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CMME: Design Toolkit

Contributions from Malorie Landgreen, Emily O’Hara, Robert Rayle, Michael Horvath, and Beth Malandain This post includes the design specifications for the final exhibit we created as the Museum of Science’s portion of the Creating Museum Media for Everyone (CMME) project. In addition to the physical specifications you will read about below, we also wrote a blog post where you can download the source code for this computer-based interactive. The design toolkit for this exhibit includes:

  • Annotated technical drawings of the as-built casework
  • Annotated digital and print graphic files
  • High-contrast tactile model options
  • Buttons and audio phone parts list

Final CMME exhibit Picture of the final CMME exhibit with labels showing the locations of the printed labels, buttons, audio phone, tactile models, new casework, and touch screen.

Technical drawings:

The technical drawings for this exhibit show the as-built casework. You can download an annotated .pdf file of the CAD drawings for the exhibit by clicking here.

CMME Sample from Annotated CAD Drawing This exhibit was a refurbishment of an existing component, so you will see how we built the new casework over the previous design. These adjustments were made so that we could fit in the touchscreen and the control button interface, but we also made some design decisions for the new casework so that the final exhibit was more accessible. Some of these changes include:

  • Relocating the audio phone to the front edge of the new casework
  • Adding a speaker to play broadcast audio
  • Adjusting the touchscreen to be mounted at a 45-degree angle for better viewing for children and visitors who were seated
  • Lowering the underside of the kiosk to 27” to enable cane detection for visitors who are blind/have low vision
  • Ensuring the new pull-under space was 17” deep to facilitate ease of use by wheelchair users

Digital and print graphics:

The annotated PDF of the digital and print graphics for this exhibit show the final designs used in the exhibit. The primary elements that were taken into consideration include:

  • Font size for body copy of printed and digital labels should be no smaller than 22pt
  • Contrast between the text and background of printed and digital labels for body copy is ideally at 70%
  • A tactile touchscreen overlay that was clear, durable, and did not affect use of the touchscreen

Final touch screen with the polycarbonate overlays Picture of the touchscreen with the overlay. The edge of the cutout in the top layer of polycarbonate is visible along the graph axes.

CMME Sample Graphic Polycarbonate For the touchscreen overlay we used two adhered layers of the 0.020'' from McMaster-Carr #85585K15. The top layer is cut so that the axes are tactile, with notches at each gridline, and the trend line slider below. The bottom layer protects the touchscreen.

High-contrast tactile models:

In order for the tactile scale models of the wind turbines to be useful for all visitors, we wanted them to be raised for use as touchable models, but also high-contrast, so that they were visible against the background. We had the tactile images made as 3D prints, but they can also be made as plastic casts.

Tactile array Picture of the five high-contrast, tactile wind turbine images, each with a representation of a six-foot person for scale. These tactile pieces are 3D prints.

To create the high-contrast, 3D-printed images, our exhibit designer used Adobe Illustrator software to draw the turbines to-scale with an image of a six-foot person next to each. The turbines were drawn within a larger background piece, so that all five would line up next to each other on the final exhibit and for durability. If each turbine was 3D-printed alone, the fineness of the turbines would not have allowed for a strong adhesion to a backing piece.

CMME Sample 3D-print Illustration Image of the illustration that was used to create the 3D prints. This drawing was then converted into Vectorworks. The file was sent to PROTO3000 and they made the two-color 3D prints with the turbines in dark gray and the background in cream.

Tactile Close-up Picture showing a close-up of the 3D printed turbines. The lines from the 3D printing are visible and they create a subtle texture that can be felt in the final product.

The five 3D-Prints (ABS-M30)cost$925.00, but they were the only way we were able to produce the fine lines of the wind turbine models. We were worried about the durability, but they have been on exhibit for almost six months and they are holding up well. None of the fine-lined pieces have broken.

If the durable, two-color 3D printing is out of your price range, creating a two-color plastic cast is another option. We used this technique for another exhibit and it has also held up well while on exhibit. For this technique, you could make your own object to create the mold, or have a single-color 3D-print of the object in a less durable material made (which is less expensive), and then use that print to create a mold to create your two-color cast. This also enables you to create extra copies of the tactile pieces as replacements, if they are ever needed.

