people looking at touch screen
Interactive Exhibit

Widener Rice Room Interactive

Widener Rice Room Digital Interactives – Philadelphia Museum of Art from Interactive Mechanics on Vimeo.

As part of the reinstallation of “Drawing Room from a Town House: 901 Fifth Avenue, New York City,” the Philadelphia Museum of Art reached out to us to create a pair of high resolution digital interactives to allow visitors to take a closer look at 66 of the room’s objects. 

The re-installation focused on a complete recreation of Eleanore Elkins Widener Rice’s Gilded Age drawing room as designed by the firm of Maison Carlhian in 1923. The PMA wanted interactives to allow visitors to delve into the context of the time period and this particular family’s story, and to give them a closer look at the collection of eighteenth-century French furniture and decorative arts, including objects from Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette.

Collaborative & Iterative

We worked directly with the digital, education, and curatorial teams in a hands-on and highly collaborative process. We helped refine text in collaboration with their content specialist and curator, to best fit it into the existing structure and to draw users in. We tested animation and interactivity through early prototypes, and worked through six rounds of wireframes and three rounds of design revisions in under two months to rapidly incorporate feedback throughout the project timeline. Our on-site development sessions gave PMA staff direct, immediate input on refinements and quality assurance, improving user experience throughout the process. We used Slack, an online team communication tool, as a way to encourage more casual, frequent conversation, as well as for small file storage so that everything was in one place.

Philadelphia Museum of Art Rice Room Interactive

Interactive & Accesible

Using the 360° panorama, users can drag to explore the room from multiple angles, or pinch and zoom to see objects in the distance. They can zoom in and out on individual objects, drag to spin an object and view it from different angles, and explore contextual imagery related to the object and its history. We also replicated the cabinets in the space as interactive elements, so that visitors can open them and examine otherwise hidden objects in detail.

The PMA’s period rooms tend to draw older visitors, so our design centered on accessibility, including a text size control to enlarge text throughout the interface. Using feedback from user testing, we added instructional icons to help explain the various touch controls for unfamiliar audiences.

Forward Thinking

We built the final interactives as a web-based HTML5 experience with an easy-to-update data management system using Jekyll, and installed them on 20” SHARP LED multitouch displays in the gallery space. The PMA wanted to work towards integrating a content management system (CMS) in the future, allowing for content updates without hard coding, so we designed with flexibility in mind. We used a data structure with JSON that allows for content changes with minimal developer support, and that also allows for integration of the CMS of their choice, so that the interactives can be used in other period rooms as well.