Monday, August 25, 2014

What Makes an Exhibit Designer a Great Creative Partner?



I love the Venn diagram at the top of this post.  It comes from this article from Jeff Weiner, the CEO of LinkedIn.

Weiner's article made me think about the qualities I look for in the best collaborators, folks I think of as great creative partners.  I definitely agree with the three qualities that Jeff Weiner highlights, but
here’s a short list of questions that can help you get a sense of whether an exhibit designer might be a good (or great!) partner for your museum’s next project:


1) How do you prototype exhibits?

Every aspect of an exhibition, including labels, can be tested out with visitors before the “final” version is produced. This does not have to be a horribly expensive or time-consuming process. As a matter of fact, masking tape, markers, and cardboard can go a long way in creating simple prototypes.

Avoid anyone who says things along the lines of: “We test out everything in the shop...” or “ We don’t need to prototype, because our stuff never breaks.” You need to turn real visitors loose on exhibit prototypes to avoid the dreaded “I never thought they would do that with our exhibit!”

You can find a free downloadable article on exhibit prototyping at the POW! Website.



2) What’s your favorite exhibit?


If your response to this question is either a blank stare or a glib sales pitch --- RUN! Ideally, the designer can report on why specific aspects of an exhibit component or entire exhibition interested them or moved them in some way.

For example, I loved a large scale interactive based on one of the scenes from a children’s book by William Steig. There were magnet-backed creatures and plants that multiple visitors could move around a room-sized jungle scene. This was part of a larger exhibition of Steig’s drawings in a normally “hands off” museum, The Jewish Museum in Manhattan. It was clear through this area, and a few others in the Steig exhibition, that the designers wanted to provide some colorful, open-ended experiences for families.



3) Will you let us directly pay subcontractors?

Money changes everything, doesn’t it? The financial aspects of your exhibit process should be as transparent as possible. The best designers allow you to see “the books” so you can be assured that the maximum amount possible of your project resources are being spent on items that will show up in your exhibit galleries.

Beware of too many miscellaneous fees, or excessive charges for things like FedEx. It is reasonable for any designer to cover their overhead charges, but it is just as reasonable for you to ask to contract directly with specialists serving as subcontractors to avoid excessive “markups”.



4) Can we use green materials?


No, I don’t mean Kiwi Corian! Your exhibit designer should have an increasing familiarity with environmentally friendly materials. Even if your potential design partner is not a “green expert”, they should be willing to work with you to create designs, and employ solutions, that are sustainable.

A great resource is the greenexhibits.org website.



5) Have you ever worked in a museum?

While this is not a complete deal-breaker, a design solution from someone who has actually had to fix an exhibit after 600 fifth graders have pummeled on it carries a lot more weight with me than a beautiful computer rendering from a recent design school grad.

Don’t be afraid to ask practical questions like, “How will this work with large school groups?” or “Will this computer interactive automatically reboot if it freezes up?”



6) Who are some of your repeat customers?

At the end of every crazy exhibit project and installation, after everyone has had a few days to obtain the requisite amounts of food, sleep (and showers!) you ask yourself an important question: Would I ever work with (fill in the blank) again?

The people whom you continue to work with, and who continue to work with you speaks volumes about your work ethic and the ability to get the job done. The mark of a great museum exhibit designer is how they overcome unexpected challenges related to timing or finances or the other hundreds of things that could cause a project to become unhinged.


What are some of the questions you ask potential creative partners? Let us know in the "Comments" Section below!



Don't miss out on any ExhibiTricks posts! It's easy to get updates via email or your favorite news reader. Just click the "Sign up for Free ExhibiTricks Blog Updates" link on the upper right side of the blog.

P.S. If you receive ExhibiTricks via email (or Facebook or LinkedIn) you will need to click HERE to go to the main ExhibiTricks page to make comments or view multimedia features (like videos!)

Monday, August 18, 2014

Breaking Free From The Tyranny of Numbers.

The Gross National Happiness (GNH) Index was developed as a way to  measure a successful quality of life for citizens of Bhutan in more holistic terms than only the economic indicator of Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

Many, if not most, museums base their success primarily on attendance numbers ---- which seem to be the equivalent of the Museum GDP.  And attendance numbers are certainly a quick way to gauge success, but not the only way.  

