able to give (visitors) the experience of the Titanic without actually doing any damage or affecting the wreck site in any way."
The technology also simply allows the aquarium jam more information into a smaller space, said Erin Merz, manager of media and public relations for the aquarium. Being able to have so much video and still imagery on in digital form instead of taking up physical space is a huge advantage for a facility with a limited amount of space. Also, the sense of control and the variety of options the interactive exhibits provide for visitors are important, she said. Children can play games, answer trivia, read information, or if they're tired of reading, watch videos, she said.
"So it's like 'choose your own adventure,' if you will, and it's a perfect opportunity to do that."
Watch video of some of the exhibits below:
Read more about digital signage and education.
Christopher is the editor of DigitalSignageToday.com. A longtime freelance writer and reporter, he's bringing a fresh perspective and critical take on the industry.