to Nicholas Johnson's Coralville Rain Forest Web Site
Center's Science Needs to Work
First Impressions Determine Return Visits
Des Moines Register
June 4, 2005
[Note: This material is copyright by the Des Moines Register, and is reproduced here as a matter of "fair use" for non-commercial, educational purposes only. Any other use may require the prior approval of the Des Moines Register.]"[W]hen something breaks, it needs to be fixed quickly. Visitors are coming for the first time and forming their initial impressions. Those impressions will determine whether they return. And whether they return will determine the center's success."
That afternoon, the center was bustling with people. Yet several hands-on displays were hands-off. "Propellers on the Move" was labeled "Exhibit Under Construction." So was "Robot Run."
Two children spent several minutes trying to fix the "Ball Launch," also labeled "under construction."
And some displays without "under construction" signs were in less than working order.
One of the coolest displays is called "Land it lightly." Wrap an egg in thin or thick foam or bubble wrap to protect it, send it up a conveyer belt and a machine drops it. "Your mission: Land this egg safely." The bubbles in the bubble wrap were broken. Children were wrapping an egg in foam and plastic but had nothing with which to secure it to the egg. There weren't enough Velcro strips.
Eventually, the children just moved on.
They also moved on after staring for a while at "After the Flush," which shows the inner workings of a toilet. It wouldn't flush. They moved on when the computer was frozen at the Dinosaur Hunter exhibit. They moved on after the magnetic gears in the "Switching Gears" display wouldn't stay attached to the other gears.
According to Executive Director Mary Sellers, "The community wanted a highly interactive center. When you invite people to push and pull, there's going to be some breakage. There were some exhibits made uniquely for the Science Center of Iowa that have never been done in the world. You do your best to anticipate the ways people will try to interact. We are adapting."
By Friday, some of what had been broken the day before was fixed. Two men were working to fix "Propellers on the Move." The toilet was flushing and the robot was running.
The new center has been open only a few weeks. Occasional glitches might be expected. But when something breaks, it needs to be fixed quickly. Visitors are coming for the first time and forming their initial impressions. Those impressions will determine whether they return. And whether they return will determine the center's success.
This new attraction is a
great destination -- but only if everything is working.