Great design has the potential to influence positive change. It can be a catalyst for shifting behaviours, educating and mobilising citizens to make more informed decisions. The way in which we approach science communication through exhibit design and immersive experience is based on the premise that people belong within the natural ecosystem of life, and do not live in separation from it. Therefore our work is centred around the visitor, to create an immersive experience that will both educate and empower the individual to live a more sustainable life.
Designing a great exhibit starts with the end in mind. Three questions can be asked when we sit in the ideation phase of a new project. Firstly, what sustainability issue are we looking at? Secondly, what impact will the design have on the individual visitor? Thirdly, what is the collective impact? The answers to these questions will steer our design towards creating experiences that prompt meaningful connections that aim to demonstrate the importance of finding solutions to the world’s most pressing sustainability issues.
Our mission is clear, we create experiences that empower people and the planet, and this needs to be demonstrated in our work.
How do we put this into practice? Let’s take a look at some examples:
The world’s largest ecosystem, the ocean plays a massive role towards human wellbeing, our economy, and future sustainability. Healthy and balanced ocean ecosystems provide food, boost tourism and regulate climate. Unfortunately, many of our ocean ecosystems are overfished, polluted with microplastics, and are subject to an array of human anthropogenic impacts. According to recent ocean studies, 75% of the world’s coral reefs are experiencing heat stress with rising ocean temperatures, and 30% have been severely impacted by bleaching, an unfavourable phenomenon where coral will expel crucial algae in response to heat stress. To educate citizens on the importance of our ocean ecosystems and the role they play in our lives, formula D_ was commissioned to conceptualise and create a large-scale, interactive, audiovisual experience. The Immersive Gulf Stream Experience, an 18-metre long and 3-metre high interactive projection environment, showcases the powerful, warm ocean and exposes visitors to its influence on the food chain and fish schooling behaviours.
As visitors walk through the virtual Gulf Stream projection, they are exposed to three-dimensional animations, elusive and seldom-seen creatures of these waters. The objective of this design was not only to educate visitors about this ocean environment but to also facilitate a meaningful connection with the many species that inhabit this ecosystem.
Moving onto our coastal environments, wetlands play a crucial role in flood prevention, climate regulation, and water quality and provide a habitat for millions of aquatic and terrestrial species. Wetlands like the Everglades in Florida are some of the World’s most biodiverse environments. However, this environment has come under threat with nearby development affecting natural water flow, agricultural run-off, and with the introduction of invasive aquatic species. About 1.7 million acres of the Everglades have been invaded by non-native plants, such as the Brazilian Peppertree, Chinese privet, the broad-leaved paperbark tree or “melaleuca”, and Old World climbing fern.
The River of Grass is a captivating visitor exhibition aimed at educating young children on the Everglade’s unique and sensitive ecosystem. A massive interactive wall and floor projection system provides a host of playful interactions within a virtual environment to stimulate understanding of Florida’s precious wetland ecosystem. While immersed, visitors can experience this environment from dawn to dusk and through the night to see what animals come out at each time.
Going a step further, visitors can alter log props that can be placed at different parts of the waterways to ‘build’ dams. When doing this visitors can clearly see how human interventions influence the natural water flows, plants and animal species that inhabit this ecosystem.
One of the greatest sustainability issues of our current time is the waste that we generate. We all know that recycling is the right thing to do, but many of us do not know the mechanics of recycling different materials, what the circular economy is, and how important it is for us to divert waste from landfills.
Roper Mountain Science Center in the USA commissioned formula D_ to build a ‘Waste Wall’, an installation that presents visitors with common grocery items and a barcode scanner. Visitors use the barcode scanner to scan different items to see how the product and its packaging enters the waste management system. We need to understand how the waste management system works, what can be recycled and what should be landfilled. When we understand this, we can separate our waste from its source. Waste source separation is one of the most fundamentally important stages of sustainable waste management. Separating waste types into solid recyclables, organic waste, electronic waste and landfill waste, not only makes it easier to manage these individual waste streams but also increases the value of recyclables as it takes fewer resources (water and energy) to recirculate these materials back into the market.
Through creating meaningful connections with different environments and species, understanding our impact on the world, and investigating solutions to the many different sustainability issues that face us – we can become empowered to join the collective action that is needed for sustainable development. The UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development requires active citizenship.