Tactile RoboBee Side-view picture of a tactile model on display at the Museum. This tactile model was cast in two colors of plastic, grey and black, to create a high-contrast image that was touchable. You can see the shallow depth of the tactile piece against the background. We found that too much depth separating the image from the background made it harder for visitors to interpret the shape through touch alone.

Buttons and audio phone:

The buttons and audio phone technology we used for this exhibit match those we use in the rest of the Museum. These are products we have found to be durable and easy to maintain. We also try to keep them consistent so that visitors recognize how to interact with them throughout their Museum visit. We use illuminated buttons with 3-chip white LED lamps from Suzo –Happ. Our audio phones are Gorilla phones from Stop & Listen. Each of the Gorilla phones is hooked up to an audio player. We use the CFSound IV player from Akerman Computer Sciences (ACS).

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by Emily O'Hara View Emily O'Hara's User Profile on Dec 31, 2014

CMME: Using Personas in Exhibit Development

Personas, or hypothetical archetypes of actual users, were created as part of the Creating Museum Media for Everyone (CMME) project. Each persona represents a potential visitor and their characteristics were developed using real user data. These personas were meant to help guide exhibit development teams to think about the exhibit experience for a wide range of users. You can read more about the development of the personas by clicking here. You can also view and download the most recent version of the personas by clicking here.

For the final CMME exhibit at the Museum of Science, we used the personas to help define the potential visitor experiences and identify where gaps in each user’s potential experience may exist.

Sample image from spreadsheet

This is a snapshot from the full persona goal planning document we developed. You can download the full version of our goal planning spreadsheet by clicking here.

When planning to use the personas, we first defined the skills a visitor would be practicing and what they would understand from each of those interactions, within three learning levels. These levels were based on the Planning Pyramid Degrees of Learning, as defined by Schumm, Vaughn, and Leavell (1994). The reinterpreted levels we used for the exhibit are:

  • Level 1. What all visitors should learn
  • Level 2. What most but not all visitors will learn
  • Level 3. What some visitors will learn

Visitors need to understand and practice the skills at level one, in order to build on their learning in level two and level three interactions. An example of a level one goal is that visitors would use the skill of observing data to understand that one dot on the scatterplot graph represents a piece of data. This basic understanding is necessary for a visitor to understand all other elements in this graph-based exhibit.

We then extrapolated each of these skill/understanding pairs and defined how each of the persona examples would interact with the exhibit at that level. For example, when using the Cynthia persona we would first refer to her persona description for characteristics we needed to consider when imagining her interaction with the exhibit:

  • Cynthia became blind as an adult, she desires specific (but not simplified) instructions, and relies on audio information to give her directions.

We would then write out, based on the exhibit design, how Cynthia might accomplish each goal.

  • Level 2 goal: Visitors will practice describing data and understand there is a pattern in the data.
  • Cynthia’s interaction: I detect a pattern in the data auditorily (broadcast audio). Audio (broadcast audio, sonification of the trend line, and audio text label) prompts help me observe patterns I might not have noticed.

We extrapolated the 13 interaction goals for each of the eight personas. This practice also revealed where there were holes in supporting visitor interactions, for example:

  • Level 2 goal: Visitors will interact with the data by exploring details within the data.
  • Some of Alec’s characteristics: Alec has Autism Spectrum Disorder, he is comfortable with computers, prefers quiet environments, and, when using interactives, he likes to be able to manage the amount of sensory stimulation he receives.
  • Alec’s interaction for the level 2 goal: The current version has audio feedback always linked to tactile exploration. He would not have control over managing the amount of sensory stimulation he received while he was actively interacting with the graph. This would be a limiting factor for Alec's interest and willingness to explore the details within the data.

Our team decided that not all goals needed to be met by all visitor personas. For example, we acknowledged that Molly, who has an intellectual disability and doesn’t particularly like science, might not interact with the exhibit for the level 3 goal of using data to compare/draw hypotheses and understanding that you can answer your questions by observing patterns in the data.

