Local Projects: Where Technology and Collaborative Storytelling Meet
Posted by Elizabeth Alton on Thursday, November 7th, 2013
Local Projects is a NYC-based experience design firm with a portfolio of innovative work in the area of collaborative storytelling and technology. Three of their projects alone – StoryCorps, The 9/11 Memorial Museum, and Change By Us – have captured and shared the stories of more than 100,000 people so far and are touching millions. The award-winning firm is at the forefront of a major trend in entertainment design, creating exhibits that are highly interactive and collaborative.
Local Projects’ body of work includes museum exhibits, major attractions, and digital ventures. Every project in their portfolio is a custom commission. “Clients ultimately bring us on board to think through a project and find opportunities to create something new,” says company founder and principal Jake Barton.
Technology plays a central role in the company’s work. Their design approach seeks to avoid a common pitfall: Experiences that rely heavily on digital components have the potential to distance people from each other. But Barton offers a distinctly different view. When used correctly, technology is all about making connections. Proper context also plays an important role.
“Our goal is to make innovation have a point. A lot of projects today use technology as a gizmo to do what it’s not really good at doing, such as substitute for real feeling or emotion. But technology is often inherently ‘social’ – we use it to look at other people. No one goes out of their way to pay attention to a gizmo outside of its novelty, we are interested in each other. Museums are also inherently social places – for the most part, people go with other people,” says Barton.
When your goal is collaborative storytelling, getting participants to engage is a top consideration. Barton believes that presenting constraints, themes, inspiration, or specific questions is the best way to draw participants in. Nothing discourages participation more than a blank canvas. One great example of collaborative storytelling is Local Projects’ contribution to You! The Experience at the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry.
The exhibit explores the connections between mind, body, and spirit in the 21st century and features a series of interactive installations designed to engage visitors’ curiosity. One piece of the exhibit, “Talk to Me,” is an interactive story booth that invites visitors to share and record their personal stories. Inspiration is provided in the form of prompts from “what’s the funniest thing you’ve ever seen?” to “what’s the most important decision you’ve ever made?”
The most successful projects have a central organizing principle. For example, The Miners’ Story Project focused on collecting and preserving stories of mining and mining communities in the American Southwest. Local Projects created a copper trailer that served as both the recording space and a promotion vehicle for the project. To get people to share their stories, the project team worked with local community centers to encourage the older mining generation to record their narratives. Interviews were also conducted by a professional documentary filmmaker. The trailer became part of the Mineral Museum at the Arizona Flandrau Science Center, complementing the museum’s world-class collection of gems and minerals with the sounds and stories of the miners who excavated them.
Local Projects has done a great deal of work helping to create shared meaning in public spaces such as museums and memorials. But the potential applications for their approach to theme parks is very exciting. “What this technique [collaborative storytelling] is good for is larger narratives that people want to participate in. 9/11 is a seminal moment for lots and lots of people. But so is Mickey Mouse! And Snow White! There’s a lot of emotion and participation in the Disney parks, for example. It would be amazing to have a way to participate in that meaning and be asked to contribute in a meaningful way.”
There are a number of exciting projects on the horizon for Local Projects, many in the themed space. “Technology in theme parks has just barely scratched the surface. There are so many more implications about how it can be used – such as optimizing a park for throughput, efficiency and the overall experience. In the future, people’s phones are going to do the work of the latest RFID technology of knowing where they are in the park at what time, delivering a custom experience for them. This kind of technology can also move people around the park based on what they’re interested in. Guests will be opting in to customized experiences.” We can’t wait to see what kind of experiences that Local Projects will be creating for entertainment design fans going forward.
Image sources: localprojects.net, citysound.com, msichicago.org