Portfolio: Protocol Matters
In 2013, the National Museum of the American Indian, part of the Smithsonian Institution, was interested in putting on an exhibit showcasing the history of the interactions of the government of the United States with the tribes of Native Americans, both as documented in the treaties between the two nations and, later, how the United States refused to abide by the terms it itself dictated.
Interface Media Group is well-known in DC for its expertise on storytelling, both in the political arena and in the realm of museums. Having offered several multimedia exhibits for NMAI previously, including a long-lived video wall in the museum's entrance when it opened a decade previous, NMAI counted on Interface Media to deliver an immersive, high-quality experience. Interface Media, in turn, contracted to me.
Protocol Matters is an interactive asking guests to classify different behaviors, such as "Say Prayers", "Smoke a Pipe", or "Sign Written Documents", as common practice during negotiations for Native Americans, those of a European background, or both, eventually revealing that all ten behaviors were practiced by both parties.
Working one-on-one with IMG's lead creative designer, we came up with a user experience model representing the behaviors as stylized wooden coins on a grooved table similar to a mancala board, with the guest indicating which behavior belonged to which party by placing each coin in the corresponding groove. When a coin was in the correct groove, it was sealed in place with a gold border; when all ten coins were placed correctly, an ending animation played and transitioned to a fully voiced brochure with more information about the behaviors.
The experience was built primarily using built-in WPF controls with custom presentations. The drawer coins are kept in before being placed in the play area is a standard WPF
ListBox with a transparent background and custom scroll behavior. The coins themselves are databound WPF
Images, with an animation to increase scale and add a mild drop shadow to show that a coin has been lifted; they use the built-in Windows manipulation system to allow guests to drag them around the screen. The animation of a golden seal surrounding the coins is done using a
MediaElement to play a video file of the seal alone, and -- due to the lack of transparency support in the video file formats WPF can play -- a custom shader intelligently chroma-keys the video to let the coin show through.
Sticking with standard functionality as much as possible makes the interactive significantly easier to iterate and maintain, as well as lets guests interact with the kiosk in an intuitive and familiar way, while WPF's flexibility when it comes to presentation allows for broad creative freedom in design.
Protocol Matters is the one of the first things you see upon entering the exhibit hall, situated next to a display that rotates through the actual, physical copies of several of the treaties on loan from the National Archives. It was praised by the Washington Post and won a gold Excellence in Exhibition award from the American Association of Museums. It is scheduled to be decommissioned sometime in late 2021.