Spotlight: Applications for an Interactive Exhibition

In this project I was part of the team at the agency A&B One Digital tasked with designing and implementing an exhibition space for the former coal mining giant RAG. If you cannot visit the Duhamel branch in Ensdorf, check out the information page on

The exhibition details the history of the change in the region due to the end of the mining operations. It features multiple stations with interactive information displays:

The hardware

All the interactive surfaces except for the tablets were done with touch screens driven by small industrial PCs running Windows. Due to its remoteness and former industrial use, the location had no internet available; loading the content from the network was therefore out of the question. Instead, we built it so that the application could detect when a USB stick was inserted into the machine, switching into an update mode. We had a single unit at the office to do all the testing, and installed the rest of the machines at the venue.

The software

For quicker turn-around and easier quality control by the customer, we decided to code the content as several stand-alone HTML sites. These were produced by a few custom tools, which made it possible for our editorial team to iterate without knowing how to correctly change HTML files.

As I had a bit of previous experience with Cordova, I used it to build a WinJS application that embedded the content in an iframe. This way, all the files could be copied into the app data directory from the USB stick, effectively updating the whole application without requiring a reinstall.

Windows 10 thankfully had the possibility to run an application in kiosk mode, but it was kind of tricky to configure. If I had to do it again, I would probably buy a kiosk solution and build on top of that.

A fun bit of the software was a communication with the wall of items, where the item’s space would light up when a visitor selected the item at the touch display. We used a socket to send a few MIDI commands, which is a trivial plain text protocol.

Plan for fat fingers

The design for the maps intended for the visitors to tap small pins to open the info about the locations. Initially we had quite a lot on a single map, but quickly realised that fingers are not accurate mouse pointers. We split the content into pages, and additionally made it so that the pins ‘magnetically’ repelled each other, preventing two pins from overlapping.

Summing up

Creating applications for a known screen size and fixed machine capabilities is a breeze. Don’t bother to write media queries or think about overlong labels, it’t all under your control! The only area where we could have been more resilient was the update procedure, which we had to explain several times. Turns out, when people use a tool only a few times each year, they tend to forget how it works.