Digital Power Diorama - Hoover Dam Visitor Center

This exhibit was created as part of a larger project by Ideum to revamp the visitor experience at Hoover Dam. It runs on an ultra-wide Ideum multitouch table, which is located in the Hoover Dam Visitor's Center (a venue which receives nearly 1 million visitors annually). An interactive simulation, it teaches visitors about power generation, consumption, and the flow of energy, including the hydro power generated at the dam. The primary goal was to create a digital experience that fosters play, discovery, and multi-user collaboration.

Roles: Software development, concept illustration, UX design.

Tech: Unity


At the start of the project, I participated in a number of brainstorming sessions exploring how the experience might work. The project specification from the client was quite open-ended, so these discussions were wide-ranging (and fun!). If anything, the difficulty was that the team generated too many intriguing ideas, which each person interpreted a bit differently. For example, should the simulation include environmental factors like rainfall or cloud cover? Should the experience be driven by pre-planned scenarios like droughts or heatwaves? This photo shows the results of one of these ideation sessions, where I tried to sketch out the ideas on a white-board in 'real-time' as a technique to clarify things visually.

Concept Drawing

As a next step, I made a detailed concept drawing as a way to distill the ideas generated during brainstorming and make them as explicit as possible. The drawing made it easier to envision the exhibit as a coherent experience, and helped the team make concrete decisions about what features to include and what to leave out. For example, I laid out the energy sources and syncs and the energy flows connecting them. The drawing helped build consensus, allowing us to move on to the next stage of the project.

Prototyping and Development

Software development was done using Unity 3D. It was an iterative process involving a good deal of prototyping and refinement. One key decision was to use the movement of 3d objects to represent processes involving energy. For example, the movement of energy from one location to another was represented by moving 'light spheres' in the 3D scene. Similarly, different forms of energy production were brought to life with movement, such as rotating turbines to represent the generation of wind energy, or steam to represent energy from natural gas. Getting these elements to look right involved a lot of trial and error.

In addition to power generation, the exhibit also involves consumption. This is represented by a house where users can turn various appliances on an off. For calculating the total consumption and power balance, the house represents 400,000 homes, which is about the number supplied by power from the Hoover Dam. As with power generation, the goal was to represent consumption using actions in a 3D scene, such as turning on a lamp or boiling water on a stove.

User Testing

Throughout the development process, I tested parts of the application on people unfamiliar with it. This helped ensure the interactions were intuitive, the concepts clear, and the overall experience compelling and fun. In addition to testing on colleagues, we  took the application to a local school and also tried it out with a tour group of children visiting the office.

Using Format