Welcome to the "Nation's Attic".

2020 Summer Internship with the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History

National Museum of American History Background

NMAH, nicknamed “America’s Attic”, houses a variety of artifacts and exhibits from different areas of American culture. From Abe Lincoln’s top hat, Willy Wonka’s infamous chocolate bar with the golden ticket, to one of the first heart lung machines, there's an artifact of interest for anyone that enters the museum. The design team at NMAH has been tasked with creating a welcome space that allows visitors to better connect to the mission of the museum and its vast collection of artifacts, from the minute they walk in.

The current welcome experience is rather unwelcoming. Security at the main doors creates for a stressful entry. When visitors finally get past security, they are met with the bat-mobile, and display cases filled with an assortment of artifacts from across history. This main lobby set up doesn't  seem to have any rhyme or reason, and visitors are often a perplexed by what the museum contains.

Image of the 1st floor main lobby of the museum. The bat-mobile sits at the center of the lobby, surrounded by artifact cases that contain a variety of artifacts. 

Creating an Extraordinary Welcome Experience for Every Visitor

As the NMAH design team had been focusing heavily on creating a welcome experience for visitors as they entered the museum, I was prompted to think of a new design system for the 1st floor entrance of the museum. I considered 3 aspects of the space that would benefit from a new design:

1) Seating System, an updated seating system that's much more friendly and allows for visitor interaction with the artifact cases 

2) Artifact Cases, a more cohesive system for the artifact walls that would display a variety of artifacts and get visitors excited to explore the rest of the museum

3) Placemaker, the main entrance needs something that gives visitors an instant understanding of the museum's mission, helping them better connect with the museum

Seating System Proposal

Getting rid of "airport benches" and creating a fun and functional main lobby

Looks comfy right? Not! The NMAH lobby seating system consists of benches that feel as though they belong in an airport, and the current welcome space of NMAH is not inviting. Visitors tend to use this area as a quick resting stop, rather than engaging with the space and artifact cases. This seating system offered no areas for visitor interaction.

Take a (New and Much Friendlier) Seat 

By studying this space, and seeing how visitors interact with it, I was able to brainstorm a new seating system that would a more firendly and inviting space. In my proposed seating system, I offed a more friendly seating set (selected seating seen below), identified areas for seating that allowed visitors a quick resting spot (orange highlight in sketch) and areas that would allow visitors to rest for longer periods of time and engage with one another. Images below show my detailed notes, further explaining my seating system. 

Artifact Case Proposal

A cohesive design system centered around asking visitors to reconsider the meaning of "history"

Abstracting the Artifact Cases

Lining the east and west walls of the entry space are artifact cases. These cases display a variety of artifacts in the museum and act as a “first glimpse” for visitors, before they further explore the museum. Currently these cases have no theme, and lack cohesive graphic treatment. 

When I joined this project, my priority was to create a more organized and adaptable system for the cases. I was excited to apply the museum’s newly issued brand identity to a physical space in a way that would allow visitors to feel a sense of place as they entered the museum. Using the museum’s new logo of a cropped star (picture above,)  I further abstracted the form and explored ways to compose it in the artifact case. The intent of this abstract application allows brand recognition and creates dynamic shapes with bursts of bright color in each case section

The abstract star logo was further developed to create dimension in the cases. This sketch shows a shelving system that could be placed behind the abstract star cutouts. This would allow for the museum to display a wide variety of objects in their collection. 

Each artifact case would display a question asking the viewer to contemplate their own idea of “History” and the objects they are viewing. As the viewer approaches a question, they are then able to interact with the artifacts housed deeper in the case

Further exploration of the cases required that I think about how actual artifacts in the museum could be presented with my abstract star proposal. This system allowed for a variety of artifacts to be mixed and matched in the cases, and included areas that specific artifacts could be “highlighted” (seen below). 

Placemaker Proposal

Helping visitors better connect with the museum, and their own place in history

As part of the museum's brand identity, they've included a more personal take on their official logo (seen above). I loved this concept and was shocked that the museum had not been using this design in their museum. I felt that this statement resembled the museum and its mission to help visitors connect with their own history. 

I found that the “Your Story” concept  was inviting for visitors of all backgrounds, and that it helped an individual better connect to the wide variety of content/exhibits in the museum. 

To further insinuate a sense of place for visitors, I explored the idea of creating a sculptural placemaker from this "Your Story" statement, that would be displayed on the museum’s 1st floor welcome space (circled on the drawn floor plan). The intent of the placemaker  was to be visually appealing, intrigue visitors by connecting them to the space, and allow for brand recognition as they enter the museums main floor.

Using the “Your Story” concept, I proposed the installation of a large scale, dimensional sculpture of the this text. The proposed sculpture would be made of an acrylic material, and the words “your” and“story” would be made of a different material (LED lighting, found objects, projected light on letters, etc.) to stand out from the museums existing word mark

Using Format