Pentagram’s new interactive design project dedicated to the science of decision-making

A vibrantly designed new exhibition encouraging play seeks to demystify the science of our daily decision-making for the world’s first interactive museum about behavioural science.

9 August 2021

What to order on a menu when everything looks good, what to watch on Netflix when you’ve basically seen everything already; decision-making can be overwhelming. A new exhibition is aiming to challenge its visitors’ “sometimes mistaken” ideas of how rational they believe they are in daily decision-making and life choices whilst making this science digestible to the general public.

The Mindworks: The Science of Thinking experience was dreamt up and executed by design studio Pentagram’s partners Giorgia Lupi, Abbott Miller and Luke Hayman. It’s the world’s first interactive museum and working lab dedicated to behavioural science, operated by the Center for Decision Research at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business Since one of their major principles was ‘learning through doing’, says Lupi, the partners went for an analogue interactive experience over a screen experience because they believe it provided an immediacy and warmth; “Since these exhibits are tactile”, Lupi tells It's Nice That, “the invitation to share responses is warm and more human.” Physical objects, they felt, make scientific findings and jargon more approachable to the general public. They were, quite literally, “giving shape” to their ideas.

Lupi designed the series of interactive experiments which let visitors play out the concepts of behavioural science whilst also collecting data for researchers, resulting in a two-birds-with-one-stone project. Miller was responsible for the design system whilst Hayman designed the visual identity.

Many of the exhibits are based on the concepts of Richard H. Thaler, a Nobel Prize winning economist who coined the term “nudges”, which refers to the theory of gently ‘nudging’ people to make certain choices without removing their choice to do so. Like putting fruit at eye level in a supermarket instead of banning junk food. It would seem we’d all appreciate some more nudges in our daily lives.

There are several interactive sections to the exhibit which are all based on scientific theories and are designed to encourage a playful atmosphere, encouraging participation. For example, the Prospect Theory exhibit illustrates Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky’s findings which show how humans give different value to losses and gains. This section uses the placement of pegs to illustrate “the logical rift in human decision-making.”

The Choice architecture exhibit illustrates Thaler’s research. “From the beginning we wanted this installation to be a marquee moment in the space: bold, graphic, and highly visible, even from the street,” says Lupi. This resulted in interactive elements which ask visitors to reflect on their goals, consider what stumbling blocks hold them back from achieving their goals, and determine some strategies to reframe their stumbling blocks to help them succeed, resulting in what is called a data portrait – a way to define each visitor through the answers they give. “It is exciting for visitors to physically assemble their ‘composite data portrait’ as they reflect on the questions, and select their answers. On the wall, there’s also an added benefit of seeing what ‘data portraits’ are similar to yours from the previous visitors.”

There’s also a ‘regrets wall’ where visitors are prompted to anonymously write two things they regret: something they did, and something they didn’t do on blue and pink circles which are then hung on an illuminated wall. Lupi explains that the exhibit has demonstrated how a pattern emerges highlighting that we tend to remember and regret things that we didn’t do in the long run, and regret things we did do in the short run. Lupi says that “This wall also allows visitors to read through other’s responses, prompting a shared humanity, as we all have things we regret.”


Pentagram: Mindworks: The Science of Thinking (Copyright © Pentagram, 2021)

“Our approach to the space and materials”, explains Miller, “was to create a sense of a working laboratory that would be agile enough to change overnight, and would feel less precious and constantly evolving.”

For the visual design of the space, the partners were inspired by ideas represented in the actual behavioral science research: cause and effect, exploration and discovery, intuition and realization. Lupi describes how they “landed on a visual language of geometric shapes, grids, and bright colors that would evoke some of these ideas”. The use of pegs throughout the space were crucial for the visualisation aspect, says the team. “Extruding pegs are used to hang up paper and vinyl objects, but visitors can also interact by sliding pegs into the boards to track their results.” As was the variety of materials used throughout the space: the unfinished wood walls provided a neutral surface for the bright pops of colourful vinyl, paper, ping pong balls, string, and painted wood.”

Hayman tells us that one challenge was to create an identity that could accommodate different audiences. Mindworks needs to represent the University of Chicago's notoriously rigorous and intellectual audience. The other audience is the diverse public.

The typeface for the logo and branding is constructed of simple geometric shapes – this is meant to reflect rationality for the scientists whilst being approachable for the public, with its semicircular lowercase forms. “The dots within the letters”, says Hayman, “are a nod to data while at the same time making a visual connection to the peg boards within the exhibition.”

Hayman claims that after a “fun romp around the spectrum” – which is also a great new response to someone who asks how you chose what colour to paint your refurbished kitchen – the team returned to the University’s core colour identity, “a solid maroon”. The typeface on the windows is outlined with silver foil to merge in with the storefront and the colours and typography of the exhibition itself “have their own lively palette, appropriate for the tone and voice of the content”.

Mindworks is located in Chicago’s cultural corridor on Michigan Avenue, and is free and open to the public.

GalleryPentagram: Mindworks: The Science of Thinking (Copyright © Pentagram, 2021)

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Pentagram: Mindworks: The Science of Thinking (Copyright © Pentagram, 2021)

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About the Author

Dalia Al-Dujaili

Dalia is a freelance writer, producer and editor based in London. She’s currently the digital editor of Azeema, and the editor-in-chief of The Road to Nowhere Magazine. Previously, she was news writer at It’s Nice That, after graduating in English Literature from The University of Edinburgh.

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