Design the experience FIRST, then the artifact.


We believe that the best education is experiential and having fun together leads to better outcomes. As we’ve discussed the possible ways that E&E concepts can be shared and understood by everyone, our orientation has been to think first of the potential experience and then to design the artifacts that support those experiences.

SEEDS Energy & Environment (E&E) Introduction

SEEDS partnered with Connect_CX to develop a strategy that prescribes educational and interpretive best practices, as well as a design process for the development of exterior, interior exhibit materials and presentations to educate the public about future net-zero targets, energy and renewable technologies.

Based largely around their Energy Farm in Traverse City’s Historic Barns Park, SEEDS had TONS of great ideas for creating fun, enriching and educational experiences. What they lacked was a definable set of practices and physical elements that could be applied to support those experiences.

We started the strategy with a broad statement of purpose around conceptualizing and creating educational experiences around E&E. We always ask “How might we ...”

  • Upgrade an experience by going outside

  • Ask the right questions before proposing answers, then “How would nature do that?”

  • Broaden the solution space with intel from biology

  • Bring a biologist into our team work

  • Quiet our cleverness

  • Shift our design goals from “sustainable” to “well-adapted”

  • Embrace dynamic non-equilibrium (embrace change!)

  • Create conditions conducive to life

Next, we established that our focus is on bringing this information to everyone, but especially creating experiences for youth. In order to do that, we included best practices for inclusivity objectives and interpretation best practices developed by the National Association for Interpretation.

The Energy Farm will provide information about the energy use, production, storage, and potential for Park visitors of all ages. SEEDS is leading the charge for integrating youth at the Park – not only as beneficiaries and students but also as developers of ideas, exhibits and experiments. This logic responds to the challenges of making every energy flow at Historic Barns Park visible and focusing on youth as our most critical audience.

We laid out a process for participatory design (conceptual design, schematic design, prototyping, specification/bidding and installation) to encourage designers and planners using aspirational statements from those who are most passionate about SEEDS mission: “This conceptual design phase is the place and time to dream big” and ““Go for Triple-Net-Zero: Zero Net Energy, Zero Net Waste and Zero Net Carbon.”

Guidelines and process in place, we developed a decision matrix that describes the required forms and duration of exhibits both for interior and exterior environments.

Some of the potential experiences we’d brainstormed as a team:

  • A tunnel built of willow branches intended for kids and adults to walk through and play around

  • Kids developing costumes and sets for a skit that features characters created to explain carbon sequestration

  • Scavenger hunt with icons displaying SEEDS E&E design interventions at Historic Barns Park

Next, we codified SEEDS brand standards with regard to color, typography and Universal Accessibility Design Standards as determined by the National Park Service.

Then, to match the newly refreshed SEEDS brand and website, (also designed by Connect_CX) we developed sign type features and a conceptual array designed to use repurposed materials and local black locust, a material that SEEDS sources for many of their Youth Conservation Corps projects. We built these standards consulting closely with a Traverse City-based sign fabricator, who provided rough pricing for each sign type element as an aid to planning and budgeting.

We designed a number of templates for accommodating different types of information on each sign panel, for either exterior or interior implementation.

And finally, rendered the sign types in situations where they might appear at the Energy Farm at Historic Barns Park. Note how the “Information Frame” sign type allows users to see the environment in the context of season, daylight, and weather conditions. These were all designed for lowest cost, highest use in terms of maximizing the learning experience for people of all ages and abilities.

This is the truest form of “brand presence” that SEEDS can offer the public, in keeping with their mission.

If you’re interested in seeing a copy of the document, click the button below.