How Local Projects creates captivating, immersive environments
Storytelling is one thing. Then there’s storydoing. New York City-based Local Projects integrates physical design and digital media to bring stories to life. This motley mix of interdisciplinary thinkers, coders, and artists is bridging the worlds of experiential and exhibit design. Their groundbreaking work has garnered them more than 100 professional accolades, including the Cannes Gold Lion and National Design Award.
For such a technology-fluent agency, Local Projects is not gear-obsessed. “The philosophy is not to use technology for technology's sake, but to put it in the context of a meaningful design challenge or historical subject matter,” said Ben Millstein, the firm’s communications manager.
Local Projects’ initiatives explore exigent ideas, often historical and social in nature, such as mass incarceration. It specializes in experiences that are both shared and individual, like the commemorations at the National September 11 Memorial & Museum. By using technology to center the visitor in a narrative, the firm’s work facilitates deeper engagement.
“Experiential technologies can invite people to feel ownership of the narrative and to learn through doing in a way that was previously impossible,” Millstein said. “At Local Projects, we see our mission as not just showing a collection through exhibit labels and artifacts alone — we want to try to actually change visitor behaviors and get them to think and engage actively with an exhibition.”
Local Projects gives visitors interactive moments designed to unfold long after they leave the site. Whenever it considers a museum project or corporate commission, the firm asks what can visitors do, not what can visitors see.
Small Technology, Big Impact
It may seem daunting to weave environmentally conscious action into a fashion museum, but that’s exactly what Local Projects did in Amsterdam’s Fashion for Good Experience. The goal was to inspire consumers to change small things about their consumption habits that could have a collective impact, like conserving water by washing clothes less. The team designed an interactive process — an RFID bracelet touching an analog panel — to educate and help visitors invest in making everyday commitments. “The mission is to create more sustainable habits to make that possibility of making individual impact on climate change as accessible as possible,” Millstein said.
Off the Wall Visualization
The Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum's Wallpaper Room showcases four thousand different wallpaper swatches. Local Projects set out to craft a dynamic experience that visitors would never forget. “We thought, ‘How can we make wallpaper interactive?’” Millstein enthused. The team decided to digitally array and manipulate the patterns at scale so users can see the surface repeats the ways designers visualize it. While Local Projects was ideating, they made a nimble and creative adjustment: What if visitors could additionally design their own wallpaper within the curated space? Now they can do both, leading to unexpected and expressive selfie moments. People started designing wallpapers in extraordinary ways, a mask, for example, and then putting themselves in the picture. The result: “You are creating your own artwork, using your own face. This augments what we thought that experience would be. We're very happy to see visitors taking those design ideas even farther. We initially imagined blocking accessibility to the projections, but because we didn't, we got a totally different user behavior.”
AV integrators and exhibit design studios like Local Projects understand that the earlier you can participate in the process — from architectural planning or fabrication—the more you can advocate for “technology being used in meaningful ways,” Millstein added.
Margot Douaihy is a writer and editor based in Northampton, MA. She teaches at Franklin Pierce University.