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The State of Sex Ed: A popup exhibit on sexual education curricula in the United States

Client: Student project | Role: Visual communication, Exhibit design | Year: 2016

Project Abstract

This pop-up exhibit was designed to raise awareness about the state of sexual education in the United States. Effective sex ed empowers young adults to make decisions that safeguard both their personal well-being and the health of others. Many people on the comparatively liberal east coast receive comprehensive sexual education, and as a result are unaware of the prominence of abstinence-only curricula in a large part of the country.

Through interacting with the exhibit, viewers are encouraged to reflect on their own experiences in sex ed and challenged to compare their experience to that of many teens in the U.S. today. They are given a chance to weigh in on the issues and share their opinions with other visitors.


Doin’ it right

The current state of sexual education in the United States and why it matters.

This panel orients viewers to the importance of sex ed. It includes current statistics about STIs, unintended pregnancies, and teenage sexual activity in the U.S., and notes how federal funding for sex ed was formerly directed solely to abstinence-only programs.

An interactive map allows viewers to compare incidence of STIs and teen pregnancy rates in states with abstinence-only versus comprehensive sexual education.

Designed by Brian Payne

Too soon? Too late?

Comparing viewers’ beliefs with current state standards.

Common topics covered in sexual education include consent, reproductive anatomy, masturbation, and relationship expectations, among others. At this station, viewers cast a vote as to whether these key topics in sex ed should be introduced in elementary school, middle school, or high school.

After their vote, they flip a panel to reveal the current Rhode Island standard. They can see how it compares to their beliefs, as well as the aggregate opinion of everyone else who has visited the exhibit.

Designed by Jennifer Mai

Message Board

Contrasting the messages about sex and sexuality sent by abstinence-only and comprehensive curricula.

Abstinence-only and comprehensive sex education curricula deliver almost opposite messages about sex and sexuality. Viewers turn the panels to display what messages they believe are most productive to learn in sex ed. Once they have made their choices, they can open a panel for more information about abstinence-only and comprehensive curricula.

Both sets of messages are paraphrased from real curricula: Choosing the Best Journey (a leading abstinence-only series) and the FLASH curriculum (a widely-used sex ed series developed by Public Health – Seattle & King County).

Designed by Aidan Hudson-Lapore

Was it good for you?

How personal experience with sex ed affects initial sexual experiences.

This board serves as both data collection and as a place for viewers to share their personal experiences. They can see how the sex ed they received may have contributed to their experiences with sex and sexuality beyond when they were actually in the class.

Designed by Emily Kao


Reflect and share personal experiences with sex ed.

We encouraged viewers to take a moment to write out what they wish they had gotten out of sex ed and share their thoughts with others.


Designed by Emily Kao


Teamwork strategy

This exhibit was conceived, researched, designed, fabricated, and installed in a span of five weeks by a team of four students. We each took the lead on designing one station, but met together consistently to refine concepts and arrive at a cohesive final exhibit.

1. Each student independently researched and pitched a topic to the team. We chose sexual education because of its relevance to public health and our college-student audience. (And we thought it would be fun.)

2. We independently developed concepts for the exhibit and brainstormed a list of topics we most wanted to address.

3. Together, we decided on the overall message of our exhibit and assigned each team member a topic to develop into an interactive activity. We defined the physical structure of the exhibit to make sure each station would fit together.

4. We each further researched our chosen topic and developed concepts for our interactive station.

5. Together, we critiqued and refined one another’s concepts.

6. We independently finalized our concepts and prepared our materials for production.

7. We built and installed the final exhibit as a team.

Concept sketches

We knew the exhibit would need to be based on individual stations, so we explored multiple options for the stations and how they could form a cohesive whole.

Concept development

We explored multiple conceptual frameworks for the exhibit, including tracing the history of sex ed, basing each station around how a specific topic in sex ed is taught, and contrasting viewers’ experiences with national standards. We ultimately decided to focus on stations that prompted viewers to reflect on their own experiences in sex ed.

Each station was designed to surprise viewers with the disparity between their own experiences and opinions and the current state of sex ed in the United States. We knew that promoting active engagement with the material was more likely to leave a lasting impression.

Guiding goal: Every station should pose a question before revealing an answer.

Concept refinement

We developed a system where each station can function independently, but fits together into a single structure. We each made sketch models of our station in order to test how they would all join. This strategy streamlined construction and installation, since each station could be constructed and transported independently of one another before being connected on-site.

Because sex can be an awkward topic, we made the text and graphics as inviting as possible by incorporating a bright color scheme, playful stickers, and a healthy dose of innuendo.

Team roles:

Aidan Hudson-Lapore

Research lead, message board station, fabrication, documentation. Pitched sex ed concept. Researched and synthesized information to present to team members during exhibit development. Conceptualized, designed, and fabricated the message board station. Assisted with overall exhibit fabrication and documentation.

Emily Kao

Fabrication lead, Was it Good for You? station, installation, documentation. Presented concepts for making a modular exhibit, designed final modular system. Conceptualized, designed, and fabricated the Was it Good for You? station. Assisted with exhibit installation and documentation.

Jennifer Mai

Too soon? Too late? station, fabrication, installation, documentation. Conceptualized, designed, and fabricated the Too soon? Too late? station. Assisted with exhibit installation and documentation.

Brian Payne

Graphic design lead, Doin’ it Right station, fabrication, installation. Created exhibit’s visual identity, all text and panel layouts. Conceptualized, designed, and fabricated the Doin’ it Right station. Assisted with exhibit installation.