Observed: successful low-tech museum interactives



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Ferrara, Italy, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and Italy’s “City of the Renaissance.” The humanistic concept of the idea city, based on principles of perspective, was started here: it is the birthplace of town and city planning, implemented in the 14th through 16th centuries. 

Ferrara has a rich and complicated Jewish history as well; in the mid-1500s, there was a thriving culture supported by 10 synagogues.  

I visited the small Jewish Museum of Ferrara, Italy on a recent trip. It is still rebuilding after an earthquake in 2012. It has a collection of artifacts that document Jewish life, including the keys used to open and close the gates of the Jewish ghetto at sunrise and sunset. 

I was most attracted to a very successful, low-tech interactive room, focused on kids. Large, smooth, black painted metal wall plates surrounded multiple work space tables. Affixed to the metallic walls were dozens and dozens of flexible white vinyl magnetic sheets, cut into uniform rectangles. The squares were printed, and could be written on and easily wiped off.  

Along one wall, the sheets were printed with the letters of the Hebrew alphabet. Kids could mix and match, and fill in the blanks with their own written guesses. 

Along another wall, question and answer cards enabled kids to ask their own questions about Jewish culture, and read questions and answers from previous visits. 

I found this low-tech interactive highly successful. 

  • Kids immediately understood how it works; 
  • It’s enjoyable to touch, feel, and move around; 
  • It’s easy to maintain by staff; 
  • It fosters honest communication, even between visitors who aren’t there together.