Children's Museums: A Little Slice of Home

June 26, 2013

Colin Cronin

Colin Cronin

This week, we're welcoming a new blogger to the JRA blogging team: Colin Cronin! 

Colin brings his fun and whimsical style to his work as Designer at JRA. His enthusiasm for all of his work makes Colin an asset to have working on any JRA project.

Colin was born and raised in Cincinnati, Ohio. He graduated from the University of Cincinnati's College of Design, Architecture, Art and Planning in 2008 with a Bachelor of Science in industrial Design. Colin interned with Hasbro Inc. and Disney Stores where he designed vehicles, action figures and other toys that will be on the shelves within the next few months.

Colin utilizes his strong sense of user-interface and his understanding of how people react with objects around them on every project he works on at JRA. Colin has provided planning and design for most of JRA’s recent children’s museum projects, including Magic Bean – Beijing Children’s Museum, Oslo Barnemuseum, Children’s Museum of Siouxland, Imagine It! Atlanta Children’s Museum and C’MON – Children’s Museum of Naples. Colin has also provided design support on many of JRA’s other museum and attraction projects, including Los Angeles County Fire Museum, Go For Broke National Education Center and Ferrari World Abu Dhabi.

So without further ado, we begin with Part 1 of Colin's first blog, Children's Museums: A Little Slice of Home.


Children’s museums can be a whimsical and fantastic window into the world for children of all ages. In the best examples, visitors can experience everything from the wonders of the solar system, to the workings of a farm to even the structure of a human cell – all without leaving their hometown. However, each children's museum also has the opportunity (or one could even say the duty) to celebrate its home.

Children’s museums can be, at their best, a way for children to experience the world they live in through unique and interactive attractions. And there is a reason why kids love to play and learn in spaces like grocery stores, garages, and homes – they want to re-create what they see around them. To this same end, creating a Children’s Museum that embraces its hometown, and applauds the community it serves, can create an experience that is exciting, but also comforting and familiar.

But how can a children's museum accomplish this? How can it leverage those elements that make it uniquely “here”? Following are just a few examples of how JRA has created distinctive spaces and experiences celebrating the local flavor of a few choice children’s attractions.

Branding & Sponsorship

One of the more common ways to integrate a community into a children's museum is through sponsorship and naming of signature attractions and galleries. Not only is it a great way to support the experience financially, it sends a clear message that this museum is for the entire community and supported by its neighboring people and organizations.

Many museums for children include retail-based roleplay experiences, with grocery stores being a common (and very popular) example. And why not? Children see their parents shopping in grocery stores every week, and so much of what they learn is by roleplaying as the adults they see around them.

Most communities have local grocery stores that some families have been shopping at for generations, and leveraging those feelings of nostalgia can make for a rich experience for guests of all ages.

At Kohl Children Museum, the grocery store is identified and branded as Dominick’s, a corporation based in the greater Chicago area, where the museum is located. By using Dominick’s colors, identity, and other details, a common children’s museum experience can become something unique and specific to this place.

A group of visitors roleplay together at a recreation of a Dominick’s check-out line.

By using your imagination, and thinking outside the box, there can be opportunities for sponsorship and branding throughout any gallery in a children’s museum. For example, in the Golisano Children's Museum of Naples, a blue-screen weather station interactive is branded as the local news station. In fact, this is a very unique example, as the exhibit is sponsored by both the ABC and NBC affiliates in Naples, Florida:

...or at Imaginosity in Dublin, Ireland, where a small activity for police roleplay is uniquely designed as a Garda (Irish police) station, inspired by Dublin Castle, a local landmark and tourist attraction:

The Imaginosity Garda Station on the left, with Dublin Castle, its design inspiration, on the right.

Through these simple touches of branding and possible sponsorship, it instantly makes a museum gallery feel unique and specific to it’s home. And in the case of thematic roleplay, it can give the theming that extra layer of realism and detail. There are so many different things that bring up memories, or feelings of nostalgia, and children’s museums can use those emotions to help create rich and thoughtful experiences. It’s fascinating how a utility company logo, or just some architectural references, can make a place feel like home.


