Environmental design is practical and purposeful. The space that we are in and the information that we glean from it has a profound impact on our interpretation of the world.
Which is why when we started a project to transform an existing exhibit space for Google’s Policy team, located in the Google Partner Plex in Mountain View, we began by looking at the environment, understanding how people interact with it, then deciding how to evolve it.
With the unique audiences that are visiting the building, the Policy team wanted to use the space as an opportunity to share the immense amount of social good that the company is doing around the world—while also showing in real-time how that is relevant to each individual person.
Traveling Through the Space
Knowing that the existing environment couldn’t be changed, we had to work with the current physical and technical infrastructure while at the same time being mindful of the context of the space—understanding how a guest would interact with the environment and how we could create a positive and engaging experience from that digitally.
The conundrum: how do we provide the same experience whether someone is passing through the space alone or being guided by a Google host?
The exhibit is comprised of nine mounted screens that are driven by an interactive touch podium that controls the entire experience.
To best understand the many ways in which visitors would interact with the exhibit space, we observed the context in which they used the environment. This started with creating a playtesting experience with a prototype in the space—from which we learned numerous lessons, such as where a user’s attention naturally goes. It was there that we discovered some challenges. For example, the touchscreen on the podium tended to keep each visitor’s full attention, making it difficult to guide them to the wall to view the content.
Creating a Complete Experience
If a member of the Policy team is acting as a host, that person would control the podium and lead the guests through the experience. In contrast, when a guest visits the space alone, their physical relationship to the exhibit is limited. Because the guest would need to be at the podium to drive the experience that would mean that their viewing distance would be further, and they wouldn’t have access to all the displays. With this constraint in mind, we would have to keep all the “core” content visible and readable to a guest in that position and only put secondary information on the screens that are not in view.
These two scenarios provided us with largely opposing experiences for guests.
However, because this exhibit is part of a curated experience, we focused on the guided context. That experience needed to be complete, where a guest wouldn’t need to access the podium to get all the information they wanted—it could be provided by the host leading it. But even with this guided context being the focus, we still wanted to be mindful of the guests who didn’t have a host, meaning that the information would still be accessible and easy to understand—this included everything from the interaction UI to the ability to access content.
Considering Many Factors
There were many factors to consider, such as: where a host would be situated versus an individual guest. This was incredibly important to think about for the overall experience—as certain elements in the space could interfere with it. For example, because the environment is high contrast, as the light came in and changed throughout the day it would affect the view of the screens, making it more difficult to read them. In addition, guests with visual impairments might potentially have an even more difficult time with legibility and readability. These variables were addressed by adjusting things such as, color, contrast and copy. For example, using more black and white colors and shorter more narrow blocks of copy.
Beyond the visual aspects of the environment, we wanted to make sure that any user would be able to physically access the podium, which is why we thought about things like how far a person would have to reach onto the screen to access information and how they could access it from multiple angles.
Building off these considerations for the space, the content that the exhibit displayed was also crucial.
There was a plethora of content to work with that was relevant and important to share, but it had been created for other platforms, so we designed ways to repurpose all of the pieces to tell a curated story. We also considered how it might spark intrigue, give people a deeper understanding of the projects, and set the stage for meaningful follow-up conversations. How could we take the existing knowledge and assets and grow them into this environment?
Beyond just making the content fit, we thought about how it could be tailored to each visitor, knowing that the guests who visit the space are from different geographies, regions, backgrounds, and more. We wanted to create an experience that would be relevant to each of them—while also piquing their interest in the work that Google is doing.
Bringing it Together
In the end, this project was about showcasing all the good things Google has done around the world, big and small, and how those things have impacted people, communities, and the planet.
To accomplish all the above goals, we created an app and custom CMS that reflected all of our learnings and understandings of the space, which took into account things like a guest’s attraction and focus on the podium touchscreen—then how to guide them from that screen to the wall.
But the project was about so much more than just creating a system for the experience. Evolving an existing space to create the right experience—without changing the architecture—required an incredible amount of forethought and intention.
To give the space a new life, our team combined the many variables of audience and content with a multi-screen and multi-person environment into a purposeful view of the good that Google is doing in the world. This transformation took time and coordination with a team of many partners at Google. We’re proud that the end result is a showcase that can highlight something impactful for guests.
Collect and unify dozens of different data sources
Developing iteratively, continuing to take in new insights and improve the space