Case Study: THINK: An Exploration into Making the World Work Better

Project Title
THINK: An Exploration into Making the World Work Better
18 months

Ed. note: This case study is a selection from the 2012 “Justified” competition, in which an esteemed jury identified submissions that demonstrate the value of design in a clear, compelling and accessible way. It serves as an example of how to explain design thinking to clients, students, peers and the public in general, based on specific metrics.

A cornerstone of IBM’s centennial year celebration, “THINK: An Exploration into Making the World Work Better” was an exhibition experience that pushed the boundaries of technology as we know it. The goal of the project was to bring to life the ways in which people are making the world work better through innovation, and to engage people in some of the ideas around IBM’s Smarter Planet agenda. It was free to the public, drawing more than 25,000 diverse visitors—from heads of state to school kids—in its month-long run at New York City’s Lincoln Center.

The creative directors were first given a very broad brief from IBM, requesting a meaningful and significant expression of the brand to celebrate the company’s 100th anniversary. Diving deep into the history of IBM, the creative team recognized a legacy of inspiring widespread curiosity about science and technology. With the last big public expression of that position well in the past (the Eames and Saarinen–designed projects of the 1960s), the team believed that a free exhibit bringing to life some of the latest technologies would strike the right chord at this moment in time, when technology is more pervasive in our lives than ever before.

“THINK” was inspired by IBM’s Saarinen and Eames–designed 1964 New York World’s Fair Pavilion, which ignited widespread public interest in computing and set the stage for the technological revolution. Just as the pavilion presented complex scientific concepts of that era, “THINK” aimed to change today’s conversation about technology, focusing on how people can make the world work better through innovation.




The creative team worked extensively with IBM researchers and scientists to develop the content for the “THINK” exhibit.


Once the creative team settled on the idea of a public exhibit at Lincoln Center in New York City, they partnered with IBM to examine innovation throughout history, identifying a pattern that has driven the perpetual forward momentum of humankind: seeing, mapping, understanding, believing and acting. This pattern served as the basis of the exhibit experience. The team worked with a broad range of experts—from researchers building traffic models to biologists studying the rice genome—to ensure accuracy in every detail. Designers, filmmakers, developers, architects and artists then translated the science into an emotional and visceral exhibit experience.


“THINK” transformed a cargo ramp and subterranean storage space at Lincoln Center, near the corner of 65th and Broadway, into a 10,000 square-foot state of the art technology experience. The exhibit consisted of three distinct experiences: a real-time data visualization of New York City systems (traffic on Broadway, solar potential of rooftops, air quality in the city) that were tracked, mapped, analyzed and rendered on a 123-foot digital wall; a 10-minute film played in an immersive media field with 40 digital panels; and life-sized touchscreen interactive modules that invited participants to contribute their thoughts, opinions and ideas to the larger conversation about what progress means.


“THINK” played three different roles often considered to be at odds. It was a selling tool used to explain IBM’s capabilities to clients and business leaders. It was an educational experience used by schoolteachers to explain the role of technology in making the world work better. And it was an art installation that brought to life real-time data and was photographed by thousands of visitors and passersby.

“THINK” achieved the goal that IBM set out for the design team: engage new audiences across generations in a meaningful conversation about progress. The exhibit drew more than 25,000 visitors during its run at Lincoln Center. IBM polled exhibit visitors and found that more than 70 percent of adults felt inspired to think more about making the world work better. The survey also showed a 57 percent increase in the public’s familiarity with the IBM brand.

Impact spread far beyond New York City, with press coverage including features by the New York Times, ABC News, Scientific American and the Huffington Post, among others. More than 1.9 million Twitter impressions about “THINK” were logged from September 5 to October 28, 2011.