Another way to make a children’s museum feel local and “of this place” is through unique activities and “only here” experiences. Not only will these help a museum stand-out from the crowd, it is also a great way to celebrate local culture for both residents and visiting tourists.

At McKenna Children’s Museum in New Braunfels Texas, there are several unique “Texan” experiences, including roleplay area based around camping, a common local activity:

Or a Space gallery, inspired by how important the aerospace industry is in Texas:

And what Texan children’s museum could be complete without a full-size Texas Longhorn?

Another way to create unique activities is through giving common experiences a local “spin” or “flair”. Roleplay farms and gardens are common in children’s M=museums, and Golisano Children's Museum of Naples tasked JRA with creating a roleplay experience on farming that was uniquely “Florida”.

One unique aspect of Florida agriculture is the fact that so much of their produce is exported all over the world. Visitors to the museum first pick and sort all sorts of Florida-grown produce:

And then learn through interactives all the varied places Florida’s produce ends up, giving them a better understanding and appreciation of Agriculture, but also their hometown.

By offering activities evocative of the local environment, and by incorporating hometown brands, children's museums can help their pint-sized guests feel like they can have an impact on their neighborhood, while still maintaining a sense of enjoyment.

Next week, we'll look at how children's museum create more "home spun fun" through unique play and learning environments and by placing an emphasis on local color and culture.

Tags: Blog N Learn , JRA Team

Add comment


No comments yet. Be the first!

By the Numbers: Breaking Down the 2012 TEA/AECOM Themed Index

June 21, 2013

This month, the Themed Entertainment Association (TEA) and economic consultancy AECOM released the 2012 Theme Index/Museum Index: Global Attractions Attendance Report. The report tracks annual theme park, water park and museum attendance globally as well as within three geographic markets: The Americas, Europe and Asia-Pacific.

The new Dumbo's Flying Elephants ride at Walt Disney's Magic Kingdom. Courtesy

On a global scale, theme parks saw a 5.2% increase in attendance from 2011. Walt Disney Attractions dominated among global theme park groups yet again, with attendance almost 2.5 times greater than the number-two operator, Merlin Entertainments Group (owner of LEGOLAND, London Eye and Madame Tussauds among others). Universal Recreation Group, Parques Reunidos and Six Flags rounded out the top five. Overall, the top ten global operators saw a 6.7% increase in attendance, most of them reaping the benefits of such major reinvestments as Disney California Adventure’s Cars Land, the Magic Kingdom’s new Fantasyland attractions and Universal Hollywood’s Transformers the Ride. With the recent addition to the mix of Transformers: Orlando Edition and SeaWorld’s Antarctica, and with Harry Potter II and Shanghai Disneyland set to open in the next few years, this momentum promises to continue for years to come.

Cars Land at Disney California Adventure

Not surprisingly then, Disney parks swept the top eight places on the global theme parks attendance list, with Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo Disney Sea showing the strongest growth (8.5%). California’s Disneyland was the only park in the top 25 to show a decrease in attendance (and a modest drop of 1.1% at that), and that decrease was mostly a result of Cars Land, which drew guests to Disney’s California Adventure to the tune of 1.4 million new visitors. Florida again ruled the roost geographically, as home to eight of the top 25 theme parks and four of the top 20 water parks worldwide.

The Americas showed a resurgence in growth after a more sluggish 2011. North America welcomed a 3.6% increase in theme park attendance, and the top Latin American theme and water parks enjoyed an attendance increase of 2.6%, or 336,000 visits. Encouragingly, theme park attendance has risen 7% from 2007-08, the tipping point years for the Great Recession. Growth was more evenly distributed among the North American parks this year, as the “Harry Potter Effect” has ebbed since the attraction’s blockbuster 2010 opening. According to Brian Sands, AECOM Vice President for Economics, Americas, “as this part of the world continues to pull out of recession, we should see a return to people taking longer vacations and traveling further.” He sees continued increases in technology, discounts and ticket packaging, VIP experiences and new types of attractions as the trends that will continue to drive this market forward.


