4 Suggestions and a Question about Museums and Exhibits

By April 12, 2017News

Consider a better approach to museum design

Traditionally, the design process for a museum begins by hiring an architect who designs the building. Exhibit consultants are then brought in to develop story lines and design exhibits.  In this model the architect leads the decision making process with all other museum personnel playing support roles.

However, there is a more dynamic and, from our experience, more successful approach to museum development. It bypasses the old model of one leader and instead establishes a team of compatible consultants who work on the museum together. Working as a unit from the beginning, the team shares expertise, ideas and responsibilities.  In this way, all disciplines compliment and support each other and are committed to meet the same schedule.  They learn from each other and set the stage for the best possible results from each discipline.

Although this latter design process is still evolving, it’s beginning to gain in popularity. Hopefully, soon it will become the new norm for museum design.

Attract repeat visitors with new and relevant exhibits

Museums for many years developed permanent exhibits at considerable expense that were designed to impress, but not to change.  As a result, although visitors might be intrigued and engaged on their first visit, once having viewed an exhibit, they had little reason to return.

Of course, museums still want to create permanent exhibits that are inspiring and memorable. But today they’re also striving to develop additional exhibits that allow content to be changed and updated on a regular basis.  In this way, a gallery can create an exciting, dramatic and remarkable environment where exhibits evolve and change to provide visitors with a new experience each time they come.  Flexible, reusable exhibit structures facilitate these changes in displayed material and allow the curators to tell new and relevant stories without disposing of old display units or incurring the expense of new ones.

Enhance story telling through technology

Noting the popularity of science centers, many modern museums are putting more emphasis on interactive exhibits and programming involving demonstrations and other engaging activities. Key to all of these elements is the use of both high-tech and low-tech interactive exhibits and audio-visual presentations. With this technology, an exhibit can feature multi-layered presentations that can immeasurably enrich visitor appreciation of a given theme or story.  However, it’s important to note these mechanical devices should always complement and enhance the story, not exist to demonstrate the technological resources of the museum.  Technology must never compete with the story less the medium become the message and the real purpose of the exhibit is lost in the process.

Develop partnerships between museum staff and visitors

In almost every endeavor, person-to-person conversation is the most effective form of communication.  Yet in many museums, there has been very wide gulf between a museum’s staff and the visitors they’re supposed to serve.  In some instances, staff members were not even aware of how visitors were experiencing the museums’ public galleries.

Fortunately, this situation is changing as more and more barriers are being broken or lifted.  For example, in some museums, visitors can see how exhibits were planned and created; gaining an appreciation of how much work is involved in researching, creating and maintaining exhibits. For their part, staff members can learn about the needs and expectations of visitors.  In fact, the more the general public can participate in museum-related activities, the more the museum will reflect the community and the more the community will support the museum.  To help encourage this process, museums might consider engaging knowledgeable facilitators and presenters to interact with the public. Such programs can be an invaluable benefit to museums and the communities they serve.

Query: Should the museum itself be an exhibit?

Some museums of late seem to be designed on the premise that a unique structure can be the answer to creating a successful cultural center.  In fact, several museums with unusual building types have drawn the public’s attention recently and their striking architectural features have no doubt contributed significantly to their success.  Yet there are also exotically shaped buildings that have not had these desired results.  We can only conclude that while uniqueness may add interest to a building, it is not in itself a guarantee of success.

By David Jensen, inventor of the Logic Exhibit System and Principal of D. Jensen & Associates


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