The Friday Fives: Talking Disney Rides and Dream Projects with Adriana Alvarez

May 29, 2015

Welcome to the second of our two Friday Fives interviews, where we take a few minutes to showcase and chat with our new JRA co-ops. Today we interview Adriana Alvarez, a Graphic Communication major from the University of Cincinnati's DAAP Program.

Favorite Entertainment Experience?
One of my favorite entertainment experiences was the Disney World ride “Expedition Everest”. They made every aspect of the ride experience a fun one. Even while I was waiting in line, I got to read Yeti folklore and adventurers experience’s while climbing Mount Everest.

Biggest challenge for a designer is…
My biggest challenge as a designer right now is trying to find a useful creative avenue for my skill set. We, as designers, are always torn between what we want to do and what a client wants us to do. Finding that balance can be very challenging, but ultimately rewarding.

If I had an extra hour in a day….
If I had an extra hour in the day, I would (hopefully) spend to reading. I have a really bad habit of starting books, but never finishing them. It’d be nice to have an extra hour to catch up.

I’m reading…

Currently I am reading The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Mirakami. I’m 50 pages away from the end, so I think I’ll be able to finish this one.

My favorite movies…
My favorite movies are any movies by the genius Hayao Miyazaki. My personal favorite is Spirited Away, but all his movies are beautiful.

Dream design project….

My dream design project would be to illustrate a huge mural in a city. I would really like this mural to be in my hometown, Cleveland. I’m not sure what it would look like, but I want it to be big.

Thanks, Adriana! For more information on Adriana, and a look at her work, check out her website.

That wraps up our Friday Fives for now. Starting next week, we've got blogs galore, as we move into "China month" in honor of the the upcoming Asian Attractions Expo.  We'll discuss how the Expo comes together, the intricacies of working in China, a look at Blooloop LIVE! Hong Kong and some exciting news about our latest Chinese project opening, so stay tuned!


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PROJECT UPDATE: Renovations Underway for Children's Museum of Atlanta

May 27, 2015

Children's Museum of Atlanta's

Children's Museum of Atlanta's "Gateway to the World" Exhibit

Children’s Museum of Atlanta officials recently announced plans for a massive renovation of the downtown attraction. The project, set to be completed in late 2015, will add two new permanent exhibits and a new 3,000 square foot mezzanine level. Project highlights also include the reinvigoration of the four existing galleries of the Museum, the addition of a new permanent performance space for the Imaginators, the Museum’s troupe of professional actors and educators, and many other upgrades to existing spaces that will completely transform the experience for Museum visitors.

As Atlanta’s only children’s museum, this nonprofit organization was among the first to take an important step towards the revitalization of downtown Atlanta with its opening in 2003. Now, alongside the Georgia Aquarium, World of Coca-Cola, Center for Civil and Human Rights, College Football Hall of Fame and many others, the Children’s Museum of Atlanta has become an iconic gathering place for families representing the importance of early childhood education and the power of play. This extensive renovation allows the Museum to further its commitment to the community as a world-class children’s museum and continue to help ignite curiosity, imagination, problem-solving skills and a love of learning in the next generation of Atlantans. JRA was honored to provide complete planning, design and project management for this exciting project.

“This is the Museum’s first major renovation since opening our doors 12 years ago, and we cannot wait to share all of the big improvements and additions coming our way with the community!” said Jane Turner, executive director of the Children’s Museum of Atlanta. “We have taken into account several years of extensive and thoughtful planning as well as combined feedback from our members, visitors, educators, industry experts and established Children’s Museums around the country to ensure every detail of the redesigned Museum will be reflective of our community’s needs. It truly will be a world-class children’s museum unlike any other!”

Once completed, the newly renovated space will feature targeted, age-appropriate programming with the adaptability to correspond to changing themes, enabling the Museum to be a source for hands-on, experiential learning and engagement. In addition to literacy, social studies, health, nutrition and the arts, Children’s Museum programming will have a new focus on science, technology, engineering and math education (STEM) to equip young visitors with the skills needed to drive innovation, foster critical thinking and make meaningful connections between school, community, work and global issues.

