Our objective is to create tools that offer ways of experiencing the fundamental laws that govern the world. Experiencing here means seeing, hearing, touching. That is why building exhibits is a never-ending story. Because any phenomenon can always be illustrated somehow better, even more beautifully, even more accurately.
The process of exhibit-building is quite complicated. Most often it starts with a crazy idea. Certain ideas arise in connection with discoveries made while working on completely different exhibits, as a kind of side-effect. We are constantly learning. Some ideas take a long time to mature, we have to set them aside and test them for a long time, before we figure out how to demonstrate the given phenomenon in the most appropriate way.
Next a design goes into consultations with the team, who review the idea, considering its appearance and functionality. Then it is sent to the engineers, who prepare a detailed mechanical documentation. A description of the intended interaction and a materials blueprint are created. Then we are just one step away from actually making a prototype for internal testing.
What does such testing look like? “We play with the exhibit”, says Maciej Mieczkowski, head of design at Copernicus, “checking its endurance and safety, for instance by throwing elements onto the floor. If something is going to break, it’s better for it to break in a controlled, safe way, so that no one gets hurt”.
Sometimes we spend a lot of time on a single element, just to truly perfect the end result and be sure that the phenomenon is presented as accurately as possible. For example, when designing the “Flexible Glass” exhibit, we shattered four huge chalices that had been specially made for us. We kept shattering them until we had figured out the right thickness of glass, which would best present the end result.
After internal testing and potential final adjustments, the prototypes are then repeatedly evaluated by visitors. The prototype exhibit is put out together with a sign saying “I’m still learning to be an exhibit” and we check how it manages. We evaluate its intuitiveness, attractiveness, how easily visitors comprehend the phenomenon and the wording of the description. Subsequent changes of individual design elements, such as a specific detail, the interface or exhibit appearance may help improve the overall effect.
What is the objective?
When do we consider an exhibit to be a good one? It should enable users to experience a natural phenomenon, offering the ability to study it in various ways, without following a fixed script. It is desirable for the phenomenon to be accessible on various levels of experimentation, and to emerge together with the user. Work on an exhibit is never really finished, as we know that it can always be changed and improved.
When working on the rearrangement of our exhibition in the west part of the upper floor, we collaborated with the best designers in the world. We started creating exhibits in our workshops following their suggestions, and also copying and learning from the methods of traditional craftsmen: how to make the best mechanism, what kind of materials to use. Copying others teaches one attention to detail, greater familiarity with techniques, ways of thinking about how exhibit design. We tried to perfect many exhibit designs by adding a twist of our own – we made then among others „Dropping Ball” and „Chaotic Pendulum”. The experience so acquired and the resulting familiarity with the fundamentals of craftsmanship then enabled us to strike out on our own – producing high quality exhibits featuring certain phenomena or laws of nature. During the second phase of the modernization and rearrangement of the upper floor, we already worked autonomously, building on the knowledge and experience gained from this earlier collaboration. We created then exceptionally attractive exhibits, such as „Sandbox” or „Bright Black”.