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Luci Creative in the Motor City: Top 4 Takeaways from the AASHL 2016 Conference

As the creative strategy team at Luci Creative, it is vital for us to understand what is going on in the museum world and any new approaches to exhibits and experiential learning. Our continuous goal is to gain a greater understanding of what engages our clients, their visitors, and what makes them struggle.

One of the best learning moments for us this last year involved rubbing elbows with our museum collaborators at the 2016 American Association for State and Local History conference themed, “The Spirit of Rebirth.” 

 We were amazed by the diversity of subjects and split up to cover as much ground as possible. We took part in sessions on everything from design thinking for museums, telling difficult histories, embracing fundraising, interpreting food, connecting with art in the classroom, dismantling race in museums, interpreting military histories and many others.

Here are our top four takeaways from the conference:

  1. Design thinking is everywhere and it is not just a trend.

Through human-centered design or “design thinking”, we learn to understand target visitors (or users) and build empathy for them before we attempt to design for them. It is through this discovery that we can interpret, ideate, prototype and test. Based on the results we move forward and evolve the solution.

Jon Carfagno, Christopher Bruce and the Grand Rapids Art Museum have taken a human-centered approach to development of everything from strategic planning to their visitor experience. What we heard as their three keys to success:

  1. Make it an institutional commitment.
  2. Don’t go it alone.
  3. Start with small experiments

We also recommend checking out the book Innovating for People: Handbook of Human-Centered Design Methods for inspiration and resources.

  1. Fundraising sucks! #embracetheraise

How do you ask for money and how much money do you ask for? In “Strangelove: How to Stop Worrying and Start Fundraising” we were encouraged to identify our fears of fundraising and then move beyond them. Presenter Jamie Simek explored ways that museum staff and volunteers can take part in the fundraising process. Kevin Pazour’s key advice: “Build relationships. Real relationships.” Good advice for any kind of interaction but particularly useful when asking for money

  1. Historic storytelling need to be inclusive.

There were three sessions that we attended that addressed this very timely topic.

How do you tell stories of violence? How can you share the pain of history in a way that heals and moves us forward? Don’t let difficult histories be reburied. Museums across the country are grappling with histories of violence. From military history to our own American racial history, how do we tell stories that are politically contentious?

In “Reaching Out: Contested History & Community Engagement” a panel of museum leaders addressed the importance of communities in presenting stories that include the perspectives of all, including those whose voices are traditionally silenced. To accomplish this work, you have to go beyond mere focus groups. It demands a consistent and ongoing relationship between historians, museums and the communities they represent.

This approach helps us understand that histories of violence do not end when historic events do because their legacies trickle through the generations. With each story we tell, we have the opportunity to change the legacy, to give power and voice back to those who have been robbed of it.

Museums & Race is a group of museum professionals interested in effecting radical change in the museum world, by finding ways to connect with and support people of color inside their museums. Check out the movement.

  1. Critical thinking skills can be learned through traditional stories and creative interpretation.

Since we are in the midst of a multi-year effort of creating a new gallery for one of the nation’s premier military museums, The First Division Museum, this session was particularly interesting to us. In “Connecting Audiences to Traditional Stories: Interpretive American Military History in the 21st Century”, Marc Blackburn explained the concept of interpretive opportunity, or (What is interpretive opportunity? Can we explain what it is…), as a useful way to engage audiences with histories of violence.

We learned the value of providing visitors with their own interpretive skills by showing and teaching them how to make their own observations. In our new world, where knowledge is readily accessible, museums have the unique opportunity to curate knowledge so that visitors are empowered to build their own critical thinking skills.

In “Toward a More Democratic History”, David Thielen addressed the interpretive power of democratic contingency, or the myriad of alternative possibilities for realities and histories to exist. For instance, what might have happened if we lost WWII to the Nazi’s?

Engaging visitors to see history as fluid and open-ended so they realize the immense number of different possibilities, allows visitors to think about history in their daily lives and ask, “How might I be effecting history today with my choices?