Going through the process of defining the degrees of learning goals for the exhibit enabled us to understand the ways in which we hoped a visitor might understand the exhibit. Writing out the specific experiences we imagined for each of the persona characters then enabled us to have a concrete vision of which components supported these visitor interactions, which components detracted from a visitor’s experience, and where there may be holes in the visitor experience.

How might you use the personas in exhibit development? Share your thoughts in the comments below.


Schumm, J.S., Vaughn, S., & Leavell, A.G. (May 1994). Planning pyramid: A framework for planning for diverse student needs during content area instruction. The reading teacher, 47 (8), 608-615.

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by Emily O'Hara View Emily O'Hara's User Profile on Dec 30, 2014

CMME Workshop Discussion: Applying Universal Design to Museum Experiences

The Creating Museum Media for Everyone (CMME) workshop brought experts from many different fields together to consider how to create accessible digital interactives for museums. Much of the week-long CMME workshop was spent creating prototypes for digital interactives that focused on data manipulation. In addition, workshop participants had one discussion about other typical museum experiences that are facilitated through digital interactives and how they might be made more inclusive to all visitors.

The three types of digital interactive-based museum offerings that CMME workshop participants discussed were:

  • exploring artifact-based collections,
  • learning about current science and technology through an updating newsfeed, and
  • taking part in design-based activities.

Outlined below is an overview of the questions and ideas that arose in the discussions around making these experiences accessible to all visitors.


Exploring artifact-based collections

During the CMME workshop, participants discussed how computer interactives can be used to help offer interpretation of artifacts that are presented in a museum’s galleries. As can be seen in the photo below, the Museum of Science has incorporated digital interpretation in some of their exhibitions such as the Colby Room to allow visitors to explore artifacts that would otherwise be inaccessible.

Photo of a digital interactive touch screen in the Colby Room at the Museum of Science, Boston
Photo of a digital interactive that allows visitors to explore artifacts in the Colby Room at the Museum of Science, Boston


However, at the CMME workshop participants discussed how making artifacts accessible requires more than just offering the interpretation in multiple formats. Some of the main questions and ideas that came up when thinking about how computer interactives could help visitors explore artifact-based collections are listed below.

What do you need to keep in mind about the design of the learning experience?

  • Consider what will be most meaningful for your visitors when deciding what to display. There may be pros and cons to displaying detailed information about each artifact.
  • Include tactile or haptic versions of the artifacts to increase opportunities for engagement. Teaching collections may be one way to allow visitors to handle artifacts.
  • Provide additional interpretive materials such as labels with pertinent information or descriptive audio messages so that more visitors can better understand the collections or messages you are trying to convey.
  • Think about how computer-based interactives can provide further opportunities for learning and engagement. Interactives could link to a digital database or allow visitors to add their own knowledge about an artifact to the display.
  • Consider ways to simplify information and provide organization and structure so that visitors with a range of abilities can access the information. For example, offer a general overview of the digital interactive’s content before options for drilling deeper.
  • Create compelling stories that allow more people to engage with the exhibit. Use provocative pairing of objects to help visitors connect with the display and the overall exhibit message.

Photo of CMME workshop participants sitting at a table, talking to each other
Photo of professionals brainstorming at the CMME workshop


Learning about current science and technology through an updating news feed

Another type of digital media experience that some museums offer is an updating “news feed” of information. These communication channels are providing new ways to interact with visitors and non-visitors alike. For example, science centers may be posting Twitter-type updates or links about new scientific discoveries to their website. At the CMME workshop, participants discussed some of the following questions when considering the creation and accessibility of these increasingly popular digital museum experiences.

What is the purpose of your news feed?

  • Articulate what your museum is trying to accomplish in order to help potential followers have a better understanding of the type of information that will be included.
  • Are you trying to digitally engage people after their on-site visits are over?
  • Do you want to show that scientific research is occurring in real time?
  • Do you feel that access to current information will help inform the public’s decision-making?

What types of information are people expecting to receive from the museum on an updating basis?