Moving across the Pacific, the Asia/Middle East market continues to be an exciting one to watch. Asia’s leading international and domestic operators experienced double-digit growth, and water park growth out-paced North America. While AECOM’s Senior Vice President – Economics, John Robinett, did not want to commit to a date when Asia would become the highest-visited attractions market in the world, he did point out that the Shanghai Disneyland opens in 2015, potentially resulting in an explosion of attendance growth. Overall, attendance increased by 5.8% to a record 108.7 million visits, and two operators, OCT Group and Haichang Group, cracked the top 10 global theme park groups list for the first time. Songcheng Park in Hangzhou China experienced the greatest attendance jump (14.2%) with Universal Japan (14.1%) and Hong Kong Disneyland (13.6%) close behind. Chris Yoshii, VP of Economics, Pacific and Beth Chang, Regional Director, Economics, attributed the strong numbers to a hungry Chinese tourist market hungry for new attractions: “As a driver of global tourism, the mainland Chinese tourist is fast becoming the most sought-after visitor in the world and will continue to be so for many years to come.” Yoshii and Chang also credited developers such as Singapore’s Resorts World Sentosa, who are leveraging theme parks, casinos, hotels and other entertainment venues to create attractive multi-day, multi-stay packages.

Hangzhou Songcheng Park. Courtesy

European theme parks showed more stagnant growth than its American and Asian counterparts, mostly due to challenges with the ongoing recession and a 2011 fraught with challenging weather. In the United Kingdom alone, 17% of the population changed their holiday plans in 2012 to avoid the rain and cold, which coupled with the exodus from the Olympics made for a tough year for London’s attractions. However, the UK’s Merlin Entertainments Group saw a 16% jump in attendance among their various properties, mostly attributed to the sheer variety of their attractions and the transformation of many of their parks into family resorts. France’s Parc Asterix and Puy du Fou provided other bright spots. Parc Asterix increased the footprint of their park by 10%, including a new themed land and coaster, which resulted in an 8% jump in attendance. According to the report, Puy du Fou’s attendance benefited from the Thea Classic Award the park received from the TEA in 2012. But to spur more dynamic growth in future years, the parks need to get creative with their reinvestments to help offset some of their more persistent challenges, especially as regards climate. “More parks might look at what they can do with certain kinds of investments, and making the most of holidays, to offset bad summer numbers and even overcome negative trends,” said Natalia Bakhlina, Associate Director, Economics Europe. As with the other attractions markets, the themes of reinvestment and strategic re-thinking take center stage.

Courtesy Parc Asterix

In addition to covering global theme and water park attendance, the 2012 Index welcomed the introduction of museums into the fold for the first time. When asked why AECOM began to track museums, Robinett pointed out the similarities between cultural and commercial attractions. “Increasingly, museums are focusing on the guest experience, operations and marketing in ways that mirror commercial attractions,” Robinett explained. As government funding continues to erode, earned revenue sources have become increasingly important, so any measures aimed at attracting and retaining visitors are crucial to success. “Museums can achieve dramatic attendance growth through reinvestment and improvement of the guest experience,” said Robinett. “It’s just as true for them as it is for theme parks."

The Louvre.  Courtesy

When asked about the lessons learned from the inclusion of museums in the Index, Robinett said it shines a different and more hopeful light on the European themed entertainment market, as the continent is known more for its cultural assets than the trills and chills of theme park attractions. European museums welcomed 72 million visitors in 2012, compared with theme park attendance of 58 million. Indeed, European museums held nine of the top 20 spots on the index, the Louvre solidly on top with attendance of 9.7 million visitors.

