Sunday, February 14, 2010

Should Your Next Exhibit Be Designed Like The Web?

Should the loosely connected, surf anywhere you like approach that makes the Web so popular serve as the design model for your next exhibit?

What got me thinking about this was the review (and subsequent comments) over on the ExhibitFiles website concerning the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry's new human body exhibit entitled "YOU!" 

Many exhibit designers seem to feel that exhibitions need a clear storyline or narrative thread that helps visitors walk away with clear messages.  The folks involved in the YOU! exhibition seemed to be guided not only by the disjointed architecture of the spaces they had to fit the exhibition into, but also by an acknowledgment of the user-centered, Web-based manner that many members of their target audience gather their information these days.

While the Web is great for wading through vast oceans of information, it still seems that "sticky" narratives are the best way for acquiring  long-lasting knowledge.   Using the Web as a model for design criteria seems like it could easily lapse into the "let's just fill up the space with cool stuff and let the visitors sort it out..." school of exhibit (or museum) design. 

So, can a museum exhibition composed of free-standing units that can be viewed in any order, any more or less effective than the traditionally-styled exhibition hung on a clear narrative structure? The folks from Chicago involved with the YOU! project have indicated that they'll be releasing their summative evaluation reports, so stay tuned...

What do you think?  Are folks from the narrative thread school of exhibit design just old fuddy-duddies that aren't keeping up with the Web-savvy public?  Or can museums serve as an antidote from click-based info-surfing,  and provide real objects, experiences, and stories that people can dive more deeply into?  Share your own deep (or shallow!) thoughts in the "Comments" section below.

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