18 January 2015 // Thoughts

Trends in Design 2014 Part 3: Eliminating Physical Barriers Through Access

Welcome back to Part 3 of 2014 Trends in Design: Breaking Down Barriers.  Whereas in the past two posts we’ve examined how role barriers are being dissolved, today we’ll discover how technology is breaking down physical barriers, completely re-writing the guest experience in terms of accessibility.


By breaking down time and space barriers, Marriott is exploring the future of travel. Specifically, the hotel chain is currently touring a fully immersive, 4-D sensory experience featuring Oculus Rift virtual reality technology. Their Touring Teleporter looks a lot like a phone booth.  Once guests step inside, they put on an Oculus Rift virtual reality headset and wireless headphones. They then virtually travel to the beaches of Hawaii and the streets of London.  The effect is produced through 360-degree, live-action video, mixed with photorealistic computer imagery developed by the effects firm who provided the special effects for the film Gravity.  To really make it immersive, they added 4-D elements such as heat, wind and mist. “Travelers” to Maui feel the warm sun on their skin, the breeze in their hair, the rumble of waves underfoot and ocean spray on their face.

Telepresence is another way that technology is helping to break down physical barriers.  Telepresence robots are basically mobile robots that are placed within an environment and can be controlled by an individual or group from a remote location.  The robot has a screen, so that people can see the face or faces of whoever is controlling it, allowing for conversation or interaction, just as if they were in the same physical space.  This past year, quadriplegic Henry Evans visited the AAM museum conference in Seattle via a telepresence robot.  He has also visited a number of museums around the world and participated in a TED Talk.  But telepresence isn’t just a tool to help the physically challenged.  It can also be used to remove geographic barriers. For example, the Pittsburgh Zoo and Aquarium has a resident telepresence robot named VGo, which enables school groups to visit the zoo remotely.  The groups use VGo to walk through exhibit galleries, watch demonstrations and lectures and interact with museum instructors.

Extending Content

 Technology can also help you extend your museum’s content beyond your facility walls.  For example, the City Museum of London created an augmented reality app, allowing guests to use their phone to superimpose historic images from their collection over the same geographic location in modern day.

You can also extend your content without the use of technology.  For example, Art Everywhere is a national outdoor art exhibition, which takes place every summer across the UK. The first US version was held this August and ran for a month. Five of America’s top art museums selected works of art that represent American history and culture and asked the American public to vote for their favorite pieces. The final selection of 68 works of art was featured on billboards on city streets and rural highways, bus shelters and subway platforms, airports, health clubs, in movie theaters and more. In all, over 70,000 digital and music displays were displayed in all 50 states and the District of Columbia – making it the largest outdoor art show ever conceived.

We’ll conclude our study of the 2014 trends in design with a look at how simple outreach, programming and old-fashioned, interpersonal communication are breaking down social barriers.