Entrepreneurs Kiosks

April 18th, 2008 by tarikh

Entrepreneurs kiosks with C&G Partners for the Museum of American Finance 

So if you can forgive my awkward Bob Vila impersonation above,  I wanted to show off one of our recent projects.

We created 10 touchscreen Kiosks for the Museum of American Finance, housed in the former Bank of New York building on Wall Street. The museum was founded in 1988 and is an affiliate of the Smithsonian. The 19″ and 42″ kiosks are part of the new exhibition space designed by C&G partners. C&G hired us to consult on and create the hardware/software solution for the bank of 10 interactive HD video plasmas that serve interviews with a unique selection of 16 entrepreneurs. 

C&G is a design consultancy that specializes in this type of exhibition work and they were a real treat to work with–being both technically and creatively savvy.  Our shared goal was to create minimal, intuitive interactions that highlighted the subject instead of the technological frame around the subject. This can be a subtle point to appreciate because when it’s done well you don’t even notice it, and C&G did a wonderful job of designing an interface that melts away instead of getting in the way. 

We all felt the subject shouldn’t be the shiny technology, it should be the stories that the entrepreneurs share. From MoAF’s perspective it was very important to challenge the public’s traditional expectation of a business “suit”. The museum’s goal with the Entrepreneurs Kiosks was to help museum goers realize that entrepreneurs are just people like us who had an idea and made it a reality. Instead of real estate and software tycoons, the kiosks are filled with men and women of different stripes–everyone from restaurant owners (Drew Nieporent), maternity fashion designers (Liz Lange) to the creators of Zipcar (Robin Chase) and Jetblue (David Neeleman); there’s even a brewer (Steve Hindy)! The excellent interviews were produced and edited by David Tarnow and shot by Luke Geissbuhler. One of the ideas about working on the MoAF Entrepreneurs Kiosks that appealed to me was getting the opportunity to draw some advice and inspiration from people who know what it’s like to have an idea and navigate the difficult waters of small business to grow it and make it a success. 

The technical stuff

You know this wouldn’t be an Uncommon Project if there wasn’t a technical component and the Entrepreneurs Kiosks are no exception, they gave us a chance to refine our approach to creating software and hardware solutions in real locations and for public use.

While we’ve developed software for both Mac and PC, given Josh’s familiarity with the Quicktime libraries, the multimedia stuff is always more appealing to us on the Mac side. Plus the developer tools are cool, and in this particular case we were able to exploit some of the new Core Animation routines included with Leopard. We’ve been creating custom applications for public consumption in one form or another for years and we certainly have our fair share of Flash and Director projects in our past. But that just makes it all the more satisfying to develop applications that can take advantage of system level resources not available in those frameworks.

For example, the videos were all shot on HD and the client didn’t want to have to transcode the interviews, so that made developing in XCode/Cocoa a no-brainer because any other solution would have required sketchy plugins or a loss of video resolution. Additionally, the animations, fades, transitions and general responsiveness are so much tighter when you’re developing desktop applications. The applications are small, single-purposed and fast. And that means we were able to run the whole show on an off-the-shelf Mac Mini with no extra RAM (or even a decent video card for that matter). There’s a case to be made for viewing Minis as mature embedded development boards–they’re small, have tons of connectors, a fast processor and great included dev tools. There’s a ton of freebies too–we created a custom boot process that starts a machine as soon as it gets power and circumvents the Finder, booting itself directly into the kiosk app. This allows any museum staff person to easily manage the kiosks by just flicking a switch on a power strip instead of pulling out a keyboard and mouse at the beginning and end of a day. Finally, we created an admin app and a simple backup/restore solution for C&G in case anything ever goes awry.

These recent kiosks are in a tradition that we started a few years ago for Panasonic/Renegade when we toured interactive HD video kiosks used by thousands of people in 6 locations across the country. The difference is that those kiosks required a large dual G5 tower, an expensive video card, a keyboard and mouse to administer and we had to travel with them to monitor them and fix any unforeseen bugs. None of that was as hard as it sounds, but with the MoAF Entrepreneurs Kiosks it really feels like we’ve refined our work–they’re smaller, lighter, simple to use, virtually admin-less, simple to maintain and stable as heck–running 5 days a week for months now without a single bug report. And who knows, hopefully we even gleaned a thing or two from all those entrepreneurs about how to keep Uncommon Projects on the right track!


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