Never work with children or animals
The Royal Zoological Society of Scotland have two main sites: Edinburgh Zoo and the Highland Wildlife Park. Very different visitor experiences.
One is a classic city zoo with some lively, entertaining creatures and some shy, retiring types who don’t come out to play very often (I’m looking at you Panda…or rather, I would be if you weren’t hiding). The wildlife park is a different kind of animal…with different kinds of animals – it’s a dramatic expedition into Scotland’s mountainous wilds.
A better family experience
You won’t be surprised to hear that a huge percentage of the visitors that come to both Edinburgh Zoo and the Highland Wildlife Park are families with young children expecting to enjoy a host of amazing animals. The two sites offer great family days out – fun for kids and interesting for adults too!
Of course, parents and guardians can also bathe in that warm fuzzy feeling you get from taking kids to somewhere they’ll learn about the world around them; the importance of wildlife conservation; and, the importance of caring.
Reflecting their interpretation principles, the RZSS want families to learn about the natural world, care more and to consider how they might live more sustainably. They want families to act – ‘to go on a journey from empathy to action’.
Learn something, care more, act
RZSS provide visitors with fun, captivating and memorable experiences through active interpretation and personal engagement wrapped up in a sense of play. Inspired by the animals that they see and the conversations these provoke their aim is for young visitors to take that ‘empathy to action’ journey on their own terms, using mechanisms that appeal specifically to them.
A child’s-eye view
To help meet this aim the RZSS and Tandem have developed a family-focused interpretation toolkit to use across a range of platforms: an activity-based learning journey guide, on-site interpretation, digital interactives, wayfinding, marketing initiatives and merchandise. This scheme has been designed to help the RZSS connect better with younger visitors and their families.
Central to the toolkit are two friends: Ruby & Zed. A creature from another Zooniverse and a girl from just down the road. Imbued with interpretive power, our two characters take young visitors on a secret mission full of challenges around the Zoo or Wildlife Park.
We built each character from an interpretive foundation up, incorporating RZSS interpretation principles into their personalities. Although on the surface, extremely novel, Zed has an important and serious purpose. As a visitor from another planet he can ask those questions we sometimes feel foolish asking and he can look at the things of our world with a degree of naivety that allows interpretation to tackle tricky subjects with wit and humour.
We learned a lot from our research stage (and watched a lot of cartoons) and put what we discovered into action. Ruby and Zed were designed with empathy, interest and a desire to make a difference (and a bit of Adobe Illustrator). Our intrepid pair were delivered in kit form to the RZSS design team and it has been great to see and hear how they’ve become an integral part of the zoo crew.
If you time it just right, if you’re in the right place at the right time, you might even bump into Ruby and Zed at the zoo or the wildlife park, now in full three dimensional, action-packed technicolour.