Specific project highlights include:

New Learning Zones:

  • • As the Museum’s signature new central exhibit, “Gateway to the World” will raise visitors’ experiences to the moon. Designed as a two-story climbing structure, this exhibit will invite children to climb through the layers of the earth and enter a one-of-a-kind, child-powered, rotating globe! Six interactive continent-shaped tables will surround the base of the structure engaging children in a variety of hands-on activities to discover geography, geology, astronomy, physics, aerodynamics and more.
  • • “Step Up To Science” will be located on the new mezzanine level to bring science, technology, engineering and math to life! Visitors can conduct real science experiments and watch live demonstrations at a permanent science bar and more.

Revitalized Learning Zones:
All of the current learning zones will be enhanced with new components and state-of-the art technology. Once renovated, the Museum will feature many beloved favorites, alongside new surprises.

  • • “Tools for Solutions” explores the science of building through four learning environments, teaching visitors that even the most complex problems can be solved step-by-step with a solid strategy and through the use of tools. Children hone early and more complex math skills, as they learn the importance of processes and sequencing. This multi-layered zone will reach all ages by incorporating building workshops in a new lab into the Museum’s regular programming, featuring a new construction house to teach what is “behind the walls” and offering additional opportunities for designing and building.
  • • “Fundamentally Food” will strengthen visitors’ understanding of how food functions as an integral part of daily life. Educational programming and role-play opportunities on the farm, in the grocery store and in the new “Diner” area will promote an understanding about the path of food from farm-to-table, introduce food as a significant aspect of all cultures, address the importance of food as it relates to health and well-being and more.
  • • “Let Your Creativity Flow” will encourage children to experiment with music and explore the visual arts in a flexible, small group setting. Lessons incorporating various media and the use of musical instruments will encourage each young visitor to find and hone their creative genius. Additionally, this will house the new “Maker Space,” which will provide a place to empower young children to harness their own ideas to build inventions and artistic creations. This program will feature extensive opportunities for partnership with schools and child development centers.
  • • “Leaping Into Learning” will continue to provide the Museum’s youngest visitors with many opportunities for self-discovery and development of self-confidence. This learning zone will engage visitors through tactile experiences and fun ways for pre-walkers to explore the world around them.

The Children’s Museum of Atlanta will close for a brief period beginning on August 1, 2015 to complete renovation work. The Museum is expected to unveil its new space in late 2015.

For more information on Children's Museum of Atlanta, visit

Tags: Project Spotlight

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Giraffes, Handshakes and Double Stuf Oreos: The Friday Fives with Ian Mooney

May 22, 2015

Ian Mooney

Ian Mooney

It's time for another installment of the Friday Fives! In this series, we put our new co-ops in the hot seat, asking them about their deepest desires, their designing dreams, and well, some random fun facts.  Today we meet Ian Mooney, industrial design student at the University of Cincinnati's School of Design, Art, Architecture and Planning (DAAP).

My favorite entertainment experience is...

...Cheyenne Mountain Zoo. You feed the giraffes by hand, see the interior of a prairie dog community, climb up a stairwell lined with monkeys, and be eye level with bears in their bathing pool. I went when I was 17, but I was as excited as an eight-year-old there.

My favorite part of the design experience is...

...Ideating. The drawing is fast and the ideas are all over the place. You can make something great and have it be drawn next to something terrible, but both are just as helpful.

I beat a creative block by...

...Leaving it. Doing anything else, preferably exercise. Then I feel I'm doing something productive still.  Come back to it later with a fresh mind.

The first thing I notice about a person I meet...


If my house had to be made of something edible, it would be...

...double stuf mint oreos. They're my kryptonite. If I buy a box it barely lasts three days.

Thanks, Ian! Next week, we'll talk Mount Everest, wind-up birds and Japanese film with graphics co-op Adriana Alvarez.