Staying on top of what’s important to museums is at the core of staying relevant. Each conference we attend, and each person we speak to, helps us tap into our client’s motivations and anticipate their needs. Based on what we learn, we can continue to refine our process to benefit our clients exhibits.

Thanks AASLH for an incredible experience–we look forward to next year in Austin!

̶ The Luci Strategy Team

Museum Hack and the Disruptor-Centric Approach

Post by Matthew York, Senior Designer

As Exhibit Design professionals, we normally don’t identify with the description ‘people who don’t like museums.’ Museums are our passion and we spend countless hours visiting them for work and for leisure.

But we know museums can be intimidating for the novice visitor and taken for granted by the seasoned professional. So when Museum Hack yelled, “Museums are F***ing Awesome” we were a little intrigued.

Museum Hack is a relatively young company and new to Chicago. They have branded themselves as a “museum tour… for people who don’t like museums,” and describe their Un-Highlights tour of the Art Institute of Chicago as a “high-energy, group-oriented tour experience certain to keep you entertained and teach you a bit along the way.”

We decided to take the tour and here’s what we learned. Museum Hack tours are curated tours designed for small groups that take an irreverent approach to educational tours. It’s participatory rather than passive. Our guide Mark engaged us in creative challenges, scavenger hunts and group discussions not only about the art but also the circumstances and characters involved in the creation of the art.

We learned some rather salacious and ridiculous tidbits about the master works on display, and discussed parallels with today’s culture and society. We also subversively got to know each other better as a group along the way too. What we experienced was a unique tour affected by our own participation. It was visitor-centric. It was disruptor-centric. It was created for us, by us and the museum itself became a setting for our personal “choose your own adventure” story.

The artwork became characters that we related to and interacted with. It was engaging beyond its educational value because it encouraged us to ask questions relating the story of the art to our stories. It wasn’t about the art. It was about us.

For the novice visitor, Museum Hack helps you approach a museum’s collection in a way that makes it relevant to you. For us, as professionals, by participating in the Museum Hack experience we expanded our collective understanding we have of our audiences by walking in their shoes for a few hours. By going through this experience that have

museum hack wifi instant photos

museum hack wifi instant photos

And that is where the takeaway lies. Museum Hack doesn’t have its own collections. They aren’t positioning themselves as the experts. They aren’t associated with the museums where they operate. They don’t give you access to information that you couldn’t get by going on internet. They are taking the visitor through a familiar experience using a disruptive, uncommon filter, challenging our understanding of what a museum experience can be. And to that we say Bravo!

Over 200 guests enjoy our open house.

For the first time in 5 years, Luci Creative and Ravenswood Studio celebrated their growth and success with friends, family, clients, vendors and partners.
Guests who attended were treated to an exclusive sneak peek at many of Luci’s latest projects, like the new U-505 Interactive Dive Trainer – currently at the Museum of Science & Industry, The Zero Net Energy Display Home interactive experience for Pacific Gas and Electric in San Francisco, John B. Sanfilippo’s Heritage lobby exhibit, and the in-progress design for The First Division Museum Master Plan renovation at Cantigny Park, just to name a few.

The night also included tours of Ravenswood’s impressive 100,000 sq. ft.  shop where visitors were able to preview Numbers in Nature: A Mirror Maze traveling exhibit, see set fabrications for Joffrey Ballet’s production of The Nutcracker, and snap selfies within the popular life-size reproduction of Van Gogh’s bedroom. 

As one of the newest members of the Luci team, I was proud and excited to be a part of this celebration! From the moment I entered the party I knew I was stepping into an authentic experience where client and creative partnership came together to celebrate the process, collaboration, and the magic of bringing experience design to life!

Luci and Ravenswood know how to throw a party!

