Please Touch – Designing Creative Tactiles to Communicate Key Messages

At 106 Group, we’ve learned that anyone can cast a mold and call it a day. Yet adding a tactile doesn’t inherently make your exhibit more accessible to all visitors. It needs to be intentionally created from your key messages—and tested with low to no vision visitors—to really make a difference. Check out our examples below to spark some new ideas for your next project.

Think About: The Big Picture
Tactiles help create a sense of context.

What details will help communicate the scene around the object you’re creating? Your site might have a remarkable geological feature like one known as “The Window” at Devils Tower National Monument in Wyoming. We could’ve focused the design only on the rectangular-shaped indentation. But through prototyping and testing, we learned it was important to also create raised lines and textures of Devils Tower itself—to recede “The Window” in its natural setting.

“The Window” at Devils Tower National Monument in Wyoming
“The Window” at Devils Tower National Monument in Wyoming
Think About: Touching the Untouchable or Seeing the Unseen
Tactiles create new ways of exploring the world without changing locations.

Try creating three-dimensional models that depict birds-eye views from miles away, such as the cousin formations of the Missouri Buttes in Wyoming, or the vast and expansive Coachella Valley with the San Andreas Fault. Tactiles can also provide ways for visitors to touch sensitive archaeological finds at historic sites like Thomas Jefferson’s Poplar Forest. For a closer site orientation, these examples from Peavey Plaza in Minneapolis or Cape Hatteras National Seashore help visitors get the lay of the land.

Think About: Traveling through Time
Tactiles can represent any era!

Does your site’s historical significance span hundreds, or even thousands, of years? How has it changed over time? Work with your tactile designer to use different raised lines and textures to signify different eras in time. A keyed legend with braille on this tree cookie tactile indicates the forest’s rate of growth, including periods of significant fires or drought. Remember, without a legend, your low to no-vision visitors will have difficulty comprehending the message.

Tree growth rings tactile at Devils Tower National Monument in Wyoming
Think About: Playing with Scale
The same 6” x 6” tactile can shrink huge objects or present the smallest wonders of the world at life-size.

For those who might not be physically able to scramble across a boulder field, a tactile can fill in the gaps. Scaling large rocks—the size of a school bus or larger—down to miniature size only works if you have something to compare it to. Look closely—can you see the tiny climbers about to embark on a stylized tactile adventure? Conversely, the journey of just-hatched baby turtles at Cumberland Island seems all the more daunting when a realistic tactile shows how little they actually are! (As for tactile sizes, the bigger the better: 6” x 6” is the smallest size you should go.)

Men scaling boulders at Devils Tower National Monument in Wyoming
Baby turtles at Cumberland Island National Seashore in Georgia

Ultimately, the integration of tactiles exemplifies your commitment to inclusive and immersive educational experiences that inspire curiosity, empathy, and connection with the world around us. By embracing tactiles thoughtfully and creatively, exhibit planners and designers can elevate storytelling, making it more engaging, accessible, and memorable for everyone.

Additional Resources

Maggie Schmidt

Maggie approaches the creative process as a visitor advocate, layering experiences for people of all ages and abilities. She has developed exhibits for historical societies, art museums, state parks, visitor centers, and nature centers across the country.

Andrew Devich

As Design Team Manager, Andrew is a skilled graphic designer with big ideas and great attention to detail. From touch screens to bronze tactiles and braille to bilingual panels, Andrew uses interactive media to find ways for all visitors to experience the best that each site has to offer.