Top 10 Tips to Great Museum Exhibit Design

Image:  baboon™ | Flickr
Image: baboon™ | Flickr

DESIGNING A WONDERFUL EXPERIENCE

When it’s a great experience, going to a museum can teach us, delight us and inspire us; however, a lot of effort goes into a museum exhibit design. As architects, we can learn a lot by understanding the ingredients that make such designs so successful. It’s not as simple as you might think.

A museum is constantly looking for different ways to attract visitors, but what happens once they get there? Often they suffer from three main problems — they can’t find a specific piece of information, they must leave too soon because they are bored or they stay a long time but miss key lessons from the main exhibits. (1)

Obviously, visitor accessibility and attention are paramount, but that’s not all it takes to design for a great museum experience.

WHAT MUSEUMS MUST DO

The following are 10 ingredients for successful museum exhibit design:

  1. Motivate Visitors:
    Target an audience — the general public and/or specific communities (1)
  2. Focus Content:
    Filter content so visitors are not bombarded with information overload (1)
  3. Immersion:
    Engage visitors within a “story” (1)
  4. Modularity:
    Present smaller themes instead of one larger complex topic (1)
  5. Skimmability:
    Information should be easy to take in because visitors are often standing and/or have different levels of education (1)
  6. Patterns:
    Incorporate traffic/circulation patterns, exhibit sequence patterns and pre-existing framework patterns (architectural elements) (1)
  7. Capture Curiosity:
    Use storytelling techniques to engage visitors (1)
  8. Interaction:
    Give visitors a “fun” experience by tapping into their emotion (1)
  9. Integrate Technology:
    Technology should enhance visitor’s experience, not detract from it (1)
  10. Layer Content:
    Present information in a hierarchical manner (1)

BEYOND THE MUSEUM EXPERIENCE

The latter design secrets apply to more than just museum experiences. Each taps into some common problems that many other architectural building-types face. As an architect, you should “move” your occupants “physically, intellectually and emotionally”. (1)

By taking a closer look at museum exhibit design — you will see such designers are able to tap into the senses as they choreograph different elements like narrative and interaction to spark visitor curiosity. As architectural technology progresses toward more dynamic and interactive solutions, you will have even more ways to give your occupants a “complete” experience. The 10 tips listed above are a good place to start.

(1) Carliner, Saul. Modeling Information for Three-Dimensional Space: Lessons Learned from Museum Exhibit Design. Models, Processes, and Techniques of Information Design.

Get my book and report series.
Free.
Gain access to my book Bringing Architecture to the Next Level, and learn from my 6-part Report Series. Also, get exclusive access to the Design Insight Newsletter: Expand the way you think about architectural design to reach breakthrough ideas.
Register Today
See resources below:
What you get.

Join over 9,500 members.

Comments

  1. says

    I was once working with an aquarium client who said they couldn’t get visitors to read anything beyond a 4th grade level…

  2. says

    What a great top 10 list. If I were to add an 11th, it might be – 11. Plan for the future- Allow for changeability, upgrades, or revolving use space to bring in repeat visitors.

  3. viviana says

    This helped me with my homework. Thank you so much! I got an A+ on my report. Thank you again.

  4. says

    I am a professor teaching radiation protection. One of the lab projects I am “exploring” is to have the class separate into smaller groups, have each group contrive one or more displays representing time periods since Roentgen’s discovery in 1895. I like the list you presented, but if I had to shorten it – and the students will only propose displays, not actually make them – what criteria would be useful as a rubric to grade them? Thanks for any suggestions.

    • Maria Lorena Lehman says

      Hi Vince,

      Sounds like a great project. You could use the list provided above to grade them — but since they are note actually building the exhibits, you could leave out numbers 6, 8 and 9. The rest of the list should serve as a good indicator for how well they know the topic because it will be demonstrated in how well they “convey” their exhibit using the remainder of the list above.

      Hope that helps!
      Maria