Sunday, October 31, 2010

Inside Out or Outside in?

Imagine two different exhibitions.  Both take up about the same amount of space.  Both look to have about the same level of "fit and finish."  Both have comparable amounts of labels, graphics, and exhibit furniture.

But one exhibition gallery is filled with happy, engaged people, while the other gallery stands forlornly --- practically empty.

How did that happen?  Are the exhibits inside the empty gallery "bad" or was the exhibit development process flawed in some way?

In an effort to stir up some discussion without directly answering those questions, I'd like to commend a book to your attention, and then ask you to consider if you are developing exhibits from the "inside out" or from the "outside in."

First the book:

Fostering Active Prolonged Engagement is a book about an NSF-funded project at the Exploratorium that digs deeply into how exhibit components can foster "APE behavior." (APE is the acronym for Active Prolonged Engagement.)  Namely, how can exhibits be developed (or in many cases, re-designed) to allow visitors to take active roles in creating their own experiences in ways that compel them to spend longer periods of time at the exhibits?

If Fostering Active Prolonged Engagement isn't already on your museum exhibit design reference bookshelf, you should buy a copy today.

Now the consideration:

Are museum exhibit designers, developers, funders, and audiences too concerned with the outward aspects of exhibit galleries  --- the ad campaign?  the portfolio shots?  the "hip" materials and color schemes?

Should an exhibition be developed "inside out" that is, with the inside values (like thoughtful content messages and true visitor engagement in mind) first,  rather than "outside in" with the outside values (color schemes or high-concept  PR themes) first?   

It's worth considering when you're figuring out who to work with and how to spend your money on your next exhibit project.  Is someone who is trained to think about the surfaces and shells of a situation (like an architect, or marketing person, say) really able to help you design your exhibition from the "inside out"?

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