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Personalization and the Return of the "Me Decade"

May 21, 2015

“While technology fuels our sense of alienation, it also provides the tools to fight back against being treated as interchangeable cogs in the machine.”
– Trendswatch 2015

One hundred years ago, mass production was the name of the game. Assembly lines created standardized goods, so families no longer had to make their own clothes, assemble their own bicycles, or even bake their own bread. What was good enough for one was good enough for everyone. In the 21st century, the consumer pendulum has shifted. People now want medicines concocted to best suit their genetic profile. They want schools that cater to their child’s individual academic needs and subject matter interests. And they want entertainment and cultural experiences that engage their own unique intellects and emotions. In Part 3 of our Trendswatch 2015 review, we’ll examine the different ways that personalization has regained its place in our world, and how museums might tap into this trend to create “only here, only you” experiences for their guests.

Retail Recommendations

Personalization has reclaimed its fame based in large part to the rise of “recommendation engines”. Search engines like Google, online retailers like Amazon, apps like Spotify, and media conglomerates like Netflix all learn from your past choices to make recommendations for future products or services. In this sense, these sites filter big data into small data. Netflix suggests a dozen or so movies from the hundreds of thousands in its database. LinkedIn recommends a handful of connections from its 300 million members.

 But while recommendation sites have become big business, they do have their limitations. First and foremost is the “Cold Start Problem”. In order to recommend data, you need to have data. In order to suggest a song, you need to know who has listened to it before. Some websites have conquered this problem by requiring that consumers rate a series of items before they can rent a film or view a selection of retail goods. Secondly, it is difficult to create effective data-driven algorithms. As Trendswatch reports, Netflix famously “offered $1 million to anyone who could improve its recommendation engine by ten percent.” Even after a winner was chosen three years later, the “improvement” was scrapped as too cumbersome to execute. The third challenge is how to keep the data from being predictable. Obviously, if someone likes “The Empire Strikes Back”, they are probably going to enjoy “Return of the Jedi”, so making that recommendation isn’t particularly helpful or surprising. The attraction of a recommendation engine is the unexpected find, the product, film or tune the consumer didn’t know they needed. Despite these limitations, recommendation engines have made searching for everything from daycare providers to the right toothbrush easier and more efficient. 

The Right Medicine at the Right Time

While retail-based personalization has been in the news for years, other areas are quickly gaining steam. One of the faster growing sectors is personalized medicine, defined by the US Food and Drug Administration as “providing the right patient with the right drug at the right dose at the right time.” With the advent of technology, including mobile, wireless, and 3D printing, doctors and other health care providers can better match care to the unique genetic composition of and environmental factors impacting each patient. For example, in 2012, the FDA approved a promising new drug, Kalydeco, for those cystic fibrosis patients that carry a specific genetic mutation. In 2013, the organization crafted a tracheal splint from a 3D printer that saved a critically ill infant. Efforts like these pave the way for “more effective patient monitoring and treatment outside of traditional care settings.”


The Obama Administration hopes to up the ante with its proposed $215 million Precision Medicine Initiative. The plan seeks to “accumulate genetic data in one million or more [American] volunteers, analyze people’s full genetic makeup, and identify genetic causes for diseases.” In the short term, the Precision Medicine Initiative hopes to intensify efforts to apply targeted therapies to cancer, by way of clinical trials, combination drug therapies and a greater understanding of how to combat resistance to cancer-fighting drugs. The longer-term objective is to create a “research cohort” of the million plus volunteers, who will “share genetic data, biological samples, and diet/lifestyle information, all linked to their electronic health records as they choose.” These millions of points of data could identify new breakthroughs for disease treatment and prevention, and offer new tools for providing personalized, and potentially life-saving medical treatment.

School’s In

As the dissatisfaction with our nation’s public school system intensifies, so has the rallying cry for more personalized educational platforms. In 2013, frustrated with the state of the public school system and at a loss for where to send his kids even in swanky Silicon Valley, Google Executive Max Ventilla founded AltSchool, a for-profit educational corporation that operates highly-personalized schools in San Francisco, Palo Alto and Brooklyn. Not surprisingly, Ventilla funded the corporation with venture capital ($33 million to be exact), and earlier this month, Mark Zuckerberg offered an additional $100 million in support.

