The brief, strategy and who we’re talking to:

Exhibition Design Reading Topics:

  • The Design Brief
  • The Storyline
  • The Space
  • The Message
  • Engaging the Visitor
  • Layering for Diverse Audiences
  • Learning Styles
  • Branding
  • Kids
  • Accessibility
  • Devising a Path

One of the great things about our Exhibition Design book is that each chapter begins with a summary paragraph stating exactly what will be discussed in that chapter. I want to say Thanks-for a clear statement about what to expect! This is respectful of the reader’s time and is a great example of making information easy to navigate intuitively. 

Here are my take-aways from the reading listed by subject:

The Design Brief:

A brief should clearly define the goals, target audience, responsibilities of client and designer. It should not be too prescriptive so that the designer has the freedom to make educated suggestions, but not so vague that the client will be unhappy when the final work is presented. The most important thing is to make sure everyone is on the same page and to raise any discrepancies as early as possible. Beginning to use the emotive language of the exhibit in the brief can help both parties envision the exhibit and look forward to working with it!

The Storyline:

What is the back story of the content and how does it relate to other resources about the same topic, and the museum as a whole. Breaking the information into “chunks” may help to organize them and their relationships — how do they relate to each other? How does the exhibit relate to the museum? Or museums?? Just like advertising, once the right message is arrived upon, the delivery method is just as important, and to find out what’s right, research is key. If you don’t know who you’re talking to, how can you begin to communicate with them? And, the audience is never one person- it’s a bullseye. The primary audience is right at the center- these are the people who are directly interested- but surrounding that bullseye are rings of parents, friends, people in related fields, and passerby’s. Information can be layered to make it accessible to all. What is the preferred learning style of the audience? Do they have any unique physical needs?

The Space:

I always think back to Maslow’s Pyramid – if you’re don’t feel safe or comfortable in your environment, you aren’t susceptible to learning. So, what can be done to make an exhibit feel comfortable? Can you control flow by presenting exhibit features that take more time in a larger space to allow for traffic to pass? How many people can visit at once without overcrowding? Are the bathrooms easy to find?

The Message:

In a communication medium, the message is the goal. All efforts go to creating a clear, easily acquired, understanding of the topic. The tone of the information is important to suggest emotions to the audience. In a brand experience, the tone should align with the brand image.

Engaging the Visitor:

It’s about motivation. What does your audience want and how do they want to get it? The most universal themes are simple human needs: Make me feel welcome, Help me understand, and let me use my existing knowledge and build upon it. The viewer should be embraced by an environment that welcomes them and shows that it was created for them. Intellectual barriers should be considered- making content inviting to as many thinkers as possible.  Learning should be easy and incremental by linking the subject to something the audience already knows – make them feel smart.

Layering for Diverse Audiences:

The book divides audiences into types, suggesting layering content for each. (The expert, The traveler, The scout, The orienteer) The book lists them as separate, but I feel that the differences could rather be placed on a scale from “Just Looking” to  “Investigate every Detail.” And, because “Investigate every Detail” person doesn’t dive right into the correct place on his own, he needs the “highly organized and rigorous “top layer” of information”  just as much as the “Just Looking.”

Learning Styles:

Visual, Auditory, Kinesthetic — play to them all.


Use experience to make memorable connections that redefine or further define the perception of the brand in the customer’s mind. There will be corporate rules and values, and goals for the client’s bottom line, but other than that all exhibition design skills apply.


Kids are a tough audience. They spend a lot of time being told what to do and think, and an exhibit can give them the opportunity to  – feel free! –  by presenting them with choices they can make on their own, without running away or getting lost. Kids can relate to content that they already know, but also may need suggestive, clear content to minimize misunderstandings. They look to their peers to play with and evaluate what’s good- so they need room around focal points to observe others and join to work and learn together.


Create environments that can be used equally by able-bodied and disabled. Don’t compartmentalize the flow of exhibits or place accessible technology in different locations than the content for able visitors. The book mentions a tour that allows blind people to touch artifacts that the general public is not allowed to touch– what a great privilege for those participants, flipping the disadvantaged into advantages!

Devising a Path:

The challenge and the most effective decision is most likely how you will break down, or classify the information. Pathways are chosen to require as little explanation as possible by aligning obvious or intuitive categories or connections between the content. A single path allows for building on knowledge presented from the start or “scaffolding.” Multiple paths require signage or orientation information. Star patterns can suggest connections without being linear, and areas of affinity show looser connections or allow the visitor to create the connections on their own. Fan patterns are great for trade shows where a visitor is looking for one thing and will move on.

I can’t wait to read more to create transformative experiences and memorable impressions!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s