I've been thinking about this a lot in the context of several Maker-related projects I'm working on.

The trick in a Maker-y environment is that the level of engagement (with staff, with projects, with tools and materials) isn't really conducive to "throughput."  But while you aren't always moving big numbers through the Maker Space in your museum, you are (at least in theory) making big, deep impacts on your visitors in ways that justify that extra staffing, and tools, and materials ...

It takes a certain level of institutional resolve to break free of the tyranny of numbers and commit to a range of visitor-centered experiences that can't only be measured in one way.

So, I'll continue working and thinking about this, but I also wanted to share a couple online resources that I've found useful:

Measuring what matters in nonprofits.  A report from McKinsey & Company

The Happy Museum Project.  A group based in the UK looking at how the museum sector can respond to the challenges presented by the need for creating a more sustainable future.

This article from the Museums and The Web 2013 conference about nurturing engagement.


And, as always, feel free to share your thoughts (or additional resources) about this topic in the "Comments" section below.



Don't miss out on any ExhibiTricks posts! It's easy to get updates via email or your favorite news reader. Just click the "Sign up for Free ExhibiTricks Blog Updates" link on the upper right side of the blog.

P.S. If you receive ExhibiTricks via email (or Facebook or LinkedIn) you will need to click HERE to go to the main ExhibiTricks page to make comments or view multimedia features (like videos!)

Sunday, August 10, 2014

ReWind Exhibit Design Inspiration: One Day Poem Pavilion



Many designers talk about the intersection of art and science, but the "One Day Poem Pavilion" actually delivers. I was immediately taken by the idea of Jiyeon Song's piece when I first posted about it, and obviously I still am.  Enjoy!

Artist Jiyeon Song has created a sculptural structure that utilizes perforations carefully arranged throughout the top surfaces.  As light shines through the Pavilion's holes at different angles, legible text is created on the sidewalk underneath.  Different lines from a poem appear at different times of the day, due to the position of the sun.  What is super cool is that (again, due to the sun's position) one poem appears during the summer, and a different poem appears in the winter.

As described on Song's "Experiential Typography" website:

The specific arrangements of the perforations reveal different poems according to the solar calendar:  During the summer solstice, the poem will contain the theme of “new life”. During the winter solstice, the poem will be on “reflection and the passing of time.”

The resulting effect is inviting and magical. Within the pavilion, the poem can be seen between 8 AM and 4PM. The poem consists of 5 lines with each line lasting about an hour. The slowness of the message offers us a meditative moment within our hectic lives.  

You can see a timelapse movie of the piece in action below or on the website as well.  The entire Experiential Typography website is worth a look as Jiyeon Song carefully documents and articulates both the art and the science of the creative development process underlying a piece like One Day Poem Pavilion.

Nice work!





Don't miss out on any ExhibiTricks posts! It's easy to get updates via email or your favorite news reader. Just click the "Sign up for Free ExhibiTricks Blog Updates" link on the upper right side of the blog.

P.S. If you receive ExhibiTricks via email (or Facebook or LinkedIn) you will need to click HERE to go to the main ExhibiTricks page to make comments or view multimedia features (like videos!)

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Designer Toolkit: Circuit Scribe and Autodesk 123D apps


Circuit Scribe is a fun way to electrify your drawings with special pens filled with metallic quick-dry conductive ink.  It really makes designing circuits as easy as doodling.  You can check it out in the YouTube video at the top of this post, or buy your own Circuit Scribe pens and accessories at the Circuit Scribe website.

I love this natural mash-up of art and tech, but what's even more exciting is that the Circuit Scribe folks have teamed up with Autodesk and their suite of 123D apps.   If you don't already know all the 123D apps, this intro page gives you a sense of their range.  

Basically, 123D apps are FREE online tools that let you create first in the digital world and then move your digital creation into the real world via 3D printing or manufacturing.  For example, 123D Catch lets you capture places, people or things in 3D using your iPad, iPhone or any camera. Then you can either share your "Catches" with other people or 3D print a real object from your digital files.

