The Future is Here was a temporary exhibition exploring a new model of manufacturing. The way we design and use everyday objects is being transformed. New digital manufacturing methods, coupled with online marketplaces, open-source design and social networks, are redefining relationships and blurring boundaries between designers, users and makers. This exhibition helped visitors to see how new technologies could affect commerce, industry and the way we all live.

As the exhibition dealt with changing relationships between people and technology, visitor understanding depended on deep connections and engagement with content, including customizable 3D-printed dolls, robotic arms, crowd-sourced sofas and biodegradable shoes. Interpretation was devised to support engagement, turning visitors from passive spectators into active participants.

The objective was to bring this complex subject to life, giving an immersive, educational and inspiring experience to visitors and encouraging people to explore their changing relationship with the designed world. Visitors were given an insight into how the impact of digital technologies could rival that of previous industrial revolutions.

The exhibition set and build was itself an exhibit. Recyclable, triple layered corrugated cardboard was digitally cut using CNC machines to make the plinths echoing the connection between sustainability and new manufacturing techniques. Rather than giving a prescriptive experience of the future of manufacturing, visitors were encouraged to question the impact of technologies on their lives. Some exhibits were animated through interpretive films and an augmented reality app was created to demonstrate how the now commonplace practice of recycling might change. When visitors held a tablet over certain exhibits, the app displayed a breakdown of the materials in the object and highlighted what could be made by recovering and recycling the materials.

A blog extended in-gallery interpretation while members of the pubic crowd-sourced a ‘digital canvas’ online by uploading images via Flickr, Instagram or Twitter. Wraparound public events used the world’s first 3D printing pen, full size 3D printers and remote streaming of content to further enrich visitor experience.

In consultation with digital manufacturing experts, an immersive visitor experience was developed called The Future is Here Factory. This showcased new manufacturing technologies including 3D printers, laser cutting machines and CNC devices. Front of House staff delivered live interpretation, demonstrating the design and making of objects and supporting visitors in contributing to the creation of new objects. This hands-on approach enriched the visitor experience and showed the possibilities and constraints of contemporary manufacturing.

While museums have presented digital manufacturing processes before, this is the first time that an exhibition has been devoted to these processes. The exhibition gave many visitors their first contact with these new technologies, and connected them deeply with exhibits.

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