The Hall of Human Origins @ AMNH

The Hall of Human Origins
American Museum of Natural History

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What do you think is the exhibition’s main idea or purported purpose?

To take the viewers on a journey of the mysterious past through which we became human by exhibiting unique fossils and presenting scientific conclusions based on the findings.

How well does the exhibition’s design convey that main idea or purpose?

I was a bit lost in this exhibition. There was a lot of text without directional headlines, so I often had trouble quickly locating the information that interested me most. It read like a magazine to me, not an exhibit. The content was very interesting but I wish there was greater hierarchy to the copy throughout the exhibit to pull me in.

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Decipher and write down the exhibition’s basic content outline as you walk through it.

  • We came from Apes, look how similar their DNA is.
  • Look at bones from early humans, and what is thought to be our evolutionary path based on so many fossils.
  • How our brains develop and how that differs from animals.

How do you think the designers interpreted the content you outlined?

There must have been a great deal of emphasis on displaying the large amount of knowledge available on the subjects. The first view into the exhibit with the monkey, neanderthal and human was a great catch.

Did the design contribute to an enhanced perspective on the topic of the exhibition?  Did the exhibition reveal new information or insights for you? Were you incented to learn more afterward?

I noticed that the only graphic panels that I read were the ones with a question as the headline. Ex: “What is DNA?” I then asked myself well, what IS DNA? and read on. I enjoyed the walls at the end that featured linguistics of humans and chimps (especially the keyboard that helps a chimp communicate.) I wish these were presented more centrally because they were really neat! I don’t feel that I took in enough information to want to learn more outside the exhibit.

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What was the exhibition’s “look & feel” and how did it contribute to the main ideas or purpose of the exhibition?

I was disappointed with this. I think the content is jaw dropping- we are looking at OUR past with so much to conclude. I think that the design must have been targeted to a much older audience than myself. I wonder if this was necessary because evolution is sometimes a controversial subject. The low lighting and textbook look didn’t work for me. I want it to be bright and airy with tidbits of knowledge to discover in small chunks throughout. I want to be pulled in with a fascinating fact about a real artifact and then my interest kept by surrounding tidbits of knowledge.

How would you characterize the contributions of 3D, graphic, media, and lighting design? Were any of these design elements outstanding–or lacking?

I found myself staring at each panel and thinking, “I don’t feel like reading all this.” The headlines didn’t pull me in and then there were large paragraphs that seemed equally important and long, so I didn’t know where I should start reading. The design and the graphic boxes around everything reminded me of science textbooks, and the serif type over not very contrasting images bothered me as well. The lighting was low, and the backlights of the signs were dim, or flickering. The spotlights added a lot to some of the cases but some were not placed as well.

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How might you have approached interpreting the content differently through the design of this exhibition?

I would have liked to see the taxidermy next to the skulls in succession of evolution. I thought that the part about predicting the muscle mass of the neanderthals was amazing and would have liked that to be featured. I also would have loved to see more interactive connections between how our brains develop and the chimp.

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How would you characterize the role of design in this institution, based on this exhibition?

The exhibit reminded me of reading a National Geographic magazine.

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