Investigate Labs: Nature and Micro Worlds

The Investigate Labs are a bold rethink of the experience of the natural history museum. Museum staff brought ideas from the maker space movement together with scientific research being done in labs today. Bench top programming lets museum visitors do the science through hands-on demonstrations. Even more, the Labs are places for staff to sandbox visitor engagement concepts in new and currently relevant ways. 

During early iterations of the Investigate Labs, staff observed confusion amongst visitors related to a lack of clarity about what the spaces represent. Flutter & Wow joined the museum team to develop distinct identities for the immersive programming spaces. We designed wall murals, object displays, and graphics for a variety of applications throughout the labs. We designed templates for temporary posters that describe work being done in research departments throughout the university.

Our designs brand each room distinct from the other museum galleries, without divorcing them from the museum’s overall look and feel. The rooms immerse and direct the visitors, and enhance usability. As always, Flutter & Wow abides a broad definition of accessibility; our designs provide access, respecting persons of any age, background, learning preferences or attention span.

The U-M Museum of Natural History had recently re-opened after moving into a new building. The Investigate Labs were conceived as breakout programming spaces and as an essential part of the visitor experience in a building that also includes public windows onto working academic research labs. Graphic identity is the potent language we use to communicate space and purpose to the visitor as well as a way to enhance an experience meant to be novel and personal. 

Visitors investigate fossils, peek through microscopes to observe cellular life up close, and observe specimens from the U-M’s paleontology, zoology, botany, geology, and anthropology collections. Explore It! boxes encourage interactive exploration as visitors piece together step-by-step activities pertaining to nature.

Interacting with nature and all its components was an important aspect to the client. Working closely with staff, Flutter & Wow created a couple of design treatments that broke away from the labs, but are found around the museum space: a whimsical forum table design for lecturers of all studies to convey their research to a group, as well as playful animal icons installed on coat racks to help children differentiate where they left their belongings. These graphics brought a sense of flora and fauna to the surrounding site, while tying back to themes we had integrated into the Investigate Labs.

At the University of Michigan Museum of Natural History, the visitor comes into contact with real science. At the Investigate Labs, museum visitors do the science.