Interaction Lab

A hand holds a small cardboard prototype in front of a wall covered in drawings and notes

The Interaction Lab is a lab without walls—a new kind of R&D space—where we’re reimagining the museum experience for the 21st Century. Designed to keep pace with emergent technology and untethered to any one location or platform, we’re bringing a holistic, interactive design methodology to the very heart of Cooper Hewitt’s visitor experience—across digital, physical, and human interactions.

To do that, we’re living our mission as a design museum, creating a space for design as a living process, as we tackle our own design challenges openly and transparently, inviting visitors to co-create and test out ideas with us. Rather than calling ourselves an innovation lab, we’ve opted to focus on the interaction as the most essential unit of engagement with our visitors, conscious that an entire visitor experience is the sum of many interactions across platforms.

The Lab’s key output is a reimagined Cooper Hewitt visitor experience. Working in an open and participatory process, we will develop, iterate, and test prototypes with audiences inside our galleries, and optimize successful products for wider rollout. We will host gatherings of thinkers and practitioners across creative, technology, and cultural disciplines; offer public programs that engage audiences as collaborators; launch design challenges and commissions; develop digital and physical products and services; and generate thought leadership on evolving visitor experience in the museum sector—all of which will be shared widely and openly with the public.

We will be actively and openly documenting our progress as we create opportunities for new kinds of interactions, test out new and emerging technologies, and glean critical visitor insights, sharing learnings through public programs, workshops, publications, and conferences.


Activating Smithsonian Open Access (ASOA)

Activating Smithsonian Open Access Challenge (ASOA)  aims to support creative technology teams in designing engaging interactive experiences with Smithsonian Open Access collections for people all over the globe. Made possible by Verizon 5G Labs, this open call for proposals seeks to stimulate new ideas for inspiring interactions with over 3 million 2D and 3D objects in the Smithsonian’s Open Access collections, all available under a Creative Commons Zero (CC0) license for download, re-use, alteration, and even commercialization.

From these proposals, up to six finalists will receive $10,000 to develop functioning prototypes to be presented and used by the public, while creators retain all intellectual property rights. A significant goal of the program is to identify compelling projects that the Interaction Lab might explore for wider use in the future in collaboration with awarded finalists.

White text 'Tools and Approaches for Transforming Museum Experience' on a black background with the Cooper Hewitt Interaction Lab logo beneath

Tools and Approaches for Transforming Museum Experience 

The practical, financial, and social impacts of the coronavirus alongside a national reckoning with racial injustice has increased the urgency to address why, how, and for whom museums exist in the 21st century. For museum professionals, this pivotal question raises another: how might we transform our collective approach to designing museum experiences to better reflect the diverse communities we serve? To explore this critically important conversation, Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum’s Interaction Lab convened a series of workshops inviting 15 museum professionals doing groundbreaking work across visitor experience-related roles, representing: curatorial, education, audience research, programming and public engagement, visitor services, exhibition design, digital, and accessibility.

Co-authored by the working group, the contents of this toolkit are drawn from discussions that emerged during all workshop sessions, some by design and some organically. It contains thoughts and ideas on why transforming museum experience is necessary, questions to help leaders and practitioners move toward designing transformative museum experiences, and tactics to help drive this work forward for audiences and communities, including useful tools and approaches from the co-authors’ areas of practice. Thanks to the support of the Samuel H. Kress Foundation for making this work possible.

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