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As the evening’s festivities progressed, I noticed something amazing. Just as our design work and project cases seemed to inspire our guests, I realized that our guests, all from various backgrounds and industries, were sources of inspiration for us. Watching everyone discover and interact with
our work reminded me of why we here at Luci Creative and Ravenswood Studios love experiential design and got me to thinking of one of my favorite quotes:

“Love, like everything else in life, should be a discovery, an adventure, and like most adventures, you don’t know you’re having one until you’re right in the middle of it.” 
 E.A. Bucchianeri, Brushstrokes of a Gadfly’’

A very special thanks to the amazing culinary talents at Cluckers Charcoal Chicken and Mike Zabrin’s Funktastics for the great music. We look forward to another successful year ahead, and can’t wait to toast each other again next year at another great party!


CUSP Conference 2016: Highlights from Chicago

Post by Lila Marty, Graphic Designer

I recently attended the Cusp Conference, hosted by the Chicago design firm Multiple.

They describe it as a “conference about the design of everything”.  EVERYTHING! I was intrigued before even going to the conference, hoping the conversation would surface the tension between living a creative design driven life/career and the opportunities hidden in the ubiquity of design.  I was not disappointed as the gathering of thinkers, innovators, creators, visionaries, explorers, risk takers, and designers each took the stage to share their respective points of view on the marriage of design in culture. I was once again reminded that Chicago is rich with innovative designers applying their expertise and fresh perspective to enrich our everyday lives.

My top 5 favorite ‘big ideas’ from the conference:

  1. If you fit in, how will you stand out? It is time to take away your training wheels and experience an interesting outcome. Lauren Asta, Muralist, Street Artist, Illustrator, Doodle Dame
  2. Affirmation with actions! Understanding how exercise can change the brain and how an active life can change your creative life. – Wendy Suzuki, Ph.D., who recently wrote a book “Healthy Brain, Happy Life. A personal program to activate your brain and do everything better.”
  3. There is no good way to ask someone a “socially incorrect question” instead, rent a person from the Human Library. They publish people – breaking generalizations and labels/challenging taboos – Ronni Abergel, founder of the Human Library Organization (
  4. “What if the solution is the person we thought was the problem” – Max Kenner, helps redesign lives for incarcerated men and women through the Bard Prison Initiative
  5. Our work has rippling effects – design for good – what you’ve been taught you must teach and what you have been given you must give. – Julius Given, founder and CEO of The Explorer Program, a non-for-profit that uses art to capture student’s attention while encouraging them to explore the possibilities that exist for them.

As expected, this year Cusp’s presenters were a diverse group with big ideas and unique visions. Showing and expressing that there are many ways to cultivate creativity and methods to connect them back to our workplace and team.

I came back to the Luci Creative office after two days of inspiration alongside fellow designers, happy to be back with my team and rejuvenated by the top-notch work happening all around us here in Chicago.  I saw the world of solutions that already exist in other industries and I left Cusp with a sense of empowerment to look at EVERYTHING differently.

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Stay tuned for more updates from our designers and strategists as they go out into the world and bring knowledge, excitement and fresh thinking back to Luci Creative.


Dieter Rams: Design Hero


Dieter Rams. Photo Credit: Bob Borson, Life of An Architect

Dieter Rams. Photo Credit: Bob Borson, Life of An Architect

As designers we are often inspired by our surroundings, however nothing is more powerful than the influence of a fellow designers’ body of work. 

We seek inspiration in a variety of places yet most major successful design icons sought inspiration from one man – Dieter Rams! The German born product designer  is synonymous with clean, simple, and functionalist design style. With an impressive background in carpentry, architecture, and industrial design, his ideas quickly became noticeable in the 1960s through today. For 34 years, Rams held the position of Chief Design Officer at Braun, the high end consumer products company famous for their coffee makers and other consumer appliances. 

Philosophy of Design

Rams famous “Ten Principles of Good Design”  mainly concerns itself with product design, however these principles can be applied to other design frontiers. These 10 commandments can become a solid foundation for prototyping and conceptualizing. In an interview with “ICON” magazine , Rams lists education, forward ways of thinking to treat the environment, and the desire to improve upon things rather than make more things as concerns for the future. For example Rams mentions overly complicated TVs, which can confuse users. By simplifying the design and operation of the menus, users find the interaction much easier and user friendly.


