2011 Solar Decathlon

Mark Walhimer Exhibition Design Leave a Comment

2011 Solar Decathlon

Last October I was invited to be a juror for the 2011 Solar Decathlon.  The Solar Decathlon is a semi-annual event (next Decathlon 2013) sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy’sNational Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) .  I was selected as one of three jurors of the Communication Jury.  We were given the task of ranking the work of 20 international teams.  Each team was given very specific requirements to create a solar home.   The Communication jury was tasked with ranking, how the teams “communicate” their project to the public.

Being a juror gave me an opportunity to clarify my criteria for reviewing an exhibition.  The items I “looked for” from each team:

1.   Was there a communication objective?

  • Did the project establish a brand?
  • Was there a “Voice of communication”, did the team communicate in specific and fitting “voice”?
  • Did the team create measurable objectives?

2.   Is there a visible strategy to achieve the objectives?

3.   Did the team use the tools of Museum 1.0 ?, 2.0?, 3.0?, 4.0 ?

It was very interesting sitting with the two other jurors and discussing how we ranked the teams.  The other two jurors were a Director of Marketing of a Prefab home company and a communications consultant.  One of the interesting items that came out of our deliberations was that the content of the projects was of less importance than “how” the team communicated their project.

As a jury we came up with a standard to judge the teams, “did the teams communicate in order to create a change in behavior”?  We were given a matrix to judge each team on several areas, most areas were very broad.  As I went through the houses, I took photos and looked for the typical tools of an exhibition, for each team I broke the visit into; Pre Visit, Visit and Post Visit.

Pre Visit

  1. Did the website communicate; a project objective? a “voice” of communication?, was there “brand” established?,
  2. Did the Video of project communicate the objectives?
  3. Did the website and video show market research?
  4. Was there an established Visitor Demographic?
  5. Is there a stated “Communication Plan”?
  6. Were there interviews with a sample of the demographic?
  7. Were there clear “project filters” (link)
  8. Was there a Press Release?
  9. Did the website customize content to the viewer?


  1. Did the guide provide “Talking Points” of the project?
  2. Was it apparent that the staff was trained?
  3. Was there a “Demonstrator of the technology”?
  4. Were we oriented to the project?
  5. Was there a Threshold (Link)
  6. Is there a clear “Big Message”
  7. Is there a hierarchy of Content?
  8. Is there a “Call to action”?
  9. What type of layout, linear? Chronological?, Exploratory? aware of different learning styles? Vista? Surprises? An overview of the entire project?
  10. Was the “voice” of the communication? Was the “voice” consistent?
  11. Did the communication “speak” to the demographic?
  12. Did the project show feedback from the demographic?
  13. Did the interpretation customize the interruption to different learning styles?
  14. Did the team attire and attitude support the communication plan?
  15. Demonstrations?
  16. Did the team use physical interactives?
  17. Were there team photos? Was it apparent that the project was built by a team ?
  18. Did the project use Technology to communicate? Video, ipad, iphone, QR codes?
  19. Was the communication innovative?
  20. Did the project set a context for the content?
  21. Was there a consistent use of font, color,
  22. Are the exhibits ADA compliant?
  23. Were there samples of the materials and technology used? Were there Manipulatives (wall sections, etc.) ?
  24. Map, “where am I”?
  25. Did the team collect visitor information?
  26. Was there a physical model of how the technology works?
  27. Photos of users, “oh I look like them” matching to demographic
  28. Did the team incorporate quotes?
  29. Was there interpretation of the content?
  30. Was there a clear visitor flow?
  31. As jurors we were not allowed to review electronic communication, but the teams were allowed to describe their use of electronic media

Post Visit

  1. Did the project achieve the stated objective?
  2. Did the website “continue” the visit and give links to additional content?
  3. Was there a follow up “Call to action”?
  4. Was there an opportunity to “Join the community”?
  5. Was there an opportunity to Donate?
  6. Was there a link to “Press Materials”?
  7. Was there a communication plan available?

2011 Solar Decathlon Flickr Photos

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