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  • Writer's picturePhillip Ratliff

STEM exhibits by the Backstory team

Updated: Nov 18, 2019

Building an interactive is building an interactive. That's true, whether the subject matter is the arguments behind a landmark Supreme Court ruling or the Earth's precise distance from the Sun. First, you assess and define: your space, your audiences, and your outcomes. Design teams then research content, find the best digital platforms, write scripts and code, source art and images, create a look and feel, design and fabricate a shell, install it.

But interactive exhibits seem especially suited to STEM outcomes. Why is that? There's the obvious meta connection of using STEM to talk about STEM. And then there's the more practical possibilities. Interactives render the abstract more tangible, more tactile. They remove the constraints of time and space. They scientific or mathematical models that would otherwise seem like work -- into play,

Recently, three Backstory designers helped launch one of Alabama's most exquisite high-tech playgrounds -- the new Cook Museum of Natural Science in Decatur.

Backstory's creative director, Phil Ratliff, ran the Cook focus group testing process. Ever-wonkish, Phil helped the Cook team fine tune graphic design, copywriting, and exhibit outcomes.

Auburn-trained industrial designer Brian Parson contributed to the Cook Museum's vivid three-dimensional design. The Cook team tasked Brian with integrating playful, kid-friendly design into museum's understated modernist interior. Brian's extensive background in branded point-of-sale interiors and tenure at McWane were big helps.

Then there's the work of resident mad scientist Kevin Kunze. Kevin developed Cook's digital scripts, that included some high-level mathematical models. One of his projects was to illustrate the effects of slight changes on the Earth's rotational axis and distance from the Sun on life on our planet. Another: create a digital interactive

We're proud of the work of our designers. You can find their work below, and by following this link.

Goldilocks Zone Simulation, by Kevin Kunze, on display at the Cook Museum. Find out for yourself what Earth would look like if our Sun was bigger and hotter, or if Earth was farther away from the Sun.

Seashell Generator, by Kevin Kunze, on display at the Cook Museum. This digital interactive (page detail shown here) invites visitors to create seashell designs by playing with the mathematical equations that describe a seashell.

Phil Ratliff is President of Backstory Educational Media. Backstory helps clients across the Southeast mount exhibits and create educational content. Reach Phil at

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