Paleo Playzone

Client: Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County

partners: Created in-house while working with the NHMLA team with a grant from the Ralph M. Parsons Foundation

Run dates: September 2017–Forever

Project brief:
• Develop paleontology experience for families
• Work within existing exhibits in an extremely popular Discovery Center
• Scale project vision to fit within budget available
• Maximize expertise of museum’s scientific staff
• Create a fun, interactive exhibit that could be easily maintained
• Incorporate Spanish-language text so that it doesn’t seem like an afterthought

LA’s Natural History Museum houses one of the most exciting and innovative paleontology departments in the world. It has a fabulous, comprehensive Dinosaur Hall and the staff wanted to tie in an experience for even the smallest kids to get down and dirty with dinosaurs.

How do you give little kids a chance to experience real paleontology–on a budget?

How do you nestle a paleo fossil dig experience in a delightful hodge-podge of taxidermied mammal heads, a giant polar bear, one bronze alligator and two massive turtles, and actively used,  life-size dinosaur puppets?

Located within the popular Discovery Center, the Paleo Playzone invites audiences of all ages to participate in real science by using authentic skills like digging, looking closely, and re-creating creatures (based on evidence) to introduce basic concepts of paleontology. The interactive exhibition does not assume any prior knowledge of the science; it plays on the limitless enthusiasm that museum audiences have for dinosaurs, and other extinct critters.

The team (science, education, and exhibits staff) worked hand-in-hand to identify fossils from vendors that complemented the museum’s collections. These accurate fossil replicas were coupled with repurposed floor material, dig goggles, and brushes to reveal the secrets of the dig in a bespoke dig exhibit "island" in the center of the gallery.

Three-D printed copies of smaller fossils, from the NHMLA collections, were used to showcase the groovy critters and plants that can also be sieved out from larger digs. The team continued to capitalized on in-house build resources to create additional bespoke interactive puzzles, rubbings, and drawing stations for a total of five areas of engagement. 

PLAY, DIG, DRAW + LOOK CLOSER: Playing on our active verbs we invited in our audience to each of the interactive exhibitory components. Time to PLAY!

Branding to the rescue. A cohesive color palette, exhibit furniture, and typography distinguished the Paleo Play Zone from the life Insect Zoo and the fascinating odds and bobs around them.

We developed banners to demarcate the Paleo Play area and the other areas of the Discovery Center to create a clear system of wayfinding while in the gallery and tie all the diverse experiences together.

We even wrote a fun fact to tie fossils to insects: Did you know that cockroaches scuttled the Earth long before dinosaurs? Now, that's cool...and a little icky!

How do you integrate a dual language experience, so it doesn't seem like an afterthought?

Simplicity. We relied on one-word headings to convey our messages loud and clear. Text was short and punchy, and graphics throughout are uncluttered and clean. 

We treated Spanish and English as partners to draw visitors into the experience and gave them equal weight graphically.

The budget was tight on this project, and we knew the installation was intended as a prototypical exploration, so we worked with the larger team to select and identify lower cost solutions–that retained durability necessary for high traffic galleries–such as laminated white birch, stained birch, and a select use of plastics. The material selections helped to reinforce our overall aesthetic of maker space, and our invitation to create with the museum.

This is what can happen on a boot strap budget, with ingenuity and a fantastically, talented team!

"My toddler LOVED using the brushes to uncover dinosaur bonesnd coloring dinosaur pictures."
– Monica R., Yelp