A showcase celebrating failure to encourage resilient thinking

    King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, Saudi Arabia -

    The King Abdullah University of Science and Technology in Saudi Arabia challenged our team to come up with a way of celebrating resilience and normalising failure on the path to innovation and success. The result was a pop-up "hall of failure".

  • A showcase celebrating failure to encourage resilient thinking

    King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) in Saudi Arabia runs its highly anticipated two-week Winter Enrichment Program every January for students, staff, faculty, researchers, and community members of KAUST and other educational institutions. As part of a theme that explored "resilience" it wanted to celebrate those who have withstood adversity and unexpected challenges, which often lead to strange outcomes and even outright failure, on the path to innovation and success.

    The university tasked formula D_ with designing a pop-up touring exhibition that would be easy to install, disassemble, and move. It needed to showcase positive failure and normalise it as part of the research process as it was important for students and researchers to understand the core message that failure is not something to be considered debilitating and humiliating; rather it is something to be expected and even appreciated as it is an opportunity to learn and grow because the obstacles often spark innovative thinking, which results in new ways of tackling problems and obtaining results. That knowledge can then be applied in later work or to future projects.

    To get this message across formula D_ designed a multilingual informational showcase wall called the "Hall of Failure", a twist on the usual idea of a hall of fame that takes pride of place in many institutions. Using photographic portraits, biographic information, bite-sized writeups, and quotes, the wall profiled nearly 30 examples of scientists,
    researchers, innovators, entrepreneurs, and developers - past and present and from around the world - whose research, projects, and endeavours had gone wrong at some point or who had personally had to face difficult obstacles or rejection while pursuing their goals.

    Winter Enrichment Program attendees were invited to add their own profiles to the other side of the wall to build an inspiring community showcase of peers who had been waylaid by any kind of failure in life but had pivoted that into resilience as they faced their challenges. This showcase grew organically over the course of the two-week event and provided new content every day that enticed visitors to return to see what had been added, which resulted in active participation while subtly reinforcing the overall message of resilience.

    As a companion piece to the showcase wall, formula D_ also designed and built a "dare to fail" activity that encouraged visitors to participate in an interactive experience of failure with a leaderboard that celebrated the players who had failed the most but demonstrated the resilience to continue. It comprised a large "beat the buzzer" game with an electronic wand that had to be moved around a metal shape without touching it, however instead of a buzzer sounding when this happened, an applause sound effect was played to motivate the participant to push through the experience of failure and continue on in the game, thereby helping the player to build resilience.