Inspired – Kevin Palmer

It sounds cheesy, but personally my biggest inspiration is my two kids – I have a little boy who is seven and a girl who’s 11. A lot of our projects, especially our museum work, has to appeal to a wide target audience, from ‘lets try and break it’ kids to ‘can’t be bothered’ adults and ‘don’t patronise me’ academics.

Kevin Palmer
Kevin Palmer

Observing how users, kids especially, interact with our installations is constantly eye-opening, inspirational and informative. 

Last year as part of our No More Waste gallery at The Museum Of Science and Industry in Manchester, we designed an interactive table. Using petri dishes filled with material object samples, kids could place the dishes onto the tabletop to reveal information about those material objects.

Using fiducial codes printed onto the underside of the dishes, detected by infra-red cameras inside the table, they could rotate the dishes, as if rotating a clock forward in time, to see what that material could be recycled into. For example, chewing gum pellets can be used to make rubber for athletics running tracks. However, when watching kids in testing, they were far more interested in skidding the petri dishes around the table, air-hockey style and ignoring the back-projected graphics on the table we painstakingly created. Something about the shape and feel of those petri dishes coupled with a flat shiny table, immediately said ‘air hockey’ to them – and why not! Plans are now to try to incorporate this behaviour into a future game variation of the software for the table.  

Kin's interactive table at The Museum Of Science and Industry in Manchester
Kin’s interactive table at The Museum Of Science and Industry in Manchester

We are fascinated in making interactives ‘instruction free’ – nothing bugs us more than a sign saying ‘touch the screen to start’. No matter what your age or interest, there should be an inherent, instinctive ‘I know what to do with one of these’ way in to an interactive installation – even if after that it surprises you by doing something different and hopefully teaches you something new. There have been many more examples over the years where user observation has informed and changed our work.  

Here’s a small one to finish on – the other day I caught my son swiping back and forth on an iPad with his nose  – which gave me an idea for a Eskimo Kiss app which we’re now looking into developing. Thanks EJ – I won’t feel so bad about you ignoring me to tell you to wipe your nose in future.

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