Thanks to video games, kids take interactive design for granted, but when Edwin Schlossberg founded ESI Design in 1977, show and tell meant look, don't touch. ESI has done "experiential" projects ranging from Web sites to store displays to museum exhibits (they're currently working on a new wing for the Museum of Science in Boston). No one does touchy-feely better.
What's your educational background?
I got an interdisciplinary doctoral degree in physics and English. I've always been interested in both the physical novel we live in and the sciences, where you prove things wrong or right.
I bet it's hard to get a job in either physics or literature with that.
One of my advisors said, "It's a fascinating but doomed effort." I wasn't worried. Two months after I finished I was asked to design the Brooklyn Children's Museum.
Which was ground-breaking, right?
Museums were about objects, not intellectual discovery. Montessori and Piaget were beginning to talk about interactive learning, but it was talk.
What have you learned about cognition?
The world doesn't have text around it. You should be able to experiment with learning from and with other people. Ideally, the subject matter of the experience is a collaborative reaction to a phenomenon. I never thought that was my goal until I saw how joyful and natural it was.