Dialogue in the Dark
Connecting with guests to promote an ‘invisible’ exhibition.
How do you motivate people to share their experience while creating a database of happy attendees?
Dialogue in the Dark is a global phenomenon: a sensory experience to enlighten participants by raising awareness of the daily realities people face when living with low vision or blindness.
While the exhibition has toured major cities globally since 1988, each Dialogue in the Dark experience is uniquely tailored to its host location. Wherever the setting, the experience is always set in total darkness. The Melbourne edition invites you to take on some of the challenges of our bustling city in a pitch-black simulated environment, in the same way a person with low vision or blindness may experience the world.
The entire experience is profoundly affecting, but the unique format is challenging to articulate clearly and quickly, let alone promote effectively. Our challenge? Create an exciting way for participants to share positive experiences after completing a session and promote the exhibition as a compelling, unique event.
- Events, entertainment, non-profit
The unique nature of Dialogue in the Dark makes it challenging to promote. Participants frequently offer incredibly positive reviews and testimonials, but there was no effective way to capture or publish those sentiments for marketing.
Build an intuitive set of custom hardware and software products—in the form of a digital guest book and ‘share station’ photobooth—that invite participants to create high quality, highly shareable reviews, testimonials, and more.
Make it easy and fun for people to capture their experience, and use participant-generated material to market the exhibit both locally and nationally.
Dialogue in the Dark is Guide Dogs Victoria’s very first social enterprise aimed at creating a platform for social change in this great City of Melbourne. Because Dialogue in the Dark is such a unique experience, It was really important that we were able to provide the accessibility, community involvement, and ability to really understand what this experience was all about. It’s been important to capture the feedback of those people who go through that experience, the minute they go through it, and really understand the excitement and the change it creates for everybody that goes through this amazing experience.
Over the past two years, Dialogue in the Dark has provided life-changing experiences to over 21,000 exhibition guests.
A unique experience like Dialogue in the Dark warrants an exciting sales pitch, but it takes some lateral thinking to highlight an event set in pitch-black darkness.
The primary goal:
Get people's attention.
Observational research showed most participants walked straight to the lockers for their phones after exiting the experience. We had to engage participants immediately.
ROOM FOR EXPERIMENTATION
To ensure we didn't disrupt the Dialogue in the Dark experience while tinkering with prototypes, we built a replica of the exhibition space—both physically, and with a 3D render—to test the guest book and share station in situ.
The previous guest book consisted of a paper notepad, so swapping in an iPad screen doesn’t present too much of a trade-off where floor space or logistics are concerned. The share station photo booth, on the other hand, required much more extensive prototyping.
The share station photo booth.
A completely custom software and hardware solution,
designed to seamlessly share a guest's experience through interactive technologies.
‘We used proximity-triggered motion sensors to play audio voice prompts whenever people walk within a certain distance of the share station.’
‘That way, a friendly voice invites people to capture their memory with a photoshoot. We chose an audio prompt because they’re highly effective, but also in keeping with the nature of ‘Dialogue’ as an experience emphasizing the importance of senses beyond vision.’
Matt Agar, Senior Systems Engineer
Prototyping both physically and digitally ensured we factored for the unique layout of the environment, potential interactions with each device, logistical kinks, and more.
DUAL PERSPECTIVES ON PROTOTYPING
Visualising the space in a 3D render allowed us to set the initial hardware size and explore different mounting options for the share station’s hardware: quickly and at low cost.
This ensures the final experience is wheelchair accessible and flexible. The ShareStation can be folded away to create more space and easier access for large corporate or school groups.
By creating a physical, life-size model of the share station at August HQ, we were able to conduct extensive testing with real people and hardware.
We gradually refined the details of the entire experience, including the activation distances for the proximity sensors, and the frequency, volume, and sensitivity of the audio messages those sensors initiate.
FROM CARDBOARD TO CODE
While the guest book hardware was all off-the-shelf, the unique functionality of the share station required an entirely custom physical product build.
We gradually worked from a low fidelity prototype through to the final product, testing and refining along the way.
Starting out with a simple cardboard design, we tested rough hardware options, while experimenting with mounting and positioning.
Next, we modelled and cut a simplified medium density fiberboard (MDF) prototype, using a CNC router, to better test the size and fit of the components in a material that more closely reflected the potential final product.
The MDF prototype allowed for quick design iterations and software testing. Based on the learnings from the MDF version, we increased the size of the piece and updated the materials to mirror the interior design of the Dialogue in the Dark space—with birch ply, matte black, and orange acrylic faces.
To put the 'share' in share station, Native APIs capture front-facing happy snaps with an in-app filter, before Twillio provides attendees with their images through email and SMS.
For the guest book, emails are generated with each handwritten message to encourage people to post their experience to social media.
The Dialogue in the Dark guides also receive an automated daily summary of the feedback they receive from guests.
With the front-of-house physical products primed and ready to go, the next step involved establishing a seamless process behind the scenes.
Whether participants chose to record their experience through a share station photo or a guest book message, their memory of ‘Dialogue in the Dark’ is immediately delivered to their chosen inbox.
In the process, each person’s contact details are securely logged in a database to ensure they can choose to receive news and updates in the future.
From there, all that’s left to do is hit ‘post’ to shed some light on an incredible experience at Dialogue in the Dark!
The guest book.
A digital alternative to pen and paper,
the guest book uses handwriting recognition software to
translate and distribute an exhibition review into a shareable email.
THE WRITE APPROACH
The original guest book consisted of a pen-and-paper notebook. Using an iPad and handwriting recognition API, our new guest book offers all the benefits of digital, while keeping the tactile experience of writing with a 'pen'.
The guest book uses existing handwriting recognition software from MyScript through publicly accessible APIs. Character recognition occurs in real time; whenever someone writes a message, the guest book sends an ‘image’ of the message to the MyScript service, translates it into text characters, and records it in the device.
Critically, the recognition software is available in multiple languages. Although we built the solution for Melbourne’s installment of Dialogue in the Dark, the products are fit for all international versions of the exhibition.
'We configured custom language-recognition lexicons—or libraries of unusual words or phrases—within the API to account for a few ‘Melbourne-centric’ considerations.
The first lexicon is based on a census list of hundreds of thousands of surnames, so the guest book can recognise and capture the details of people who leave messages.
The second lexicon consists of specific local terminologies—Melbourne and ‘au’, for example—to account for Australian domains in capturing participants’ email addresses.’
James Otter, Systems Engineer
Be our guest! Try writing in the space below...
RESULTS SINCE LAUNCH
GUEST BOOK MESSAGES
Testimonials, recommendations and messages; signed, sealed and delivered.
SHARE STATION PHOTOS
If a picture’s worth a thousand words, that’s a whole lot of support!
OF PEOPLE TOOK A PHOTO
Or, two of every three attendees took a happy snap.