The uniqueness of AltSchool comes from its focus on individual learning objectives. The 60 to 100 students at each school are grouped by broad age categories – lower elementary, upper elementary and middle school. You’ll see no gymnasiums, cafeterias or administrative offices here – the schools house only open classrooms with modular furniture to suit the needs of a particular lesson. The school creates a “Learning Portrait” for each child, outlining their unique needs and passions. That way, if a student is passionate about whales, teachers can create biology, English and math lessons around cetaceans. The Portrait also matches the student’s progress with the school’s learning objectives, which are generally based on nationally recognized standards such as Common Core. The Portrait and the objectives together comprise the students Personalized Learning Plan.

AltSchool monitors the students’ progress against the plan with a groundbreaking technology and data collection system. According to Kevin Carey’s article in Pacific Standard, AltSchool employs “more software developers than the entire Los Angeles Unified School District.” Each child is given an iPad loaded with their “weekly playlist”, a personal set of activities for the student based on their Personal Learning Plan. Playlists are organized via “cards”, with each card displaying a goal and a list of assignments the student needs to complete to meet the goal. Teachers can use their mobile phones to take a photo of their student’s work, tag it with the correct name and card and enter it into AltSchool’s central database – all in 20 seconds. In addition to using the playlists to track progress, AltSchool equips each classroom with an HD camera. After class, the teacher can review the footage of children they may not have been able to spend as much time with personally. AltSchool’s corporate office can use the cards and the video feeds to improve the classroom experience for current and future students. While this level of technology seems potentially intrusive, AltSchool insists it is “mostly invisible” and is first and foremost a tool for parents and teachers to communicate.

AltSchool’s tuition is far from cheap at $26,000-$28,000 per year, but Ventilla hopes that his model will “fundamentally re-defi[ne] the relationships between parents students and schools.” As Carey writes, “…innovation often develops first in a market for wealthy people and then spreads outward, as processes are refined and economies of scale are realized.” At the very least, models like AltSchool will challenge the one-size-fits all educational status quo, and hopefully help further develop personalized learning options at schools public and private, affluent and disadvantaged, large and small.

You-niquely Suited

The above examples demonstrate that people want products and services delivered to them where they are, when and how they want it. But perhaps the greatest opportunities for personalization lie in the experience economy. By tailoring cultural and entertainment opportunities to the preferences of the individual consumer, museums, zoos, theaters and attractions can ensure repeat visitation and a deeper level of engagement. One cultural institution that is taking full advantage of the personalization trend is the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (YBCA). For only $15 per month, their innovative “YBCA:You” program offers visitors a personal arts guide – think part social worker, part cruise director. By “integrating individualized curricula into a membership-based community engagement program,” YBCA:You seeks to build “deeply engaged and ongoing relationships with participants by increasing the frequency, diversity and community of art-going.”

The program is divided into three levels of benefit, each akin to wading deeper into the arts pool. For the first benefit, the member dips in the proverbial toe by receiving an all-access pass to YBCA’s programming, the menu for which includes a vast array of films, performance and visual art events. Once they feel comfortable with this initial introduction to the Center, YOUers (as members are called) step into the shallow end to enjoy YBCA’s exclusive YOU programming, opening them up to opportunities for meeting and greeting with other arts lovers. Finally, the YOUer is ready to submerge themselves into the deep water, building a one-on-one relationship with their Live Guide. These YBCA educators learn about YOUers’ preferences and past cultural encounters to create bespoke referrals to programs and performances both within and outside the Center. As explained on the initiative’s webpage, “any combination of the three benefits is intended to make art a habit in one’s life with the idea that increased frequency of cultural participation, increased diversity in one’s exploration of arts and ideas, and social modes of engagement result in healthier and happier individuals.”

