New-York Historical Society

Small Design Firm was initially engaged to create several technological interventions (Living Painting, New York Rising, Interactive Columns) as part of their major renovation in 2011. We were honored to be invited back in 2017 to add Women's Voices and Design-a-Lamp.

Women's Voices

Women’s Voices is a multi-faceted interactive on the 4th floor of the New-York Historical Society. Working closely with researchers and resident fellows, this highly engaging exhibit invites visitors to hear, see, and connect with key figures in women’s history. Each woman’s story is told through compelling photography, contemporary video, and, in many cases, an accounting by renowned historians in the field.

Nine columns of 4K touch screens provide an opportunity for multiple users to navigate through figures like Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Sojourner Truth, Shirley Chisholm, and Helen Keller by connecting to their impacts on New York and the arc of history.


The newly renovated New-York Historical Society’s Tiffany Gallery showcases the society’s exceptional collection of decorative glass lamps designed and crafted by the Tiffany Studios. Design-A-Lamp offers museum guests the opportunity to design and illuminate their own creation in the company of the masterpieces.

The guest approaches an expansive tabletop featuring a glowing white lampshade. The lampshade, constructed in the style of the original Dragonfly lamps, is composed of hundreds of individual panes of glass. This design is mimicked on the tabletop; eight times in white tracing and once in brass inlays. By touching or brushing her hand against the brass, the the guest illuminates the corresponding glass panes with a beautiful palette of colors. The user crafts her own unique colored design by selecting palettes as she colors. Palette selection is executed with a mechanical wheel and representative glass swatch.

New York Rising

The Federal Wall engages visitors in the relationships between objects, events, ideas and people. The wall uses art, historic documentation, period ephemera, and the words and deeds of historic figures in conjunction with digital displays and augmented reality to tell the story of the Founding Period.

Five 46” touchscreens merge the physical environment of the display wall with computer-generated imagery, text and visual effects. Visitors explore this augmented reality by rotating the screens to view objects physically present in the environment and interact with their virtual representations, associated text and additional virtual objects stored in the collection. The layers of virtual information makes visible the connections of all present objects and expands interpretation.

Each augmented reality station consists of one 46” touchscreen mounted portrait style on a custom designed pillar which stands on the floor. The screens are about eight feet away from the wall to allow people to get up close to the objects. Each screen pivots horizontally and an attached rotation sensor monitors its orientation. They can pivot to the left and right, allowing access to neighboring gateways.

Collections Highlights

The Collection Highlights Showcase features unique and interesting objects from the New-York Historical Society’s collection and guides people towards the larger collection and archive upstairs. Six columns with vertical screens offer a simple dynamic presentation of images that are grouped thematically. Each column displays either an independent image or sections of a single image which expands across all the screens. Visitors can watch or glance at the columns multiple times and from multiple areas in the exhibition.

Interactive Columns

The Interactive Columns allow visitors to peruse six stories presented on touchscreen displays. Each touchscreen presents a different theme investigating New York’s exceptional role in American History. Mounted alongside the touchscreens are key objects that relate to the topics under discussion.

The visitor interacts by swiping their finger on the screen horizontally to choose between the different articles. Their finger movements appear to “drag” the articles from side to side, with a one-to-one correspondence. By swiping up and down an article can be dragged to reveal its entire length. Images and text within the articles can be enlarged with a double tap to view in greater detail and restored to their place in the article with an additional double tap. It is also possible to use a ‘pinch’ and ‘unpinch’ two finger gesture to reduce and enlarge the articles. After a few minutes of inactivity, the application transitions to an introductory image, waiting for the next visitor to swipe the articles into full view and begin exploring.

Living Painting

The Living Painting is a unique experience that greets visitors immediately as they enter the reconfigured New-York Historical Society. It transports visitors back in time to the revolutionary moment that caught fire in New York and ultimately let to the founding of a new nation and the New-York Historical Society itself. The installation brings to life Johannes Adam Simon Oertel’s painting “Pulling Down the Statue of King George III”.

As visitors enter the building, they see what appears to be a large painting at the end of the entry hall. The “painting” actually consists of a five-by-two array of LCD panels. The image on each panel comes within 2.8mm of each edge, so the overall effect is of a single scene over 11 feet wide and nearly 8 feet high transected by a few very thin black lines. The painting depicts a mob of colonists at dusk with the soon to be destroyed statue at the focal point of the scene.

Using sound and animation, various elements of the painting come to life. Subtle animations within the painting are triggered by visitor proximity. Animations consist of drifting smoke, the pulling down of the horse statue, waving arms, and a running dog…just to name a few. Carefully composed audio elements contribute to the feeling that the painting has come to life. Although the resulting experience is still very much like looking at an oil painting, the sense of observing an actual event is enhanced.