  • People don’t necessarily look to museums as sources for breaking news.
  • Highlighting connections between news stories and the institution’s mission, exhibits, or collections may help people better understand the museum’s relevance.

Who is curating the posted information and what is the timeframe of breaking news?

  • Where does this digital information come from? Quality matters.
  • Who posts new information? Museums are in a unique position to add additional context or background information to a story by drawing from their own institutional research or exhibits.
  • When will new posts be uploaded? Reliability is important.

Is the news feed universally designed and accessible?

  • Museums must create accessible ways for people to navigate through the available information and perceive what is on the news feed.
  • For visitors who are blind or have low vision, is the news feed screen-reader compatible? Are there audible options for learning about updates?
  • For some visitors on the autism spectrum the news feed should not be too visually overwhelming.

Will people be able to contribute to the conversation?

  • Allowing people to add their own opinions and share information might further the conversation and deliver a more engaging experience for visitors.
  • It is necessary to provide feedback opportunities that are accessible to a range of users.

Photo of CMME workshop participants in discussion
Photo of CMME workshop participants in discussion


Taking part in design-based activities that are inclusive to everyone

Iterative design-based experiences, such as maker spaces or engineering design challenge activities, have become widespread in museums, especially in science centers. These experiences encourage creative thinking and hands-on participation by having visitors make different creations or solve a problem by creating a product. At the CMME workshop, participants talked about how incorporating digital technology into this process might help make these activities accessible to all visitors, including those with disabilities. Below are some ideas and questions that arose during this discussion.

Are the materials and the space accessible?

  • At many design spaces, visitors have to move to different stations to gather materials. Limiting the need to move from one table to the next and having all necessary materials in one spot might help reduce visitor confusion and make the experience better for those who are blind or who use a wheelchair.

How can you help all visitors work through different steps of the process?

  • At some institutions, facilitators help visitors through the design process. However, at museums where there is no facilitation, adding radio frequency identification (RFiD) tags that trigger descriptions of the different steps and materials could enable broader participation and scaffold the process.
  • RFiD tags could connect with a digital screen and provide information and suggestions about the different materials through audio and captioning.
  • Positive feedback from facilitating staff and RFiD-tagged objects could help encourage further visitor engagement.
  • The RFiD tags could also be programmed to trigger reminders for visitors to clean up their designs or leave materials at the station.

How can visitors test their designs in an accessible manner?

  • Testing designs is an important part of the design process at these types of activities.
  • Museums can increase accessibility in the testing process by offering many different levels of success. For instance, the task may have more than one goal or way to define a winning design. Visitors could choose which goal they want to accomplish. Taking into account the number of times someone tests their design could also help determine whether or not someone accomplished the task.


We hope that information from this brainstorming session at the CMME workshop will be helpful to you when thinking about accessibility in your projects. If you have other thoughts about how to make these types of museum experiences accessible to all or examples of how you’ve done so in your own work, feel free to share them in the comments below.

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by Marta Beyer View Marta Beyer's User Profile on Dec 18, 2014

CMME: Toolkit Source Code for Interactive

Written by Ben Jones

This computer-based interactive is the result of our Creating Museum Media for Everyone (CMME) work at the Museum of Science. In this post, we are including the source code so that individuals or institutions can repurpose the code for their own projects. A full description of this exhibit can be found in the Final Exhibit Component blog post.

In this interactive, we used a wind turbine dataset from our “Catching the Wind” exhibition. The dataset was used to create five scatter plot graphs, each with a trend line, which can be explored and sonified to the visitor through a touchscreen interface. There are physical buttons in front of the touchscreen that allow switching between each of the graphs.

In our exhibit we graphed five datasets. In the exhibit, each of the graphs is triggered through a button press, but when working with the source code, each of the graphs aligns with keystrokes 1-5, so that you can view each dataset individually. Pressing 7 will give you additional instructions about how to use the interactive, which is normally triggered by another button on the physical exhibit interface. The interactive has a time-out feature and the next person interacting with the interactive is assumed to be a new visitor. The interactive locks each new visitor into a tutorial, which explains how to use the interface. Control is given back to the visitor after the tutorial is finished.

