Cleveland, here we come!

What an exhilarating, satisfying, frustrating, sleepless, and rewarding journey it’s been.

After 14 weeks (not counting CMU’s spring break), it was time to at last hit the road and take everything we made and everything we learned to Cleveland and their wonderful natural history museum.

I can report that we have now seen both of Cleveland’s buildings.

Pretty much everything we took.

On Wednesday, we loaded up the van and took the 2 1/2 hour drive northwest to Cleveland. Our trip began auspiciously enough when we saw a project-relevant sign that we must be heading in the right direction.

OK, so it’s not quite the planet Mars, but Mars, Pennsylvania is still pretty cool.

By early evening, we arrived at the museum and began the work of unloading the van and beginning to set up our space. We thankfully had a full day and a half to set up before anybody from the museum would be playing through our experience and another day beyond that until members of the public would be trying out what we built.

You may recall from last week (this is a serialized blog, after all) that our “soft opening” was somewhat of a disappointment. We were not where we wanted to be—as many of the interfaces/machines were still not entirely functional and the robot was acting temperamental (not moving properly and having the equivalent of robot laryngitis), it was difficult to show the ETC faculty all of the hard work and deep thinking we’d put in for the design of this experience. This is what we looked like immediately after the faculty came by:

While it might look hard to recover from that mindset, the team believed in the project too strongly to simply let things fizzle out and not deliver an amazing experience—it simply required a redoubling of our efforts, focus, and a strong will among all team members to prove that we were so close to making something amazing. So we got to work inside the basement of the CMNH to bring our experience to life.

Tents were pitched. Boxes were moved. TV carts were wheeled and tables were positioned. By the time we had set up and tested everything, our mood was much more represented by this image:

By late Friday afternoon, we were nervously anticipating the arrival of our first guests—excited employees of the museum who were well-versed in the topics represented by our experience. How would they respond? Would they turn their noses up at our streamlined representations of their actual jobs? Would it be too easy for them?

The response turned out to be overwhelmingly positive. Both museum employees and museum-goers the following day loved the experience overall (both anecdotally and from information gathered by surveys we distributed) and our contacts at the museum seemed particularly impressed with the work we had done. Once we’re finished documenting all of our work, we’ll be presenting our data to the museum to see if they’ll be interested in pursuing this type of experience in the future.

Did everything go completely as planned? Well, no. Pretty much everything broke at one point or another, but there was nothing that our agile team of improvisers couldn’t handle. We had solutions to every problem and did our utmost to make sure all of our guests had a great time.

We’re all very proud of our accomplishments this week, but we’re not done yet! We learned so much about our experience from our 8 playthroughs on Friday and Saturday that we’re already planning changes to make when we bring it on back to Pittsburgh next week to show the faculty (for real this time) and the Carnegie Mellon community our final product.