Interactive Material Tables

Feb. 5, 2013

In April 2011 we were approached by the V&A to build an interactive materials exhibit for their brand new furniture gallery, “The Dr Susan Weber Gallery”, which opened in December 2012. 

The brief was to create a fun, visually appealing educational tool for all ages, which displays a physical array of material samples to give visitors a hands-on approach to learning about the origins and properties of certain materials. Getting the project right was a big responsibility as it was the first time the V&A were using interactive digital displays to serve content to visitors. 

We strategically arranged 32 material samples in clusters around two centrally embedded 46” screens to form two identical interactive tables. We arranged digital content around the centre of these screens in an exciting and physical manner, providing passers-by with an attractive and inviting insight into the available content, encouraging them to discover more.
We wanted to create something that was totally analogue, that didn't involve a keyboard or mouse or even a touchscreen, so we fitted each material sample with light sensors. Thus, when users interact with the materials, digital objects gravitate towards them from the centre of the screen, providing rich content about the material they're touching. The software renders all visuals in realtime and runs at a resolution of double HD, and we created all the electronics in-house, including custom printed circuit boards. The engineering and crafting of the objects and tables was undertaken by Matt Linares of Linares Design.
The digital content is made relevant to the rest of the gallery by illustrating the use of these materials in select pieces of furniture displayed nearby, encouraging users to immediately use their new-found knowledge, stimulating further exploration of the gallery space and its collection of 200 pieces of British and international furniture from the 15th century to the present day.
Morna Hinton, Head of Gallery Interpretation at the V&A said: “This mix of digital and tactile is a departure from the ways we have interpreted our collections in the past and is a bold undertaking for us but we are confident it will significantly enhance the visitor’s experience.”