The included source code is being released with precompiled executables for Windows and Mac OS. The executable and the datasets load dynamically in a configuration file. Both of these can be adjusted to fit your own data and look-and-feel.

The files can be downloaded by clicking here.

The Config XML file can be used to customize the following aspects of the interactive:

  • Datasets
  • Graph Titles
  • Axis labels
  • Time-out length
  • All images
  • All sound files
  • Size and color of data points
  • Size and color of trend line
  • Keystroke graph selection

A few things to note that are not customizable in this interactive through XML are:

  • Read aloud values less than 0 or greater than 9999
  • Decimal numbers (1.5, 2.7, 3.14, etc)
  • Number of tick marks on graph
  • Playback speed of sonification

If you want more functionality than the current program, the source code is available to be customized. This interactive was written in C# and is built to run on the free version of Unity.

We'd love to hear the cool things you're doing with the source code for this interactive! Please share in the comments section below.

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by Emily O'Hara View Emily O'Hara's User Profile on Nov 18, 2014

CMME: Haptic Paths Not Taken

Post written by: Marta Beyer, Peter Moriarty, Emily O’Hara, Robert Rayle

Going into the Creating Museum Media for Everyone (CMME) project, our team had several key criteria in mind when experimenting with the creation of a haptic exhibit:

  • the exhibit needed to allow visitors to explore, interpret, and compare graphical data sets;
  • the exhibit need to allow visitors to be able to identify trends within the data and to explore individual data points; and
  • the exhibit needed to be durable and affordable.

Below is a description of five different haptic approaches we considered for this project. These approaches primarily focus on haptics as an output method for feedback; although, we acknowledge some technologies can also be used for haptic inputs. This post highlights some of the challenges we encountered and some of the decisions we made along the way in regards to including haptics in the final exhibit.

Haptic approach—Vibration levels

Although members of the CMME team have been thinking about haptic possibilities for many years, the specific efforts related to this grant began during a multi-day workshop held in the spring of 2012. This workshop brought experts from diverse fields together to consider how to develop accessible digital museum interactives that convey scientific data. One of the multi-institutional teams focused on how dynamic haptic options could tactically represent data displayed on a graph. During their brainstorming, the team explored various possible devices such as air tables, ball bearings controlled by magnets, vibrating tables, and contrasting tactile elements. The team also thought about how visitors may not have an established skill set to interpret haptic feedback and how that might play into the exhibit design. After just a few days thinking about these questions, the team had a working prototype that conveyed information through a vibrating puck device that used three different tactile speeds. This directional vibration feedback was created using an off-center rotating pager motor mounted in the puck. Click here to read more about this work and watch a video of the prototype.

Vibrating puck haptic prototype from CMME workshop
Photo of the haptic prototype created during the CMME Workshop


  • Visitors often do not have detailed touch memory that allows them to distinguish between multiple vibration frequencies and to remember what they signify.
  • Visitors can easily get vibration fatigue.
  • Having a puck on the component’s surface made it difficult to see the visual aspects of the graph.
  • Traditionally, analogue doorbells and pager motors can be used in this application, but there are concerns about long-term sustainability because they are being phased out of production for commercial applications.

Decisions made

  • After considering these constraints, especially related to visitors’ limited touch memory, the team felt that the puck’s level of granularity, or range of three vibrations, was not sufficient for conveying the detailed content information. For an exhibit with deeper learning goals about understanding graphical data and a fine resolution of data points, we would need more tactile means than just three varying levels of frequencies to convey this content. After the workshop, the team took what they had learned and tried the following approaches for creating a haptic component to convey data alongside a visual and sonified graph.

Haptic approach—Moving arm

One of the next strategies that the CMME team considered was a moving arm that could provide haptic feedback to visitors. Some commercial technologies use a device that acts as both an input and output haptic controller to recreate the physical feedback of digital imagery. Most of these applications are used in video games, so that users can feel the vibration of their digital car driving down the road or the kick back of firing a gun while simultaneously using the same device to control their video game player. For example, the Novint Falcon is a gaming device that offers these features in an off-the-shelf product.


