Untitled-1Tinker Turf, a DFA Northwestern summer studio project from 2011, has been implemented by the Chicago Children’s Museum! Read more about the project and the team’s design process!

How did you guys get started with the project?

Our team was brought together through the 2011 DFA Summer Studio to partner and work with the Chicago Children’s Museum on their prospective “Tinkering” exhibit. We worked with our partner to define “tinkering,” explore existing successful spaces, and generate ideas for the future exhibit.

Give us an overview of the project itself.

The Chicago Children’s museum was planning the creation of a permanent tinkering-themed exhibit in their museum at the time of our project . Our challenge statement was “How can we create an exhibit that empowers children to tinker?” By drawing on observations of children at the museum, interviews with museum staff and families, and our own memories and experiences with tinkering, we delivered a description of possible exhibits. You can check out our 2011 presentation here. The Chicago Children’s museum final product drew some inspiration from our suggestions, particularly evidenced by the pegboard-based interactive activity included in their exhibit.

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What is happening with the project now?

The Chicago Children’s Museum officially opened the “Tinkering Lab” to the public on February 5, 2013! They created a beautiful, versatile space that invites visitors of a wide age range to use tools and create.
The ideas we developed using pegboard, marbles, and movable pieces were used in the entryway of the exhibit. In a children’s museum, it is especially important to accommodate different ages and lengths of stay. This exhibit manages that challenge beautifully by using our pegboard space for short interactions, a tactile experience focused space for toddlers, and a large workshop space with tools and facilitators for long interactions and special programming.

How did it feel to see your project implemented?

It is of course thrilling to see elements of one’s own ideas occupy physical space, but we believe that it will be even more interesting for us to visit the exhibit while kids are using it and observe how they interact with and use the space. This is a permanent exhibit that will be a part of the CCM indefinitely, so it will be really exciting to see the long-term impact it will have on visitor experiences.

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What was the most exciting part of the whole process?

For our team, the most exciting part of this process was the chance to step into the minds of kids and have the opportunity to play and explore. In terms of our “research process”, building a box fort in our studio space and visiting City Museum in St. Louis were definite highlights! Another memorable moment was when we built a pinball machine in the machine shop during our prototyping phase. Our pinball machine had a pegboard as the table and an open top, and the bumpers and other pieces were built from pegs, so that one could rearrange the pieces however the user wanted!

Working on this project made us much more excited about DFA and human-centered design as a whole. Throughout the whole process we’ve made great friends and have been constantly inspired by what other people are working on, specifically to create more tactile learning experiences for kids.