Reading Response

to: What is exhibition design?

I think the most important theme in this for me was “Who do we design for?”
It is absolutely true that people seek different things in an exhibit. Should it strive to be as accessible as possible? I think a well designed exhibit can tell its story through multiple levels of engagement. Even one so brief as the gallery sprint. If there is a message, it should be instantly visible. Text should be for elucidation and greater meaning in context. Unfortunately, many exhibits seem designed exclusively for either children (in particular interactive museums) or adults (quiet and full of text). I particularly liked the idea from this reading, “strive to offer…opportunities to engage with the information together”(p 18). It absolutely should. And that means more interactive engagement for adults, whose attention span seems to be decreasing over the years, and more context and story-telling brought forward for children, who tend to struggle connecting disparate elements of an exhibit. And indeed, since people learn in so many different modalities, we should offer a form of engagement for each of them.

The one issue I had here is that the idea of design for the “disabled” is a foolish idea but making an area wheelchair accessible is critical. I’m not clear what distinction they are trying to make here. That is what it means to design for the differently abled – to consider the way they can move and ensure it is not obstructed. He brought up Braille and audio for the exhibits but frankly that is far insufficient for someone with impaired vision. We have the ability now to make 3D printed reliefs of images or miniature prints of sculpture – these should really be everywhere. And the Braille and audio guides are woefully incomplete – try navigating the Met blindfolded and see if you feel like you got a full experience moving through the galleries. And try to avoid getting lost! There is no “You are here” between small rooms in the galleries, how on earth are you meant to find your way out without having to ask a museum guard?

The structure of the room itself can tell not just about the subject matter at hand, but also its audience. The 1900 Paris World’s fair featured an immense entryway inspired by the illustrations of the naturalist Ernst Haeckel. It was a sign of growing acceptance of the view of a universal framework of biology and natural design – in fact, since Haeckel was a noted supporter of Darwinism, it was a way of showing popular support for the theory of evolution. The enormous archway would have set the tone for the entire exhibition, to introduce new and wondrous ideas to the public.


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