I recently moved the hardware store interactive installation project forward in two different ways: I did a site visit, and I started expanding my thinking about what I’ll install there. Here I go over my field trip findings.

White Oak Busy Beaver

Having identified a few Busy Beaver locations of interest from the mapping exercise in my previous post, I went on Saturday to check out one in particular: the White Oak location. It is in a fairly low-density area of southeastern Allegheny County that I hadn’t visited before. All of my experiences in this home improvement store chain have been good, and the White Oak location wasn’t an exception.

I scoped out the store, which is significantly larger than the Lawrenceville location that I’m used to, and tried to figure out where it might make sense to place an interactive installation.

The hardware aisle, my neverending love

The sacred hardware aisle

I am always and forever drawn to the hardware aisle1 of every hardware store. I just love that stuff and think it’s one of the intellectually richest parts of the store. Thousands of different pieces of formed metal, each in their own nice little drawer, varying not just in size but in material/metallurgical properties, intended application, complexity, finish, cost, and approach.

In this sense, I say “approach” because when I see, for instance, different styles of concrete anchors, I can’t help but consider them as a variety of solutions to one mechanical problem: how to firmly affix something to concrete. (Anchor images below shamelessly stolen from McMaster-Carr.)

Drill a hole and then expand into it with the tightening of a nut?

Expanding anchor

Or hammer a slightly bent piece into it to apply fixed pressure to the walls?

Bent pin anchor

Or drive in a specially hardened screw with aggressive threads?

Tapcon

So many possibilities. It’s like watching people’s different openings in chess: same problem, richly broad range of proposed solutions.

I even found a little niche in the pegboard wall of the aisle, where it was clear that a few items were out of stock, which would be just the right size to position a small interactive of some sort.

A little space for a little installation


But there’s a problem: this is a fairly big store, with only maybe 10 people on a Saturday afternoon. The Lawrenceville store is pretty big, too. I’m trying to build an interactive system, one which requires a person at either end of the experience at the same time to function—so I need to do my best to make sure there’s a person at both ends! The installation shouldn’t be buried like some Easter egg in the middle of an aisle where it will barely get touched—that’s ideal for individual discovery but it won’t give me the traffic I need.

The highway

I spoke with Emily, the acting manager in the store on Saturday, and asked her about people’s foot traffic patterns in the store. She confirmed what seemed obvious from looking around: the most trafficked area of the store is the central aisle.

The central aisle, with some customers walking along, browsing along the way


The store puts their rotating sale items along the sides of this aisle. (That alone tells you they know it’s where the most people are browsing.) The end caps are fairly spacious, and I’m thinking that one of these, like the one pictured below, would be a great spot for the installation.

End cap


I don’t expect to need more than half of this, so the store will still have lots of salable space. This end cap in particular has a nearby source of electricity, and there’s a reasonably strong Wi-fi signal too. Looks good to me. Now I just have to figure out what to put there…

Stay posted as I’m going to be sharing some of my recent brainstorming in an update very soon.




  1. The term may be a bit confusing to the uninitiated! In a hardware store, the “hardware” aisle means the place with fasteners (screws, bolts, nuts, nails) and similar items, frequently sold in bulk.