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Interactive Annual 14:

The National World War One Museum: Great War Tables

Launch Movie

“Proof that interactivity and visual storytelling can bring even the driest subjects to life.” —Jon McVey

“Encouraging user-generated content by creating a personalized memorial makes this trip to the history museum an enlightening experience.” —Gabrielle Weinman

Overview: In 2006 the National World War I Museum opened in Kansas City, Missouri, in commemoration of those who served in the first World War. At the core of the 30,000-square-foot building are two 26-foot-long interactive tables that give visitors the opportunity to delve deeper into the strategic and technological aspects of the war. Visitors can watch archival video footage, browse photographic collections and learn on their own about military technologies or participate in 24-person group interactive challenges that parallel the military, political and civilian aspects of the global conflict.

  • The tables were developed over a year by a team of fifteen.
  • Light pens are used as the cursors to make selections on the illuminated tables.
  • Created in Flash, the tables use C# wrappers to drive and sync video content.

Comments by Jennifer Young and Christian Bannister:

What was the most challenging aspect of the project?
“Just as there are challenges unique to designing site-specific interactive media (as compared to online media), group-based interactives have their own unique set of challenges. But, the challenge of developing an activity for twelve unique interfaces that engage with each other for over fifteen minutes was immense.

“We had to account for varying completion durations for different visitors, as well as scenarios with different numbers of visitors (from 2 to 24). We had to make each zone compelling whether the table was full or half empty, and we had to alternate between full-table storytelling sections and activity sections.

“When we originally designed the individual mode of the table, we thought each of the twelve interface zones would have the same options: Visitors would be able to access all of the different activities from wherever they sat. The challenge was how to effectively advertise for all the different activities within the interface.

“When we played with different types of attract sequences we began thinking, ‘Why not utilize the expansive table to do this?’ Both table surfaces are filled with unique content; visitors can make choices about what they want to do by looking around. There’s a bonus: It promotes more interaction between people. The tables are proving to be a great way to provide the interaction audiences crave while preserving the social context of a museum experience.”

Did you learn anything new during the process?
“We learned a lot about how to orient and size videos around a table, how to direct discreet audio to different zones without headphones and how to accommodate visitors in wheelchairs. By far our biggest lesson was the importance of early prototyping and user testing. The more you invest in creating a prototype that’s as close as possible to the real thing, the fewer surprises you’ll have when you install.”

Brad Johnson, creative director
Lisa Berndt/James Lide, writers
Kemp Atwood, lead designer
Christian Bannister/Martin Linde/Kieran Lynn, designers
Matt Arnold/Thomas Wester, technical leads
Christian Bannister/Kieran Lynn, developers
Thomas Wester, lead programmer
Zach Archer/Matt Arnold/Seb Chevrel, programmers
Matt Arnold, 3-D designer
Martin Linde/Ryan Rothermel/Alphonse Swinehart, motion graphics
Loren Van Wiel, mapping artist
Jason Wells, sound engineer
Julie Beeler, studio director
Jennifer Young, producer
Christian Sabyan/Shane Farrell, production assistants
James Lide/Jennifer Young, researchers
Potion, interactive table designer
Electrosonic Incorporated, audiovisual system
Donna Lawrence Productions, audiovisual production
SH Acoustics, acoustic consultant
Ralph Appelbaum and Associates, exhibition designer
Second Story Interactive Studios (Portland, OR), project design and development
The National World War One Museum, client