While American museums grabbed three of the top five spots on the Museum Index, Asia and the Middle East have emerged as burgeoning markets for museums. World-class cities such as Dubai, Singapore and Jakarta see world-class cultural attractions as indicators of success and sophistication, and China has pledged to establish 1,000 museums in the next 10 years, with Chinese museum attendance projected to reach 1 billion by 2020.

National Museum of Scotland.  Courtesy

As Robinett remarked above, reinvestment serves as much of a catalytic role in museums as it does in theme parks. The Louvre recently added an Islamic Art Wing, and the National Museum of Scotland recently completed a £47M renovation that tripled attendance. Stateside, the California Science Center saw a significant jump in visitorship as a result of the new space shuttle Endeavour exhibit. “There is plenty of motivation to [reinvest] when one takes into account [museums’] value to the local community as an educational force, local economic engine and development catalyst,” said Linda Cheu, AECOM Vice President. “Everyone stands to benefit from a fuller understanding of just how much museums contribute.” She cited the 2012 World Culture Report, which stated, “cultural prowess are increasingly seen as interlinked,” a theme that we recently explored in our “Business of Culture” blog series.

Overall, the economic picture of museums and theme parks certainly looks rosier than five years ago. Through strategic reinvestment and creative marketing, museum and theme parks can capitalize on this momentum and hopefully secure a sustainable and profitable future.

Next week, we’ll introduce a new member to the JRA blogging team, and explore Issues in Design.

Tags: Asia , Blog N Learn , business

Add comment


No comments yet. Be the first!

Conference World Tour 2013: IAAPA Asian Attractions Expo

June 13, 2013

Linda Round and Shawn McCoy at the JRA booth.  Photo courtesy Blooloop.

Linda Round and Shawn McCoy at the JRA booth. Photo courtesy Blooloop.

Last week, the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions (IAAPA) held their annual Asian Attractions Expo at the Marina Bay Sands in Singapore. Over 5,300 people (including over 3,600 qualified buyers) attended the four-day exhibition and conference, which included an Institute for Attractions Managers, Safety Institute, educational sessions, young professional forum, and behind-the-scenes tours at LEGOLAND Malaysia, Puteri Harbor and Universal Singapore. Attendees could even join a post-Expo excursion to Bali, Indonesia.

Expo Opening Ceremony

Welcome Banner for the Expo Post-Tour

While at the Expo, JRA Chief Executive Officer/Owner Keith James spoke on “The Value of Intellectual Property”. In his remarks, Keith James defined intellectual property, offered thoughts on how it can add value to a theme park or attraction, and helped attendees determine whether IP was a fit for their projects. He also lauded IAAPA for its efforts to protect the intellectual property of its members.

Peter Sanderson, Christine Kerr, Shahryn Azmi

In addition to the educational sessions, receptions and show floor activity, the Expo also marked the launch of the Themed Entertainment Association’s Asia Pacific Board. As reported in InPark Magazine, among those elected to the nine-member board was Shahryn Azmi, Director of JRA Southeast Asia. "I'm really honoured to have been given the opportunity to be an officer of the first board for TEA Asia Pacifc," said Azmi. "There's so much expansion opportunity for the Association in an essentially, still-untapped market that is just spilling over with potential suppliers to the entertainment industry."

From left, Kim McCoy, Linda Round, Shawn McCoy, Patti James, Keith James, Chloe Hausfeld, Shahryn Azmi.

Shawn McCoy, JRA Vice President of Marketing and Business Development, said that the Expo offered some quality client prospects, and that the atmosphere was hopeful. “We had some great meetings at this year’s Expo,” said McCoy, “and there was definitely a sense of cautious optimism on the show floor.”

Next week, we’ll dive into the recently released 2012 Theme and Museum Index – Global Attractions Attendance Report.


Add comment


No comments yet. Be the first!

