Responses by Giorgia Lupi, partner, Pentagram.
Background: Mindworks: The Science of Thinking is the world’s first discovery center and working lab dedicated to behavioral science. Presented by the Center for Decision Research at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, the space is a one-of-a-kind experience where people can learn more about how their minds work and, at the same time, contribute to groundbreaking science as participants. Pentagram developed a fun, engaging experience design for Mindworks, immersing visitors in an interactive exhibit space that both introduces the concepts behind behavioral science and produces quality research.
Design thinking: The Mindworks exhibits bring the principles of behavioral science to life in an engaging, meaningful way. Visitors are invited to participate in a series of interactive installations that explore the theories, concepts and factors behind the field through games, puzzles, infographics and other activities. We developed an infrastructure for asking questions that would result in valuable research data. Abstract concepts have been translated into physical data visualizations that help people learn through doing.
The experiments are fun and encourage a sense of play while providing scientific value for researchers as they collect data. The exhibits employ the principles of “data humanism,” using data to uncover the human stories behind the numbers and statistics and to challenge the idea of data as something impersonal and intimidating. Built around the system of pegboard panels, the modular design can be easily updated with new exhibits and information.
Favorite details: We are most proud of Design Your Best Life, the marquee exhibit that illustrates the pioneering research of University of Chicago (UChicago) professor Richard Thaler on choice architecture. Choice architecture refers to how choices can be shaped and manipulated to make better decisions. Since Thaler recently won the Nobel Prize and his scholarship has been transformational to the study of behavioral science, we wanted this installation to be a marquee moment in the space from the beginning—bold, graphic and highly visible even from the street.
The interactive elements ask visitors to reflect on their goals, consider what stumbling blocks hold them back from achieving their goals, and determine strategies to reframe their blocks and help them succeed. These questions guide visitors in building their own physical “data portrait” from cut plastic shapes, which are then assembled and added to the wall above. Each shape maps directly to an answer chosen by a visitor. In this way, Design Your Best Life functions as a physical legend to the data visualization being formed visitor by visitor. It is exciting for visitors to physically assemble their composite data portrait as they reflect on the questions and select their answers. There’s also an added benefit of seeing what “data portraits” from previous visitors are similar to yours.
Challenges: Most of the design process took place during the pandemic, making on-site visits and face-to-face interaction with UChicago researchers and students impossible. To overcome this barrier, we conducted a series of virtual workshops where the university’s academic experts could teach and unpack their research seminar style. Then, we asked questions and collaboratively explored potential solutions that we could then translate into a working experience.
Visual influences: The distinctive look of the space flows from the visual identity Pentagram created for the exhibition. The Mindworks logo appears in modernist geometric typography that is dynamic and progressive while also welcoming and approachable. The wordmark integrates a series of circles that echo the workshop design and hint at systems and data collection. The dots carry through to patterns within the environmental graphics. The branding playfully honors UChicago’s heritage as a rigorous academic institution while appealing to a broader audience. The graphics appear in the official school colors of maroon and gray with a secondary palette of bright, bold accents.
Specific project demands: We faced the challenge of integrating exhibits within the context of a working lab with its own testing and interview rooms, which make up a majority of the space. Architectural firm KrueckSexton Partners conceived the exhibition architecture as a series of cubes in the open atrium of Chicago’s Railway Exchange Building. The exhibition design uses the outer walls of these volumes as display surfaces. The lab’s functionality inspired a workshop aesthetic, with pegboard providing the basis of a modular display system. This “kit of parts” ties into the user experience, and a lo-fi look helps make the complex concepts behind the experiments more accessible and tangible in a real-world context.