  • This technology is fairly expensive and cost prohibitive for other institutions who might want to replicate this work.
  • The durability of this technology has not been tested in museums.
  • This technology is focused on inputs and outputs for game feedback and may not be as applicable unless it is used in a gamified museum experience.

Decisions made

  • We decided not to further investigate this technology’s potential because the current options are financially out of reach for many in the museum field.

Haptic approach—Rumble

Because a traditional haptic feedback mechanism involves an off-kilter, pager-type motor to create linear vibrations, we considered using a variation of this method to convey more detailed graphical information. Linear resonant actuators, also known as voice coils, can use the same data as sonified outputs and apply them to a vibration mechanism. This rumble effect would give visitors the opportunity to feel different amounts of vibrations representing data densities or data values. We hoped this method would allow for finer granularity than the original vibration mechanism tested during the CMME workshop.


  • This method requires specialized technical design and staff knowledge.

Decisions made

  • We were pursuing multiple haptic methods concurrently and when we hit a staffing roadblock with the rumble technology, we decided to pursue other possibilities for using touch to convey data in our exhibit.

Haptic approach—Nuts and bolts

We also tried some exhibit prototypes that incorporated nuts at various heights on an array of bolts. The hope was that the final component could dynamically display data by turning the bolts, thus, making the nuts move to represent different values. During prototyping, each nut represented one of nine data points in a graph. The higher the value of the data point, the higher the nut was positioned vertically off the white box. To tactically understand what the graph was conveying, visitors felt the different positions of the nuts.

Two static nut and bolt prototypes used for testing
Photo of nut and bolt prototypes. Prototype on the left shows square nuts positioned on vertical threaded rods. Prototype on right shows square nuts positioned on horizontal threaded rods.


  • Even when tested in a static manner, with nothing moving, visitors had difficulty understanding the exhibit’s content.
  • Specifically, visitors had trouble tactilely distinguishing between the nut and the bolt and how that was meant to represent data.

Decisions made

  • We stopped exploring this haptic option after visitor confusion was apparent during testing and moved on to another haptic possibility for conveying content—moving air.

Haptic approach—Array of forced air

For this prototype, we used the sensation of different air pressures to convey data values. By hooking an air compressor to an array of valves that controlled how much air exited a series of holes, we were able to use higher pressure to represent higher values on the corresponding graph.

Forced air haptic prototype construction
Photo of the central interface of the forced air haptic prototype

As visitors moved their hands left or right across the array of air holes, they would feel differences in pressure proportional to the corresponding value of the trend line on the graph. Below is a video showing the forced air prototype being used by a visitor.

For this testing, both the sonification and haptic approach were used in combination. In this video, the visitor is feeling differences in air pressure and also hearing different audible notes that correspond with the value of the trend line, depending on where their hand is located along the x-axis of the graph.


  • Combining this haptic method with sonification of the graph proved confusing and over-stimulating for visitors. In most cases, they played the air holes like a musical instrument and did not even notice that there was an accompanying graph.
  • The long-term durability of the valves used to control the air is uncertain.
  • Since this approach used compressed air and each air hole generated a certain amount of noise as air flowed out of it, this design approach was rather loud. However, this could be replaced with an off-site air compressor when installed in a final exhibit.

Decisions made

  • Because sonification was the most promising route for creating a universally designed exhibit and because we had not found any affordable haptic options that did not over-stimulate visitors while also conveying the needed level of content, we stopped pursuing haptic possibilities. To learn more about what the final exhibit looks like click here.

Summary of haptic work

For the CMME project we explored how haptic technology might be incorporated into museum exhibits. Challenges kept our team from fully developing a haptics interactive; however, we have not given up on the immense possibilities that exist for haptics and museum exhibits. Indeed, it is likely that some of the issues we encountered with specific haptic technology, such as price and durability will be less of an issue in the future. We can’t wait to see what these exhibits look like and what expanded learning opportunities and accessibility they bring. If any of you are working on haptic projects at the moment or have other resources we may have missed, please share in the comments below!


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by Marta Beyer View Marta Beyer's User Profile on Nov 14, 2014
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