Monday, June 23, 2008

What Can Museums Learn From Disney? Mickey's 10 Commandments

Many folks in the Museum World have a lot of animosity toward Disney. Personally, I see lots of good reasons for both museums and theme parks to exist. In fact, I think Museums can learn many useful things from the likes of Disney, Six Flags, and Universal.

With that in mind, here are "Mickey's 1o Commandments" as outlined by Walt Disney Imagineering President Marty Sklar:

1. Know your audience - Don't bore people, talk down to them or lose them by assuming that they know what you know.

2. Wear your guest's shoes - Insist that designers, staff and your board members experience your facility as visitors as often as possible.

3. Organize the flow of people and ideas - Use good story telling techniques, tell good stories not lectures, lay out your exhibit with a clear logic.

4. Create a "weenie" - Lead visitors from one area to another by creating visual magnets and giving visitors rewards for making the journey.

5. Communicate with visual literacy - Make good use of all the non-verbal ways of communication - color, shape, form, texture.

6. Avoid overload - Resist the temptation to tell too much, to have too many objects, don't force people to swallow more than they can digest, try to stimulate and provide guidance to those who want more.

7. Tell one story at a time - If you have a lot of information divide it into distinct, logical, organized stories, people can absorb and retain information more clearly if the path to the next concept is clear and logical.

8. Avoid contradiction - Clear institutional identity helps give you the competitive edge. Public needs to know who you are and what differentiates you from other institutions they may have seen.

9. For every ounce of treatment , provide a ton of fun - How do you woo people from all other temptations? Give people plenty of opportunity to enjoy themselves by emphasizing ways that let people participate in the experience and by making your environment rich and appealing to all senses.

10. Keep it up - Never underestimate the importance of cleanliness and routine maintenance, people expect to get a good show every time, people will comment more on broken and dirty stuff.

I'd be happy to give a new exhibit designer or developer a copy of Mickey's 10 Commandments. In fact, I think even the "old pros" could benefit by reminding themselves of the importance of knowing the audience, keeping things simple, and applying as much effort to upkeep as creation.

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  1. Hi, Paul. I'm a student in the Johns Hopkins Museums Studies program and am currently taking a course in Exhibition Strategies. This past week's assignment was about the seeing what Aristotle's Poetics and Calvino's Six Memos for the Millenium might tell us about how to build good exhibitions. Interestingly, both were relevant but they are trumped by the summary you've just given that shows Disney really knows how to do it. I agree! Thanks for a great blog.

  2. Hi Ruth,

    Thanks for your kind words. Feel free to tell your classmates about Mickey's 10 Commandments and the ExhibiTricks blog!