Thursday I got my first taste of exhibition design, and yes, I was in love. Molly and I spent our morning helping with the initial installation of a new exhibit at one of the Iziko museums.
Approaching the scene of the installation, I was immediately drawn to the photographs and articles strewn about the floor in front of the display case. The arrangement reminded me of so many mood boards I’ve created for design projects of my own. I was excited to see this physical evidence that some visual research — the best kind of research in my book — went into this project.
As activity increased around the display case, I was soon captivated watching one of Iziko’s curators and directors discuss the placement of the various objects and artworks in the case as well as the layout of the text and photographs that would accompany them. Their conversation was all about design and aesthetics, and to many it might have seemed nit-picky, but I was enthralled.
They talked about the pedestals that would hold the objects in the exhibit. At the moment, there were about five of these white wooden blocks in use, but one within the grouping was too short and looked “odd.” So, they switched it out for a slightly taller model. Then they pulled out a printout of photos and text with arrows and x’s — corrections — scrawled across it. This was the information that would accompany the exhibit. They discussed where the placement of this text would rest on panels on the wall of the display case. Did it make sense? Would each of the photos and all of the text be visible behind the objects? I eyed the typeface and layout choices as well as any rivers or widows that needed fixing. I wished I had had a hand in designing those text panels!
Seeing this process, I was reminded again how universally applicable design is — good design is needed on signs, in brochures, in buildings, in cars, in furniture, in packaging, in museums. So many of us don’t realize design is at play when we read a subway map or open a bottle of Coke. Or visit an exhibit at a museum. But the way an exhibit is designed matters, from the placement of the objects to the layout of the labels. It makes the exhibit’s information easier to read, its story easier to understand, and the entire collection just a little bit prettier to look at.