Gamification and Museums: Part 2 - Frosting on a Casserole

June 06, 2013

In yesterday’s blog, we looked back at the AAM MuseumExpo session “Gamification and Museums.” There we learned the definition of gamification from Audience Viewpoints’ Kate Haley Goldman, as well as some of the goals and challenges of incorporating gaming into exhibits. Today, we’ll discover how gaming experiences can revolutionize the typical museum fieldtrip, and how games don’t necessarily have to be electronic in nature to have an educational impact.

Jennifer Sly, Education and Technology Specialist at Minnesota Historical Society (MNHS), was tasked with developing an interactive experience for students on fieldtrips. Fieldtrips are the number 1 immersive learning experience for children, but most schools can only afford one per year, so this one had to really resonate with teachers and school administrators. So Sly and her team created “Play the Past,” a game in which students can uncover stories and unlock clues throughout MNHS’s permanent exhibit “Then Now Wow”, which chronicles Minnesota’s historic people and places. Using an Ipod Touch, students can “collect” items via QR codes positioned next to objects, “upload” museum inventory or create their own objects related to Minnesota history. These collected items are put into a “digital backpack” that is sent to their school. Kids can also earn digital dollars for their backpack by engaging with the various mechanical interactives around the exhibition (“which forces them to actually do things versus just walk by things,” said Bly). Once all the backpacks are loaded up on an online platform, a teacher can track how the student performed in different areas (e.g., cooperation, cognition, etc.).

Photo: Minnesota Historical Society

Sly offered a number of resources and pieces of advice to those in attendance interested in developing gaming experiences. Most important on the list was to know your audience: “children speak the language of gaming and will have lots of suggestions.” MNHS employed 40 Ipods at the beginning of testing and oriented 30-100 kids at a time to the game to secure their feedback in advance of final game development. But even though she and her team used technology for prototyping, she encouraged the group to not be afraid of going “old school” in testing, using paper or index cards to test basic context. “Effectiveness equals integration,” said Bly, “don’t put frosting on your casserole.” In other words, don’t force connections between concepts or activities where they don’t exist. Use your index cards to map out the three basic questions:

  1. Choice: What are the choices students have?
  2. Action: How do students act upon those choices, and what actions to those choices evoke?
  3. Outcome: How do the choices and actions affect the game play and the other players?

The bottom line according to Sly? “Designing is hard.”

Rebecca Bray of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History then presented “Q?RIUS”, a 10,000-square-foot interactive programming space opening at the museum in November 2013 and geared toward teens. According to NMNH’s website, Q?RIUS will enable visitors to access a 20,000 specimen collection as well as a variety of self-directed and participatory learning options.

Photo: National Museum of Natural History

As Bray was “prototyping” the Q?RIUS experience, she discovered something quite different from what Sly and Haley Goodman had found with their younger demographic targets. When interviewed in focus groups, Bray’s teen demographic was more interested in the social aspect of gaming, so the games didn’t necessarily have to be tech-heavy. As a result, Bray and her team assembled 40 teens and created an evolution board game. Members of the group also engaged in maker activities and practiced pitching their creations to their fellow teens. Throughout this dry run, Bray found that, also unlike Haley Goodman and Sly’s projects, her demographic was not as motivated by rewards and badges. The interaction with other teens what was most important to them.

Photo: National Museum of Natural History

Just as the other two presenters had contributed their words of wisdom, Bray offered some keys to successful museum gamification:

  1. If you are going to give out badges, do so in an amusing and meaningful way.
  2. Balance quick, fun experiences with deep learning.
  3. Try to develop games without huge budgets, where the emphasis is more on quality content than complicated delivery.
  4. Use games where they are most useful, not just to have them (see “frosting on casserole” above).
  5. Host rapid idea generation workshops, and invite your audience to create with you.
  6. Demand collaboration and give visitors roles to get them our of their cell phones.
  7. Test. Test. Test.

And most importantly…

A big “thank you” to Kate, Jennifer and Rebecca for their insights and to the entire AAM team for a fantastic Expo!

