Autodesk makes software for people who make things. If you've ever driven a high-performance car, admired a towering skyscraper, used a smartphone, or watched a great film, chances are you've experienced what millions of Autodesk customers are doing with our software. Autodesk gives you the power to make anything, but some segments of the general public are not yet aware of that.
The Autodesk Gallery at One Market in San Francisco celebrates design — the process of taking a great idea and turning it into a reality. With about 60 different exhibits regularly on display that showcase the innovative work of Autodesk customers, the gallery illustrates the role technology plays in great design and engineering. I am one of the Autodesk Gallery Ambassadors who conducts gallery tours as a sideline to their day jobs. The tours provide ambassadors with opportunities to practice public speaking in front of small groups. Autodesk Gallery Curator, Jason Medal-Katz, chose the title "ambassador" instead of "docent" because the correct way to address an ambassador is "your Excellency." Alas, this never happens.
Gallery tours wouldn't be possible without the exhibits. Though the gallery celebrates the work of Autodesk customers who imagine, design, and make things for a better world, many of the exhibits themselves are created by our gallery team. Paula Commerford is one of our Senior Exhibit Designers at Autodesk. I talked to Paula about how the exhibits are curated, constructed, and installed in the gallery.
When Jason first established the Autodesk Gallery in 2008, he reached out to customers to obtain exhibits. Now the gallery team (Jason, Paula, Matthew Tierney, Roddy Wykes, Paul Fortin, and Ray Ledda) work with Autodesk's network of sales associates and PR teams worldwide to garner exhibits. Many exhibits debut at events like Autodesk University Las Vegas where this past year's theme was the convergence of construction and manufacturing.
Exhibits created for that event with that theme in mind then make their way to the Autodesk Gallery after the event. Given exhibits' remote origins, people local to an event (e.g., popup galleries in Paris and Tokyo) identify companies and projects that fit into the larger story of Autodesk that would make great exhibits. What makes a great exhibit is a recognized brand name (but not necessary), effective use of technology (almost always), and a good story (always). In addition, the gallery team tries to provide a balance of exhibits that reflect the industries that Autodesk serves so that there is something for everyone.
The exhibit construction process varies from exhibit to exhibit but for ones that involve physical objects (often large in size), the team considers:
- How can the exhibit be safe? The gallery team works with the facilities team to ensure that each exhibit is safe and secure.
- Is it an exhibit that can be touched? Gallery visitors interact with some exhibits whereas others are viewed and read about.
When putting together an exhibit, the team first obtains all of the physical assets from the customer. Instead of just a finished product or model, the team seeks out artifacts from the design and make process. Unlike most galleries that only show finished works, the Autodesk Gallery pulls back the curtain to show how things are designed and made by showcasing sketches, CAD models, prototypes, and other elements of works in progress. The team then collaborates with a writer to craft the story in an understandable and engaging way. A graphic designer then creates the visuals. The gallery team will often print the visuals to scale, hang them up in the office, and walk around them for a day (or up to a week) to make sure they have the desired effect.
The gallery team recognizes that exhibits need to serve different audiences:
- Casual observers who will walk by and see an exhibit for 5 seconds.
- Interested parties who will browse the materials for 5 minutes.
- Enthusiasts who will dive in and spend 15 minutes at the exhibit.
Though each exhibit is unique, the gallery team uses a consistent form factor to give the gallery an overall consistency. The exhibits are designed using 3ds Max, InDesign, and Photoshop. Some of the most effective exhibits are ones that have video to complement the 3D artifacts. Video or not, the exhibits are designed for the eye to move from left to right where the story begins on the left with the process reveal on the right. Gallery visitors can digest the information based on their level of interest.
As mentioned, gallery exhibits often start at or travel to events. As such, in addition to designing and making each exhibit, the gallery team creates specially designed cases for each exhibit to protect them during travel. They also create step-by-step instructions for unpacking, setup, operation, and repacking so that other Autodesk employees in remote locations can also host successful exhibitions.
So that's how the Autodesk Gallery team works its magic. Thanks, Paula.
The Autodesk Gallery in San Francisco is open to the public on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm. There is a guided tour on Wednesdays at 12:30 pm and a self-guided audio tour available anytime. Admission is free. Visit us.
Autodesk has always been an automation company, and today more than ever that means helping people make more things, better things, with less; more and better in terms of increasing efficiency, performance, quality, and innovation; less in terms of time, resources, and negative impacts (e.g., social, environmental). The exhibits in the gallery showcase customers who have done just that.
Exhibitionism is alive in the lab.