REVIEW: Mindworks – The Science of Thinking

Researchers and analysts are always seeking new ways to engage people, to help their insights feel meaningful to their audiences. Action is rarely generated from reports and PowerPoint, despite the hours we dedicate to these mediums. User experience researchers have begun to employ techniques like hosting museum nights and other live and virtual events to socialize their findings. I’ve written about Civilla’s research exhibit space, the Hostile Terrain installation, and Dario Rodighiero’s physical installation at the School of Architecture, Civil and Environmental Engineering (ENAC) School. In August, I visited Mindworks in Chicago, Illinois, to see academic research on display in real life. 

Mindworks bills itself as both an interactive discovery center and a behavioral science lab. The venue takes advantage of optimal foot traffic via its retail storefront on Michigan Avenue, situated near public transportation and the Bean–a major tourist attraction. It’s window displays are designed to pique curiosity and invite passersby in. Visitors are greeted by a friendly “receptionist” who explains that the hands-on exhibits serve as active data collection for behavioral research. In fact, the staff are all behavioral science students and researchers from The University of Chicago Booth School of Business (the organization behind this operation). The receptionist also sets expectations for your time commitment–typically 30-to-60 minutes–and highlights the “merch” you can purchase with the points you earn for your participation.

This is not your typical research facility recruitment experience!

Giorgia Lupi fans will recognize her influence as she and her partners at Pentagram collaborated on the experience design, interactive installations, exhibition design, display system, environmental graphics, and visual identity design.

I found it both fascinating and delightful to introduce my kids to principles like choice architecture–plucked from the pages of Thaler and Sunstein’s Nudge–in such an entertaining fashion. I especially appreciated the way the creators labelled nudges around the space, which served to both make the concepts real and model transparency. Efforts like these advance data fluency, especially among non-practitioner audiences.

If you’re looking for techniques for engaging your audience and you happen to be near Chicago, make time to visit Mindworks.

Thanks to Editorial Committee member, Chuck Burke, for reviewing this piece from the first-hand perspective of a UChicago staffer!

For 20 years, Mary Aviles has stewarded projects driving strategy and content, human experience, concept development, and systems change. A graduate of the University of Michigan, her work has spanned the business-to-business, health care, and nonprofit sectors. Mary is a mixed-method UX researcher at Detroit Labs and the managing editor of Nightingale. She writes about dataviz in real life (IRL) in an effort to help practitioners and “non-data” people enjoy better understanding and experiences in their shared ecosystems.