Next week, we’ll continue our Conference World Tour 2013 with coverage of the IAAPA Asian Attractions Expo.


Add comment


No comments yet. Be the first!

Gamification and Museums: Part 1 – What’s in a Game?

June 05, 2013

Kate Haley Goodman

Kate Haley Goodman

Welcome to our wrap-up of the 2013 American Alliance of Museums (AAM) Annual Meeting and MuseumExpo. So far, we’ve offered you a firsthand report of the sessions and exhibit floor, profiled AAM’s international initiatives and provided a glimpse into one of the MuseumExpo’s Big Idea Sessions. To close out our coverage, we’re shifting from international relations and community placemaking to technology, and the MuseumExpo session “Gamification and Museums.”

As designers, we are often faced with the challenge of “how much technology is too much” and “what can we offer visitors (and children in particular) that they can’t get at home so that they come back?”   Kate Haley Goldman of Audience Viewpoints, Jennifer Sly of the Minnesota Historical Society, and Rebecca Bray of the National Museum of Natural History shared their experiences in developing engaging interactive media exhibits that extended outside the museums’ walls. Haley Goldman began by defining games as follows:

  • Goals + Rules (Environment) =
  • Interactive Challenges + Feedback =
  • Experiences of Mastery (Points of Learning Around Content)

She argued that if the content behind the game is cogent enough, then the content is the attractant, and the game actually becomes irrelevant (as it is just the channel through which the content flows). Gamification, therefore, is the act of taking educational or other content and creating these experiences of mastery. It could be more light-hearted like Farmville, or more academically-minded like Khan Academy.

Haley Goldman explained that the basic set of goals for an educational interactive typicallly consists of the following:

  1. Increase attendance (especially among those not currently visiting)
  2. Foster innovation (or the appearance of)
  3. Increase awareness and associate the institution with community needs
  4. Content-based goals
  5. Social interaction goals
  6. “Unarticulated institutional goals” (i.e., “Such and Such Museum has a game, so we need one, too).

Bill Nye's ClimateLab "Smart Cards". Photo:

Audience Viewpoints worked with the Chabot Space & Science Center to develop Bill Nye’s Climate Lab, a 4,100-square foot permanent exhibition. The game enables 8 to 14-year-olds to learn about climate change and inspires them to engage in behaviors that address it. The primary goals for this game were to increase new visitorship and encourage repeat visitation to the Center.  In other words, the gaming elements needed to be “sticky” enough to inspire guests to return.  The exhibition, which features Emmy-award-winning Bill Nye the Science Guy, sends guests on an “urgent mission to thwart climate change” and “features the tools and techniques used by climate scientists.”   Visitors are "Climate Agents" armed with RFID-enabled Smart Cards who play to collect challenge solutions and track their progress.  Guests can virtually board a hot-air balloon, feel like they are diving into the ocean, "Bike with Bill" and enjoy other immersive activities around climate literacy. They even have their own avatars and can continue the experience from home via Lab Dash, a computer game that Haley Goodman said took three years to develop. The catch is that the gamer can only unlock certain levels by returning to the Chabot Space & Science Center and Bill Nye’s Science Lab, thus practically guaranteeing repeat visitation.

Haley Goodman described the process of developing the game as “lots of adjustments, focus groups, bug-testing and prototyping.” The two biggest questions from their adolescent focus groups were “when do I get points” and “for what?” She noted that the four most common problems that games face are issues with 1) accuracy (i.e., when a character drops an object, does it go into the bucket), 2) granularity (how the different components of the game interrelate) 3) “fun component” (i.e., too educational) and 4) complexity of choices (because if it’s too complex or not complex enough, the guest will walk away).

Tomorrow, we’ll visit the Minnesota Historical Society to see how they turned your average museum field trip into an immersive and interactive adventure.

Tags: Blog N Learn , Outside the Studio

Add comment


No comments yet. Be the first!