Take one look at his 1958 T3 pocket radio, or his 1959 Braun LE1 Electrostat flat speaker, and you’ll immediately recognize these form factors in how they have been applied to current Apple products. Classic, good design can become timeless. Rams was influenced by the Ulm School of Design, a predecessor to the Bauhaus in how he strips away the unnecessary to get to the “core” of a product, and by doing so, creates well-functioning devises.

Rams Exhibit

In 2009, the design firm Bibliotheque created an exhibition at the London Design Museum showcasing Rams’ design and philosophy through his products “visual language” entitled Less and More – The design ethos of Dieter Rams. The interior seemed reminiscent of an industrial design studio, with products displayed on long white tables and wall partitions displaying graphical representations of interface cues. This exhibit spanned over six decades of the design industry. His designs are still relevant today.


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Written by: Brad Resnick

Creative Facilitating 101… But Who’s Getting Schooled?


Creative Facilitating 101… But Who’s Getting Schooled?

Ahh, OK…so maybe this won’t be as easy as I thought!!  What’s so different here?  Why does it seem like a struggle to get thru it, and yet at the end of the day we seem to be getting the work done?

What’s Destination Imagination?

Let’s step back a minute.  DI is a team based STEAM driven collaborative experience, where they solve a set of artistic and technical challenges, and present those solutions in a competitive setting.  Our team chose a challenge entitled Creature Feature/technical.  The problems to solve here are to create a story, a world for that story, and a “creature” that is autonomous and can complete a set of story-driven tasks. What we are doing is going thru the Story Mapping process as a team.  My job is to strictly facilitate.  Their job is to create the story, the world and the creature.  I can’t say…”how about this idea?”  I have to ask the right questions, “why is it this and not that?”….and so on.

So why a “struggle”?

Turns out, its not a struggle for them, only me. It’s what I expected that got me off on the wrong foot!  I expected much the same as what I do here at Luci.. we get to know about the subject.  Can’t do that here! They are creating this story.  At Luci, we sit at tables and stand and write on walls, well, paper on walls!  That’s not happening here….they are up and down, all around, drawing and writing and chattering……

What did the team learn?

Kids don’t really create in a way that’s much different than you or I, it’s how they communicate it.  It’s been shown that as kids get into 4th grade and beyond, the outlets for creativity begin to be reduced in our test driven school systems.  So expressing that creativity loses some practice too!  So I had to learn to adapt, just as we do on every project, but for different reasons not connected to the story.  Here’s some of what we came up with:  Binders for each team member filled with blank paper.  This way they can draw while listening to others, and bring up ideas later.  A “Talking Stick”, where you have to have the stick in your hand to talk.  You pass it around the room to get a chance to bring up an idea.  Moving from area to area in the room, so a change in “scenery” keeps it interesting.

What did I learn?

One thing I learned is that I don’t know as much as I thought I do.  More respect, yet again, for teachers too.  But more distinctly, I realized that there are more ways than one to listen. Yep, listen. While it might seem obvious, everyone has an individual creative language. It’s learning to hear that language that can be the toughest part of the creative process.  For me at least, it will be “continuing education.”

By: Kevin Snow, Luci Creative Creative Director 

2014 Pop Up Exhibit and Traveling Exhibit Trends

In the beginning phases of our projects, we often benchmark other experiences, trends and designs for inspiration. Recently for our Beatles Exhibit Project, we looked for new trends in the traveling exhibition world, pop up exhibit, new technologies being used in branded experiences, unique artifact display methods, and cutting-edge educational communications tools. In our research we found some interesting pop up exhibits and traveling exhibitions that break the standard physical and thematic museum concepts.