Similarly 123D Circuits lets you design and simulate circuits online, and then order PCBs of your own designs (or from other 123D Circuits community members) from the Circuit Scribe store.

Want to do digital sculpting? 123D Sculpt!  Want to create a creature? 123D Creature!  Even if you are a bit of a technophobe, it's still worth clicking over to the Autodesk 123D apps page to see what you might be able to add to your own creative toolbox.


Don't miss out on any ExhibiTricks posts! It's easy to get updates via email or your favorite news reader. Just click the "Sign up for Free ExhibiTricks Blog Updates" link on the upper right side of the blog.

P.S. If you receive ExhibiTricks via email (or Facebook or LinkedIn) you will need to click HERE to go to the main ExhibiTricks page to make comments or view multimedia features (like videos!)

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Beach Books for Museum and Design Folks (Summer 2014 Edition)


Since I'm not a "beach person" if I end up in a hot, sandy spot I try to make sure I'm under a big, shady umbrella with a book in my hands.

With that in mind, here's a list of books you might like to peruse, on (or off) the beach.  I'm giving just quick highlights here, but linking to longer ExhibiTricks blog posts or reviews about each book, as well as a link to Amazon if you'd like to buy a copy.

Happy reading!

The first book, "The Museum of Extraordinary Things" is not a museum/exhibit/design book per se, but rather a wonderfully written bit of historical fiction that brings together the intersecting lives of two estranged people coming from two completely different starting points in New York City.  I completely fell under the sway of author Alice Hoffman and her prose. Highly recommended.
Review here.  Purchase here.


Austin Kleon's book, "Steal Like An Artist" is a quick read composed of 10 "tips" related to creativity.  If your creative batteries need an inspirational recharge, this is the book for you.
Blog post here. Purchase here.



Daily Rituals: How Artists Work is a collection of short vignettes about how famous people (writers, artists, scientists, composers, poets ...) create.  I found it really interesting to learn about the many different methods that the featured artists used to create their work.
Blog post here. Purchase here.



"The Art of Tinkering" is a book you can tinker with --- literally!  (The cover is printed with electrically-conductive ink.)  The Art of Tinkering is billed as a way to "meet 150+ makers at the intersection of art, science & technology."  It's a colorful book bursting with photos, ideas, and even simple DIY projects.
Blog post here. Purchase here.



Author Susan Weinschenk has put together a great reference for every type of designer called "100 Things Every Designer Needs To Know About People."  I love a book like this, because no matter where you dip in, there's a little bit of actionable inspiration to bring to your own creative practice.
Blog post here. Purchase here.



Last, but not least, the book Creating Exhibitions talks about how a truly collaborative process related to planning and designing innovative experiences can come about. One for your professional reference shelf.
Blog post here. Purchase here.


Have some of your own museum/exhibit/design "beach reads" to share?  Tell us about your favorites in the "Comments" section below.



Don't miss out on any ExhibiTricks posts! It's easy to get updates via email or your favorite news reader. Just click the "Sign up for Free ExhibiTricks Blog Updates" link on the upper right side of the blog.

P.S. If you receive ExhibiTricks via email (or Facebook or LinkedIn) you will need to click HERE to go to the main ExhibiTricks page to make comments or view multimedia features (like videos!)

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Data Visualization Inspiration: Tableau Public


I'm on the road in Texas right now, so I guess any story about interactive maps would pique my interest.

Tableau has released a cool new tool (it's FREE!) that allows you to create your own interactive data visualizations (for example the hurricane map at the top of this post --- see the interactive version here) to embed in a website or share with others. 

Definitely worth a look for museum/designer type folks.  So click over to the Tableau website to find out more.



Don't miss out on any ExhibiTricks posts! It's easy to get updates via email or your favorite news reader. Just click the "Sign up for Free ExhibiTricks Blog Updates" link on the upper right side of the blog.

P.S. If you receive ExhibiTricks via email (or Facebook or LinkedIn) you will need to click HERE to go to the main ExhibiTricks page to make comments or view multimedia features (like videos!)