Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The nuts and bolts of program carts

Scott Moulton, Designer

A staffed program cart is a great way for museums to create unique and memorable experiences for visitors. An energetic staff person is what will make the experience but the cart plays a key supporting role for the staff and activity. There are 3 basic approaches to the design of a cart : custom, modified, and off the shelf. When thinking about a new cart it is useful to look at these 3 approaches up front to evaluate which will best meet the needs of your museum.

A custom cart is the only solution when you have specific height requirements or if the cart will be used for a unique activity that requires specific infrastructure. That might be the case for an outdoor exhibit, or woodworking, both of which require durable materials. 

Custom carts can be designed to tie into the aesthetic of the gallery in which case the activities that take place on it can feel like an integrated part of the museum experience. That is a plus.  The main challenge with custom carts comes in the cost. Because these carts often involve institutional grade hardware, are ordered in small quantities, and have to be extremely durable, they can be expensive.  And because the carts themselves are fairly small, that cost can be prohibitive. 
This is one of our designs.  Here a custom cart is part of a larger system that includes a counter top and docking station.
This movable cart is designed to work in a very specific environment - a library in Rancho Cucamonga - and to be self-directed rather than require staff.  So it is not a demonstration cart but a movable activity station that allows the organization to fine tune the amount of interactivity available at any given time.  It can also go outside.

This center section of this counter is a cart which can be used for demonstrations or display of objects. The materials and aesthetic integrate it into the adjacent cabinetry

A modified cart is a good alternative when you can find a basic cart framework that meets your needs and then add to it to make it unique. We used this approach for the Big Lab at the California Science Center. We choose an industrial cart from C & H Distributors that came in a good color and added infill panels, a fold out work surface and photo studio type attachments to create a shade canopy.
Mock up of sun shade

Cart in use at CSC.

Often there are only very basic requirements for the cart. This one needed to have locking storage, to roll, and have the right work height surface. When this is the case an off the shelf solution will usually offer the best value. 

Here are a few examples of carts that might work as a base to modify:

A simple cart from School Outfitters

A cart with locking stainless steel drawers from Kennedy
Combination of locking drawers and a door from Kennedy
This was the basis of our modified cart from California Science Center. As you can see it comes with quite a few standard options from C&H Distributors

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