Making Lifelong Friends

So how can other museums create “healthier and happier individuals” through personalization? The Trendwatch report suggests that museums consider how they can craft their membership programs to better suit individual tastes. To combat the “Cold Start Problem”, they can begin to gather simple data points about each guest, including name, location, demographic info, and information on previous visits (special exhibition viewed or events attended). Dallas Museum of Arts’ free Friends Program, which celebrated its 100,000th member last month, allows members to earn badges and unlock rewards in return for personal data sharing. Visitors simply log-in with their name and email and receive activity codes that can be entered via museum kiosk or mobile phone. Members receive a badge for the completion of an activity, enabling them to unlock rewards like admission discounts, free parking, or even an overnight stay at the museum. The DMA recently received a $450,000 grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services to syndicate the program to the Denver Art Museum, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Minneapolis Museum of Art over the next two years. Through the Friends membership, the DMA is gathering crucial intel on its visitors, enabling the museum to craft exhibits, programs and rewards that not only encourage repeat visitation but hopefully build long-term relationships with its visitors.

DMA friends - Signing up from Dallas Museum of Art on Vimeo.

From health to education, retail products to entertainment, consumers are demanding that both commercial and cultural organizations tailor experiences to suit their individual needs, desires and skill levels. By collecting visitor data and creating programming with deep levels of personalized engagement, museums could see fewer one-time guests, and more lifelong patrons.

For more information about and recent examples of experiential personalization, visit the Center for the Future of Museums Blog. For tomorrow’s trend review, we turn up the heat on a global menace.

Tags: Blog N Learn

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The SPAM Museum Breaks Ground

April 23, 2015

SPAM Museum Ground Breaking - JRA Creative Director, Randy Vuksta, turns dirt far right. Image courtesy Hormel Foods.

SPAM Museum Ground Breaking - JRA Creative Director, Randy Vuksta, turns dirt far right. Image courtesy Hormel Foods.

From the Austin Daily Herald - Austin Minnesota

The Spam Museum is ready for construction.

Hormel Foods Corp. officials broke ground on the new Spam Museum Tuesday, which will go up between Second and Fourth Avenues on the east side of North Main Street.

“We’re really excited to be here today to break ground on our new Spam Museum,” Hormel CEO and President Jeff Ettinger said.

Hormel CEO Jeff Ettinger speaks about the Spam Museum’s move downtown during a groundbreaking Tuesday morning.
Hormel CEO Jeff Ettinger speaks about the Spam Museum’s move downtown during a groundbreaking Tuesday morning.

The city of Austin is set to reopen Third Avenue Northeast between Main Street and First Street Northeast as well.

Plans call for a 14,000-square-foot building spread out over one floor. In addition, the museum will have blue-accented walls on the outside of the building, which Hormel and city officials say will help bring a unique aspect to the downtown area.

“We really share the enthusiasm for enhancing downtown as a destination for both for our city residents and for our city visitors,” Ettinger said.

Architects and workers expect to finish the exterior this fall, and wrap up construction on the museum’s interior next spring. After a soft opening, the Spam Museum will hold a grand opening as part of Hormel’s 125th anniversary celebration in late July 2016.

The Spam Museum’s move to downtown is the result of several years of discussions. Community advocates and Vision 2020 volunteers had pushed for the Spam Museum to move into the Austin Utilities downtown power plant in 2012 as part of Vision 2020’s Utilities Building Committee plans.

Vision 2020’s Destination Downtown committee approached Hormel officials in fall 2013 about using the fire site formerly owned by the Austin Port Authority as a new location for the Spam Museum. Since then, Hormel has worked with several organizations including the city of Austin to move existing businesses out of the Ciola’s building and into other spaces.

Now the museum is going downtown, city officials hope the increased tourism, along with several other major projects through Vision 2020, will continue Austin’s current growth.

SPAM Museum Groundbreaking Exterior Rendering. -- Photo provided by RSP Architects
SPAM Museum Groundbreaking Exterior Rendering. — Photo provided by RSP Architects

“It seems like Austin is just really on the move right now,” Mayor Tom Stiehm said.

The original Spam Museum opened in 1991 inside the Oak Park Mall. Hormel officials created a new location for the Spam Museum in 2001 at 1101 N. Main St., connected to Hormel’s corporate office south building.

Construction schedule

•Contruction starts: Week of April 27

•Structural steel placement: July 2015

•Building enclosed: September 2015

•Soft opening: Spring 2016

•Grand opening: July 2016

Tags: Project Spotlight

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