In a city that boasts some of the country’s most revered cultural organizations, the de Young stands out both for its architecture by Herzog and De Meuron and for being the fifth most visited in the U.S. The museum’s education gallery, just renamed the de Youngsters, is an interactive environment that connects children to creativity and learnings in a physical and experiential way. The dynamic and visual permanent space uses touch displays, projection tracking, and augmented reality as tools for children to explore five core artistic concepts: color, composition, shape & form, texture and sculpture. The design of the de Youngster emphasizes these fundamental principles in a participatory fashion, while connecting the children and their caregivers to the art housed within the museum.
fuseproject’s design and digital experience team was tasked to design an experiential space that would open the doors of the museum to a new generation. The question the design needed to address was, how do we encourage creative learning without paper or paint, and make it equally engaging for kids and their caregivers? Our goal became to create a journey; one that inspired visitors to return and have a new experience each time. Understanding that technology provides interactive possibilities, we wanted to focus on making while maintaining a balance between the physical and digital features in the space. How could we use technology without it being the focal point? Keeping in mind the museum’s list of fundamental anchor skills, core principles, and guidelines related to tone and feel, we designed modules that focus on each learning goal with prompts and activities that create context, inspire interaction and open a dialogue among educators and visitors.
The narrow space is designed as a single structure made of five wooden cubes, each cube dedicated to one focused creative learning principle. The 10’x10’ sized spaces are designed to isolate the experience, while offering transition and discovery through fabric strips and large circular projection screens. The organizational quality of the central structure is immediately clear to the user, and the interactive environments placed onto it are playful and tactile. Large projections of circular shapes, triangular ceiling elements and colorful fabric strips create a lively and informal playground.
The periphery walls are painted in a blue shade, with displays on Samsung’s The Frame that brand and guide each module experience, while reconnecting the module’s learnings to the museum’s art collection. Unique signage designed by the fuseproject brand team reinforces the spirit of the space with the de Youngster logo, an abstraction of the structure and colorful forms within it.
We saw this as a unique opportunity to encourage interaction with multiple learning modules in a way that is both physical and leverages technology. In each module, kids interact, learn and play while absorbing five core artistic concepts: color, composition, shape & form, texture and sculpture.
The visitor is greeted by the first module which consists of a digital column that employs sensor technology so that children can mix and combine primary colors. They do this by dragging their fingers across the column, creating digital pigments. It’s an open space that allows for interaction as kids move around the column exploring color mixing and blending their designs and sharing ideas with one another. The projection screens and sensors are both housed within the column, a design feat in itself.
For this learning principle, we integrated four light tables at different heights, where children create a piece of art by using simple acrylic forms inspired by collections of the de Young and Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. As they work on the forms on backlit tables in front of them, the kids can see overhead projections of their compositions on the interior and exterior walls of the module. The larger projection increases a child’s ability to reflect and understand scale, while making their creations visible to their parents and other visitors in the surrounding area.
Shape & Form
In the shape and form activity module, live cameras capture children’s movement on a two-sided wall surface. The human form is abstracted as a line, but when two kids’ outlines on the projection meet, intersecting patterns occur. The overlapped elements are beautiful and vibrant recognizable objects from the museum’s collections. Children work together to discover the various shapes that can be made with the human body. It is an energetic and interactive activity about movement and play and encourages people to physically use the space.
Here, physical tiles with textural features provide a tactile reference for children to explore and touch. The shapes are placed on large digital touchscreens, creating a canvas where textual patterns are then drawn. Drawing with texture rather than lines is a new experience that makes novel artworks from textural elements derived from the museum’s native crafts and fine art collection; the selection tiles themselves mimic those found in the museum’s collections. The idea is to let kids paint with texture, effectively extracting a 2D representation from a flat surface. This is another instance where multiple people can participate at the same time, creating their own combinations and making the connection between how something “feels” in its graphic representation.
Collections of custom-designed magnetized blocks are on-hand in this learning station, in a variety of geometric and organic forms with different facets and characteristics. Kids make sculptures with the blocks and then place them into an augmented reality platform that captures the image in real-time and inserts the creations into an environment of their choice. These options include locations both inside and outside of the museum, like various galleries and the outdoor sculpture garden. Once projected, the dimension and scale of the image can be manipulated, giving kids the experience of creating an object and placing it into the world, while keeping in line with the goal of connecting their imagination to the museum. The use of augmented reality in this module emphasizes the idea of the kids’ creations scaled in the real world and adapted by them in scale and materials.