D3 Goes to The Museum of American Innovation

Staring at spreadsheets, maps, and databases day in and day out can become so routine, we forget how exciting data can be when displayed in interactive and dynamic ways. A few weeks ago, D3 ventured to The Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation to get outside of our normal data box and challenge ourselves to think more creatively as we reflect on how people might interact with our data.

There are a few overarching takeaways mentioned below, mostly related to what kind of format we found engaging and easy to understand. Then we’ll share each of our favorite displays (almost all of them came from the Mathematica exhibit…nerds) with lots of videos and pictures!

We really enjoyed the exhibits that had moving parts to explore. Who doesn’t love a paper airplane competition to explore aerodynamics? Also, the visual representations of different statistical ideas like probability curves, the Monte Carlo method (i.e. random walkers), and multiplication were all super helpful for us to understand different ways people can interact with data and information.

One of the more thought-provoking types of exhibits, were all the deconstructed items. With a thing, like a car or chair, it’s easy to show how all the pieces fit together.  With data and information it’s a little more challenging, but this gave us a big topic to chew on. How can we deconstruct data to make the pieces more manageable and understandable?

Thoroughly inspired, D3 shares each of our favorite parts of the museum trip and why that is!

Ayana and Erica’s favorite, and a runner up for many of us, was the multiplication cube. Erica said it’s the first time in her life the the concept of cubing a number really made sense (as in 2^3=8). In this video, you can see what happens when you multiply 5 by 7 by 5.

Bob’s favorite was the explanation that was mapped around the multiplication cube. The bite-sized pieces of information build up to help you understand more complicated concepts. It felt really accessible and understandable to the team and gave us a good idea of how we can break up more complicated concepts for easier comprehension.
What happens when you try to fit a straight stick through a curved hole? The impossible being possible was Laura’s favorite display. The Hyperbolic Slot helps demonstrate three-dimensional space and angles. You can build your own with these directions. One of the practical observations was how thinking in terms of parabolas can help when you’re moving furniture and have to fit a big piece of furniture through a small doorway.
What happens when you try to fit a straight stick through a curved hole? The impossible being possible was Laura’s favorite display. The Hyperbolic Slot helps demonstrate three-dimensional space and angles. You can build your own with these directions. One of the practical observations was how thinking in terms of parabolas can help when you’re moving furniture and have to fit a big piece of furniture through a small doorway.
For Noah, the most interesting part was the immersive timeline of the history of math. The information could be incredibly overwhelming, since it starts in the 1100s, but the museum did a good job of picking the highlights. The exhibit was very forthcoming at the beginning as well that the “selection was difficult and some very worthy names have been left out.”
The visit to the Henry Ford challenged us in a new way, to think a little differently. Maps, charts, and graphs are all effective ways to communicate data and information, but sometimes we can be called to dig a little deeper into our creative side and come up with dynamic and interactive ways to communicate. We left the museum last week with a lot of inspiration to carry forward this type of learning in our own work.