Graphic Design Students Develop Children’s Museum Exhibit

Associate Professor Courtney Windham gave her senior graphic design students a unique challenge this fall: create an exhibit about the central nervous system for AO Discover!, a hands-on children’s science center in Auburn currently under construction in a former retail space just steps away from campus. As Windham’s students rose to the challenge, they also learned about the field of experiential design and gained new skills along the way.

The project began with a tour of the museum and a visit with Katie Murrah, the facility’s director. Murrah showed the students the future home of the exhibit, a dramatic, two-story space surrounded by a spiral stairwell. Murrah told the students about the audience and the type of interactive experience she envisioned but gave them free rein to develop their own ideas.

Windham then organized Zoom visits with Auburn industrial design alum Todd Vaught, a design consultant based in Atlanta. Vaught gave the students an overview of experience design and discussed the roles graphic designers can play in this growing field. Associate Professor Jerrod Windham also participated by providing guidance with suggestions for appropriate materials and a 3D modeling critique.

Before they could begin, students first had to do some intensive research on the brain and spinal cord. They worked in small groups of four or five, considering the flow of the space in AO Discover! and creating an experience map of where the exhibit would go. The students created hand drawings as well as sketches using Sketchup 3D modeling software. They also learned to use Figma, an online prototyping and collaboration tool, in order to complete most of their group work virtually.

Two weeks before presenting to the museum’s board of directors, the students had a practice run with Vaught on Zoom. “He was so helpful,” said Courtney Windham. “Todd was able to give them feedback on their presentations and models and explained how to better communicate their visuals to the client.” During the final presentation in the future exhibit space, the museum’s board of directors was enthusiastic about one proposal in particular, a series of characters that reference the six parts of the brain with interactive games color-coded to the characters and the brain functions. “The board members really responded to the concept as a whole, especially the set of characters and their designated brain games,” explained Courtney Windham. “The overall design was age appropriate and engaging from entrance to exit.”

Through their work on the AO Discover! exhibit project, the students learned new skills, gained valuable experience working on a team and were introduced to the field of experience design. “Experiential design is branch of graphic design that these students could go into in the future,” said Courtney Windham. “I really wanted to expose them to that so they know they have all kinds of options when they graduate.”