Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Museum Design Inspiration: Budget Graphics Edition

P16 O W exclamation mark !

A great graphic artist can really transform the look and feel of an exhibition. The work of artist Ray Troll in the Amazon Voyage exhibition comes to mind. But sometimes smaller museums, or in these cash-strapped times, even larger museums, occasionally need to develop some graphics materials in-house.

I've discussed one of my favorite design resources, Google's great free rendering tool, SketchUp, in a previous post, but here are three other graphics-related resources that can provide some budget-stretching inspiration. I list them in order of complexity:

1) Spell with Flickr is a neat application developed by Erik Kastner that interfaces with the photo-sharing service Flickr. Spell with Flickr does just what you might expect --- just enter words or phrases into a text box on the site, press the button, and your word is spelled out in different images of letters pulled from Flickr. If you don't like how a particular letter has been rendered, just click on it and the application will substitute a new Flickr image of the letter for the previous one. (The site also generates HTML code of your Flickr words as well. You can see an example at the top of this posting.)

2) GraphicRiver GraphicRiver is a website that provides low-cost Photoshop and other graphics files that can spice up simple print or exhibit graphics pieces. Not a substitute for a graphics person, but still, good stuff at good prices!

3) VectorTuts If you have been the "designated hitter" for graphics on your museum staff for awhile, you might like to sink your teeth into the the VectorTuts website.

"Tuts" is pronounced "toots" and is short for "tutorials." Here you will find step-by-step tutorials on how to create all sorts of effects using vector graphics programs like Adobe Illustrator.

As I mentioned earlier, there really is no substitute for working with a talented graphic artist, but the tools mentioned above can provide help and inspiration when that's not an option.

Have some of your own favorite graphics tools to share? Let us know in the "Comments" Section below.

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  1. I've invested uncounted hours perfecting the mechanical function of my Ferrofluid Magnetoscope, but a recent critique by the staff of the Cinncinatti Museum helped me realize that my graphics still need improvement. Thanks for your tips!

  2. If you can't afford Photoshop, I can only recommend GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program) http://www.gimp.org/

    It's free and open source. The UI still a bit clunky but it can do most things Photoshop can do. Probably would still need someone with graphic design skills to use properly though.

  3. Wow. That spell with flickr app is wild.

  4. Thanks for the comments!

    Michael, your comment reminds me of the old exhibit developer's saying: "Sometimes the easiest way to fix an exhibit is to change the label!"

    Pete, another great free on-line photo manipulation resource is Picnik, which I've posted about previously:

  5. Spell with Flickr is really cool!

    Are there any copyright issues with using the html for the words you create? (Didn't see anything about this on their site).

  6. Hi Scott,

    Regarding copyright, the "Spell with Flickr" application includes a way to click back to Flickr to reference each specific image to determine copyrights, creative commons rights, usage, etc.

    However, depending on your usage, the SwF "mashup" may be covered under "fair use" provisions.