Exhibition Design

Museum Exhibition Design, Part II

3 Comments 16 April 2012

“Museum Exhibition Design”, a four part series.  Each week, I am writing a post about exhibition design.  Last week was Part I,  “Exhibition design – Planning”.  This week’s post will cover the phases of exhibition design. Future posts will cover “Museum Exhibition Design – Fabrication” & “Museum Exhibition Design – Installation”.

Picking up from last week’s post, the team will have completed during “Museum Exhibition Design – Planning”:

“The exhibition design process can be divided into 10 steps:

  1. Exhibition Script – Create an exhibition script or  “What is the story of the exhibition?”  How do the artifacts / Art tell the “story” of the exhibition?  If you were to imagine the artifacts / Art objects as “characters” in a play, what role would they play?  Try to describe each scene of the exhibition, “a sunlight beach filled with kids playing the water”, goes a long way to describing the “Look and Feel” of an exhibition.  Define the educational goals, how are you communicating the goals of the exhibition?
  2. Chunk it Out – With the script in hand and the site survey of the exhibition space “chunk out”, where you will tell each part of the story.  Using the script as your guide create larger areas for more important areas of the exhibition.  Use the script to describe how each area of the exhibition will “look and feel”.
  3. Research – Go on field trips to places similar to the areas of the exhibition.  For “Take Me There Egypt” the project team went to Egypt to visit the sites of the areas of the exhibition.  We took video, photos and documented all of the sites taking measurements and notes.   Also go out and research new technologies and techniques, are there new technologies to incorporate into the exhibition?  Take photos and samples of places that are similar to the areas of the exhibition.
  4. Conceptual Design – Now that the areas of the exhibition are defined, start to describe the components, of each area of the exhibition.
  5. Schematic Design – The goal of Schematic Design, is to flesh out the scope and character 0f the project. This enables all parties involved to confirm themes, interpretation goals and to review spatial arrangements, appearance, artifact use, materials and cost.  By the end of the Schematic Design phase, the team will have visuals, narratives, look-and-feel boards and layouts to initially review the allocation of space, traffic flow, audi0—visual components, interactive displays, lighting and special effects. An overall graphic identity for the exhibit at this stage of design.
  6. Design Development / Media – During Design Development, section and elevation drawings of exhibits in the space are created. Content research is compiled into draft text and descriptions of the exhibits and the interactives. Functions of Audio-visuals and computer programs that will be part chartered.  The family of graphic elements is compiled and a graphic schedule of all the graphics is created. Graphic directional and identification signage for interior and exterior spaces of the exhibit area become part of the program.
  7. Final Design – By the conclusion of the Final Design phase, a complete package that illustrates the full exhibit design—h0w it will be built, where every component is located and how each exhibit component works within the larger space. This package includes exhibition identification, exhibition descriptions, a database of exhibit components, measured CAD plans with content, floor plans, elevations, artifact lists, measured graphic design elements and samples, draft scripts with details for audio visual components, interactive exhibits, final text, sound and lighting systems specifications, production schedules and a fabrication cost estimate.   By the end of Final Design you will have finalized your list of artifacts / Art and can start to plan for mounts for objects, conservation needs for paper, fabric, define light levels and other conservation needs.
  8. Partners – Go talk to potential fabricators and suppliers.  Have a casual conversation and see if the potential fabrication partners are a match with the project team.   Either the Construction Documents (CD) will be completed as part of the Design Build process or the CD will be completed by the fabrication partner.
  9. Construction Documents (CD Also called Contract Documents) / Design / Build – By the conclusion of the Final Design phase, a complete package that illustrates the full exhibit design—how it will be built, where every component is located and how each works within the larger space. This package includes exhibition identification, exhibition descriptions, a database of exhibit components, measured CAD plans with content, floor plans, elevations, artifact lists, measured graphic design elements and samples, draft scripts with details for audio visual components, interactive exhibits, final text, sound and lighting systems specifications, production schedules and a fabrication cost estimate.
  10. Prototyping / Testing  – You can test and prototype exhibit interactives with the public during each phase of design. As examples, during Conceptual Design, blue tape on the floor defining approximate areas, during Schematic design cardboard mock ups, during Design Development sample “PowerPoint presentations” to represent media, during Final Design, button layout and ergonomics.

Links for specifics of exhibition design:

Traveling exhibitions design

Science Center exhibition design

Examples of each phase see “Museum Exhibition Design”

The steps of the exhibition design process is similar for Art Museums, Natural History Museums, Science Centers and Children’s Museums.  The differences are in the content development, the design process is the same.

  • Mguilfoile

    First, I need to get something out of the way: periods and commas go INSIDE quotes, not outside. This is not a little thing and you will do well to remember this. OK, glad that’s over.

    Generally this is a great primer on the stages of museum exhibition design. I really like that you didn’t go too deep into any one part and kept it succinct. This is exactly the sort of thing I’d print and give to other departments in a museum.

    There are, however, a couple of things I’d like to add. First, drawings today do not consist of plans, sections and elevations. Well, they do, but they are all just different views of a single 3D model. This is not 1980. Today, there is no excuse for not designing an exhibition with a 3D CAD system. As you say, most people can’t read drawings, so why on earth are you submitting them? People understand perspective views. That is what you need to show for the approval process. In the beginning they can be line renderings, but as you move forward this is also how you get approval on finishes (something that was left out in your list, I think.) When created properly, a 3D drawing package will automatically update any orthographic views you have created. This is the only way to work, especially if you are coordinating your efforts with other designers. In the end, this package will evolve to become the CDs for the project.

    It is somewhat outside the scope of your fine essay, but it should be noted how important it is to design for the real world. In the real world light bulbs need to be replaced, filters need to be changed and general repairs are ongoing. Don’t design the exhibit ignoring maintenance. I’ve seen many custom installations where there is a screw head visible, but no clearance for a screwdriver. This is the mundane, unglamorous, boring part of design, but it might be the most important part of design: making it work in the real world. Don’t confuse it with art.

    All in all, I really enjoy your writing! Keep it up!

  • TouchScreenKioskGames

    Great to see planning of computer interactives and AV early in the process.  This can be a big money saver.

  • markwalhimer

    Hi All I have received a request for general guidelines for exhibition design schedules:
    In rough numbers it is about 50% Fabrication / Installation, 50% Design.  So a two year project will be about one year design, one year fabrication and installation.  The difficult part to estimate is fund raising, often projects go on hold during schematic design until funds are raised.  Often a project can be two years in CD/SD prior to funding.

    10%-25% of overall budget
    Conceptual Development Schematic DesignDesign DevelopmentFinal DesignConstruction Documents

    80%-75% of overall budget
    Fabrication Installation

    Percentage of design budget:Conceptual Development 10%
    Schematic Design 20%
    Design Development 40%
    Final Design 20%
    Construction Documents 10%
    In the future I will put together a future post about exhibition design schedules.
    -Mark

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