Pop Up Exhibit Trend 1: Self-Contained Mobile Pop Up Icon

Recently featured in FRAME Magazine, This Mobile Pop Up Icon, also known as “The Mobile Curiosity Cabinet” ,attaches to the back of a car and can be transported anywhere! With a click of a button, this modular unit folds open to reveal interactive elements and graphic content. Currently the structure is traveling around the German region of Westphalia to share rare local history with residents. Designed by Cologne-based Kalhöfer-Korschildgen, this pop-up museum features large text-based animations that project onto the outer shell that make this structure come alive at night. The back wall is used as an interactive pin-board, and the outer walls fold down to create a vibrant ramp; inviting visitors to come inside.  We love this design for its flexibility to easily changeable content, it is compact, modular, and elegant in its construction; and it is easily transportable with car and one person.

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Pop Up Exhibit Trend 2: Fulfilling Unserved Needs 

The BiebBus, an expanding mobile children’s library and programming space, was recently featured in DOMUS and Inhabitat. This whimsical mobile structure was designed to move through small narrow village streets in The Netherlands, and then parked and popped open, to create a two-story library and reading room!  This unique structure was concepted, designed and built to fulfill the need of bringing books to the small primary schools in the outer villages that cannot finance a full-time library on their own. The first floor, “the treasury” holds 7,000 books and has a transparent ceiling revealing the second floor (the shipping container); a programming space with a reading nook, internet, and a panoramic view of the surround area.

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Pop Up Exhibit Trend 3: A Free Exhibition used as a Promotional Tool

HBO recently produced a unique promotional traveling exhibition for the Game of Thrones. This FREE experience is currently touring major cities around the world including: Mexico City, Mexico; Austin, Texas ; Rio de Jaineiro, Brazil; Oslo, Norway; Toronto, Canada; Belfast, Northern Ireland and Vancouver, Canada. For only 2 weeks at a time, this pop up exhibit transports TV Show Fans from the streets of the visiting cities, into the medieval world of the show, while featuring original artifacts, interactive experiences, and photo opportunities. Allowing its’ fans to get one step closer to the making of the show, its’ stories, artifacts, and characters.

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Pop Up Exhibit Trend 4: Hidden Museum

We have seen museums and exhibitions take on many different shapes, forms and sizes. Hidden in a New York City abandoned freight elevator, is an quirky artifact based museum featuring “items lost and found in the cracks and corners of cultures around the world.” Items on display like an old package of gummy worms, an air conditioning vent, a water boiler, and even an air can,  each have a unique number. Visitors can call a toll-free 888-763-8839 number from their cell phones and punch in the number associated with the artwork. The number will tell them the story about the item, its history, and its use. Try it! Several item numbers to punch in: 7081,7095,7065,7099! 

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Two New Luci Designed Exhibits Open!

Numbers in Nature: A Mirror Maze 

The Numbers in Nature: A Mirror Maze is one of the  first math based exhibits in over 30 years for the Museum of Science and Industry (MSI) in Chicago. The exhibit creatively and artfully immerses visitors in an experience that exposes and explains the mathematical patterns that abound in the natural and man-made world.

Luci Creative in partnership with the MSI team and Ravenswood Studio, developed, designed, engineered and fabricated this one-of-a-kind 7,500 sq. ft. immersive and interactive permanent exhibition. Visitors are transported into three galleries that include: an animated hallway of lenticular images followed by a large format movie that introduces the exhibition concepts, an 1,800 sq. ft. mirror maze where visitors can step inside and explore a pattern, and lastly a high-tech interactive gallery where visitors dive deeper into the content and explore the connections in nature, art and architecture, and the human body.

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Video Game Wizards

Luci Creative was tasked with developing and designing the Video Game Wizards exhibit  which  demonstrates how science, technology, engineering, art, and math are used to make video games; and to elaborate on the skills, process and history of game creation.

