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More Than Meets The Eye… Designing a multi-media show about the Ocean

The future of our planet, inextricably linked to the health of our oceans, is an area which should concern us all, from children to the elderly. Our design process was to create an experience that would not only appeal to audiences across generations, but also shed light on little-known facts, ensuring visitors walk away enlightened and inspired.

The Singapore Maritime Gallery tells the story of Singapore’s transformation from a thriving trading post into one of the busiest and most connected ports in the world. The ‘Changing Gallery’, a versatile space for temporary exhibitions. In April 2021 we transformed this space into The Sea Show.

Curatorial Approach

Working alongside The Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore, we uncovered facts, stats and scientific research, dialling in on ideas that stimulate the imagination such as famous sea explorers, boats that use ocean current to clean up waste, as well as complex issues such as the impact of plastic and waste on ocean life and rising sea levels.

We commissioned 30 artists, designers and animators from 13 countries to visualise these ideas. By using a visual approach combined with memorable bite-sized facts, the show explores the ocean from different angles and perspectives. By using a Creative approach, these topics are not only approachable but also become inseparable from creativity. It is precisely creative thinking that is required to address these problems.

Fake walls, lighting and ambient sounds were used to create a journey that took visitors from life above the ocean, to life below the sea.

Engaging, yet low touch

Open during COVID-19, our challenge was to avoid physical interactions yet create a highly immersive and educational experience. The iPads, remote controls and touchscreens which would usually feature in our exhibitions, were re-thought as larger-than-life colourful artworks, installations and mobile digital interactions such as face filters and gif stickers. Captions at children’s eye level, thought-provoking questions, and puzzles printed on the wall engage young visitors.


‘Guess The Explorers’ – playful illustrations of famous sea explorers invite viewers to find clues in the portraits such as the stormy waves pouring out of Bartholemew Dias’ eyes.

Beyond ‘Instagrammable Moments’

When dealing with such important complex topics it’s crucial that the experience goes beyond the superficial. Nor should it feel ‘preachy’.

Behind each and every artwork and installation lies an idea. For example, scientists have uncovered a secret “White Shark Cafe” in the middle of the Pacific Ocean where sharks gather to feed once a year.

In 1992, a cargo ship container broke open, dumping 28,000 rubber ducks into the sea. Years later the rubber ducks have been found in places as remote as Alaska. And then there’s the invisible damage as tiny pieces of plastic enter the food chain.

By recreating it as a playful and eye-catching 3D installation, we not only draw attention to the problem (this isn’t an isolated incident), but also invite visitors to share it.

Digital Content and Engagement

Digital content can live beyond the exhibition, spreading ideas far and wide.

A series of vertical animations screen short mesmerising clips about ships of the future that can pick up rubbish, rising water levels and plastic waste.

Sea creature hanging mobiles are also available as a collection of socially-focused GIF stickers which visitors can use to create their own playful stories.

Explorer face filters accessible through Instagram also serve to promote the show.

Puzzles, Riddles and Quizzes

The Activity booklet is designed to build on children’s natural curiosity with questions and puzzles. It was interesting to observe how some young visitors are instinctively put off the idea of an activity sheet, perhaps they perceive it as something associated with school, whilst others really get into it. This is where parents can play a supportive role, encouraging them to try a few questions or using it as a guide to talk them through the experience. Learning shouldn’t be confined to the classroom. A great test is to ask young visitors what they remember weeks after visiting.

Final thoughts

As digital experiences are growing, we also believe the need for physical experiences will grow in parallel. But with shortening attention spans and limited time, good experiences require a combination of highly specialised space design, set design, experience design, curation, marketing and funding. The Sea Show is the start of a mission to create highly eye-catching, thought-provoking and photographable exhibitions that immerse us into a highly creative world themed around an important complex multi-faceted topic, be it the ocean or the Internet.  Inviting us to pause, observe, consider different perspectives, reflect and share.

Children are the scientists, business people and innovators of the future who will need to have creative thinking skills at their disposal to solve complex problems. Let’s expose them to creativity from young by seeding ideas that will stay with them.

Thanks to the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore who commissioned this exhibition as part of Maritime Week 2021 and made it completely free of charge to the public.

About the author – Tanya Wilson

Tanya Wilson is Education Lead at EYEYAH! a not-for-profit platform that works to create a world where innovative mindsets are nurtured from young, inspiring the new generation to build a more equal and environmentally conscious society.

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