Broad Thinking Stage – Summary of Initial Design Process

Sticky notes – Starting out designing the fun way.

Doing the research into immersive museums before starting the design process helped me to acknowledge all the different features I would need to consider for the model. Additionally, deciding what were the key benchmarks of the model, really helped structure my design thinking.

I started the design process by thinking broadly about the project. I thought about the different ways I could demonstrate the concept of ammonite buoyancy through an immersive design that would engage the audience in the narrative of the creatures, while increasing information retention.

Some of the first ideas I thought about focused predominantly on portraying the rise and fall of the ammonite as a consequence of their buoyancy system.

In the design to the left, the ammonite is positioned on a rod that would allow it to move up and down, controlled by levers. These are shaped like the helm of a ship to link the design into the narrative of the ammonite being in the sea. The model would have also been housed in a suitcase for easy transportation.

This second idea placed the ammonite behind a curved glass, similar to the ones that can be found in aquariums. This would insinuate the narrative of the creature being a sea animal, while also adding a playful narrative for the visitors who have visited aquariums beforehand. It would give context to the ammonite.

There would be a lever to the side of the model – turning it would move the ammonite up and down.

London SeaLife aquarium display featuring curved glass.

This design is based on one of the first models I made during the course – a simple wooden mechanism with a lever and two interacting elements. As you turn the lever, the two components interact and vertical movement is created.

I could use this design in my model to move the ammonite up and down.

I found that the lever was too constricting and would not have been engaging enough for the audience, so I began thinking about other ways that I could instigate movement in my model. It is at this point that I thought about putting the ammonite on a spring, which has a natural up and down movement.

I really liked the idea of the spring but started wondering how I would use the spring to create the vertical movement, such as by putting in extra weight to make the ammonite sink, and taking the weight away to make it rise. This is very similar to how ammonites controlled their buoyancy – they had natural chambers inside their shells which they filled with water.

I could simulate this extra weight through puzzle pieces that would slot into these chambers. If the ammonite was also on a spring, adding the additional weight would naturally bring the ammonite down, while taking the puzzle piece out would let it rise.

I was really intrigued by the idea of the puzzle pieces and the spring, which I decided to explore in more detail. I did this by creating a physical maquette of the idea out of grey board. This helped me to see the idea from a new perspective, and I realised it was very static. The puzzle pieces were to represent water, but the way the ammonite filled in their chambers was more fluid than the motion of slotting in puzzle pieces.

Greyboard maquette demonstrating how the shell would be split up into chambers. These would then have corresponding puzzle pieces that could be slotted into the chambers

With this in mind, I created a second physical maquette to explore how I could demonstrate how ammonite chambers filled up with more fluidity. I thought about having a mechanism that pushed material into the shell. In the image below, water is represented by the yellow paper balls, and I am pushing these further into the shell. I liked how this idea was more accurate to how the bouyancy system actually functions inside the ammonite shells. Please see below for three movement progress shots. For the full video demonstrating this please click here.

Image 1 – Material loose in the shell

Image 2 – Starting to push more material in
Image 3 – Material pushed in the furthest.

At this point I realised I became too engrossed with the puzzle piece idea and that I didn’t think broadly enough at the beginning. I wanted to avoid narrow design thinking which could potentially ignore crucial elements of the model that could make it more engaging and effective for the audience. Therefore, I went back and began thinking about other ways I could portray the buoyancy concept for The Etches Collection. Please see below for a collection of the sketches from this design stage.

During this broad design stage, I considered some very different ways I could explore the interactive elements of the model. For instance, I thought about creating a wearable model, such as a hat where the model would hang on a spring. I also considered creating a massive chair shaped like an ammonite, which would be situated on a movable platform. As more people sat on the ammonite chair, the platform and the chair would go down and vice versa.

I played around with some more abstract ideas involving scales and very simplified shapes. With these I wanted to focus purely on the buoyancy concept and tried to portray in the simplest ways possible. I was inspired by the experiment developed by Earthlearningidea. They used a water bottle and a testing tube to demonstrate how ammonites used to control their density and how this affected their buoyancy. These designs ensured that the concept was simpler to understand, however it got rid of a lot of the narrative that was part of the engagement of the model.

Moreover, I also looked into a game concept. I wanted to focus more on the narrative of the ammonite, specifically as to why they had to evolve a buoyancy system. To survive, the ammonites would have had to do two things – get food and escape from predators. Therefore, they needed a system that would let them move in the water, and as they did not have flippers, they developed this buoyancy system. To capitalise on that, I thought about framing my model around the idea of a game visitors could play. The ammonite would be attached to a fixed path, and the visitors would control how fast and how far the creature moves along this path. They would do this in order to help the ammonite get to food, or escape from predators.

In summary, this initial design process has emphasised the importance of engagement and narrative for me. It has helped me realise that there are many ways that this model could portray the concept of ammonite buoyancy, and it depends on the context of the exhibition which would be best. Overall, it has helped me to understand what elements I would like to focus on – I am aiming to highlight the physical vertical movement of the ammonite by engaging the audience. At the core of the brief is the movement concept, and if the audience is creating this movement, they are directly interacting with the concept, fulfilling the purpose of the model.