Luci Creative worked closely with the client and their team of experts to develop a Story Map™, and then communicated the exhibit narrative with a series of storyboards. We designed an interactive exhibit consists of six stations where students meet the game makers and learn about their various roles, all while making and customizing their own game using the skills demonstrated at the stations. At the end of their exhibit experience, students will have made their own video game and are able to play it and share it online with friends. More importantly however students can imagine how their talents, skills and passions, would possibly lead to a career in the interactive entertainment industry.

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What the Luci team is working on now! 

John Deere Tractor and Engine Museum

Beatles: The Magical History Tour

Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum Sustainability Center


Storytelling: Impact On Environmental Design

Video Game Wizards exhibit experience map, Luci Creative

Video Game Wizards exhibit experience map, Luci Creative

On Tuesday evening this week the Chicago Museum Exhibitors Group’s held its quarterly gathering at the world famous Motorola Solution’s Innovation Center in Schaumburg. The discussion topic for the night was Storytelling.

Why Storytelling?

Storytelling is one of man’s oldest traditions. Whether passing down a family’s history through spoken words or watching the latest movie, our lives are frequently involved with storytelling. Luci Creative is no different as storytelling has become a large part of Luci’s creative design process. There is a great story to tell in every project.  Our goal is to successfully convey that story to our client’s specific audience.

The Speakers!

Three speakers gave presentations about their storytelling experiences. First Sue Topp, Manager of Motorola Solutions Heritage Services and Archives showed us an incredible collection of Motorola radios and televisions. Then she took us back into the history of Motorola as she explained the company’s humble beginnings of founder Paul Galvin. Although she only skimmed the surface of Motorola’s long history, Sue knew what stories to tell, and what points of history would make us better understand the company’s mission and more importantly its values and drivers.

Next Stephanie Giordano, History and Archives Department Manager for Rotary International talked about the history and story of the organization’s iconic logo. She talked about their new visitors center which is now in the concept phase and how they want it to reflect the company’s values and the future the company would like to explore.

The last speaker was our Creative Director, Kevin Snow who spoke about how we use the concept of story to insure that our client’s values and objectives are communicated clearly. He demonstrated using two case studies to show how the client’s targeted audience is educated and entertained as well as inspired by the story’s content and the overall experience of how the story is presented. Luci Creative calls this process “story mapping”. We work closely with the client to precisely establish each component of their story.


Storytelling has great value in the modern world. As the world becomes smaller due to our instant access to information and people, we intuitively understand that stories are still a crucial form of relationship. Stories allow us to make connections. We all relate to the types of stories the three presenters told about their organizations and this allows us to connect with others outside of our immediate experience.

By: Rich Walthers


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An Artists Adventure To The Golden State

Our Luci Intern’s Art Adventure 

Maddie and Lon holding Maddie's "Simple Expressions"

Maddie and Lon holding Maddie’s “Simple Expressions”

Since leaving Luci Creative to go back to school, I’ve had an amazing and artistic adventure to Palm Springs! At the beginning of the year I was put into contact with an accomplished painter, Lon Michels MFA, who has a studio and gallery with his partner Todd Olsen in Palm Springs. After an inspiring conversation and showing Lon my work, I was invited, along with four others, to his very first painting workshop held at his gallery. This was a chance in a lifetime that I couldn’t pass up and so February 21st I packed up my things and headed out to California, the land of sunshine!

The three day workshop started off  with inspiring examples of still life painters, their theories and work. Using our new found knowledge and some fantastic words of advice we embarked on our first Matisse inspired still life. Lon and Todd guided each of us through the struggles of putting paint to canvas and lead us on our journey. After this experience I won’t look at painting the same ever again.

Seeing my finished product entitled “Simple Expressions” I realized that I have never felt more accomplished with any other work. The way I approached the painting, with a fearless hand led me to a way of painting that is very liberating. With Lon’s mentorship I have found even more love for the world of art and the creative people that make our lives beautiful. It has inspired me to keep doing what I love not only for myself but for those I care about. I think we can all agree that everyone needs a little art in their life!

Check out some of my other work at!


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