Creating Space and 3D Design

Exhibition Design Reading Topics:

  • The Permanent Exhibition
  • Signposting
  • Open vs. Closed
  • Organization
  • Site Surveys
  • Guiding Ideas
  • Models
  • Circulation
  • Trade Fairs

The Permanent Exhibition

Listed in the reading are factors to consider when planning a permanent exhibit like: routes to the site, topography and sight lines. These all seemed obvious, but two others: wind direction and sun direction, took me by surprise. I never thought about an exhibition having the opportunity to affect decisions like window placement or being concerned with weather affects. The more I read, the more intricate and opportunistic exhibition design becomes…


Signage should start at the first sight of the museum and exhibition and should continue throughout with the same style. This made me think of Hansel and Gretel leading with breadcrumbs in the woods- they need to keep them close together to see the trail or they will get lost! … and so will the museum visitor without adequate signage. 🙂 When organizing trade fairs, large halls get divided into “pitches” that are bought by each exhibitor. Organizers may spread out the bigger, more desirable pitches that the most popular brands desire to ensure fewer “dead spots” so that viewers will pass more exhibits on their way to the more popular ones. I know this works by the layout of our grocery stores- we all have picked up something extra while traveling to the milk section placed strategically in the back corner.

Open vs. Closed

Open spaces are exhibits that are influenced by their surroundings by either windows or views of other exhibits or environmental factors. These exhibits need extra care to focus the attention of the visitor in the right direction. If done correctly the exterior influences can be used as a compliment or benefit to the space and exhibition. Closed exhibits are completely enclosed and give greater control to every environmental aspect of the design. I have enjoyed both types of exhibits, so it seems the real challenge is making it feel intentional. If there is an environmental distraction in an open exhibit, it is more important to acknowledge it and work to minimize or help it blend in and feel intentional. If there is a closed exhibit, the viewer must feel immersed in content  and drawn through the space (lighting as the biggest opportunity here) to be sure they do not feel trapped or claustrophobic.


Suggestions are made about designing for old buildings that may have existing pillars or walls that need to be considered, or spaces that are open. It’s funny, although all evidence points to an open space being “better,” I feel I would like to have some existing structure to work around. Somehow in my mind pillars and walls define a space in an almost nostalgic way. Or, maybe I’m just so used to the feeling of “Why couldn’t that window be 1ft to the left!” that it just seems comforting to have obstacles. Either way, the space should suggest flow and consider spots for rest like benches, restrooms and refreshments.

… I really enjoyed the London Transport Museum process page. I liked seeing the cyclical map sketch in the designers notebook and how it translates to the progression of space in the final exhibit. Its nice as a student to be reminded that professionals go thru so many prototypes before the final- it makes the magic of finished designs seem less intimidating and more inspiring! (Also, How cool is the computer generated sunlight study image???)

Site Surveys

Site surveys (and ikea furniture) are to be completed by two people. The book suggests taking photographs in sequential order to stitch together. Focus on details like outlets, floor sockets, beams, fire extinguishers, lighting etc– anything you will want to remember. I feel like I would also want to shoot a few Photosynth shots to be able to revisit the space more interactively. It suggests adding individual elements that make up each wall and comparing to the whole wall measurement to check yourself. Don’t assume that the room is square. Measure diagonals and angles of walls. Make sure all elements fit in the freight elevator!

Guiding Ideas

Designers should create guiding ideas to support design decisions and provide rationale to the client. Look for presidents- exhibits that have been made in the past with the same subject, idea or materials. Present images depicting the perception of the client’s brand to prove that you understand the brand message. Look for inspiration in art, theatre, architecture, product design and film. Too much research may be a handicap if you forfeit the ability to empathize with a visitor who has no knowledge of the subject.


Most designers start with sketches and make rough models to start to visualize the space. I’m really glad this happens- One of my fears of working professionally is not having time to complete initial tools (like models) to incubate ideas before presenting a final. The models should be presented and concepted from the vantage point of the viewer.The Designer is the champion of the final plan and must fight to keep the design harmonious despite any necessary changes by fire code or client “tinkering.”


Circulation space may be needed to accommodate large crowds on holidays even if that means the space is empty on normal days. Avoid blockages that cause visitors to stop or back up by spacing objects more that 6ft (or what’s appropriate for the space) apart. Create multiple routes for different groups to browse separately. Interactive exhibits need extra room for on-lookers to surround it and for other visitors to pass by the crowd. In places that will accumulate a line, make it worthwhile by entertaining or adding to the experience in those locations. The Expedition Everest coaster does this nicely at Disney- the line wanders through a Himalayan camp with so many interesting artifacts its almost as fun as the coaster!

Trade Fairs

The circulation should be open with visitors free to exit the space from anywhere inside. Allow visitors space to be drawn in and browse for awhile before being interrupted by the staff. Varying height of elements allows signage to stand out among other exhibits and creates interest and drama. Make sure all elevations are the appropriate height to be read by all users- adults and children/wheelchair users.


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