Tuesday, December 10, 2019

"Have good Big Ideas and write short labels."



I sent my colleague Beverly Serrell**  an email asking how best to respond when a museum team wants to "digitally expand" the information on exhibition labels using QR codes or screens or the like.

I liked Beverly's response so much, that I asked her permission to share it here on the ExhibiTricks blog:


This is a very familiar idea, that there are museum visitors who might want more information than they see and use on the labels in an exhibition and would be willing to follow a link or code to get it somewhere else (e.g., in another gallery, on their phone, on the Internet). There are several assumptions embedded here that make this a weak or even bad idea, because.... 

1. The number of people who actually want more information is a small percentage. 

2. The number of people who use QR codes or remember to look for more information in another place is small. 

3. The amount of work to provide high-quality information for that small percentage is not worth it. 

4. More people will actually use shorter labels, so writing short labels to begin with makes a better user-ratio.  

5. Lots of information is instantly available on visitors' phones. You don't need to write more.

Notice that the above is all based on "information" rather than "interpretation." The purpose of exhibit labels is interpretation, not information. Information is about presenting knowledge. Interpretation is about provoking curiosity, revelation, interest, and meaning. Anyone who gets stimulated by the labels (and we hope that lots of people will be) can search for what exists already on the Internet to find out more.

So, the mindset should be: Have good Big Ideas and write short labels. 


**Beverly Serrell is the author of Exhibit Labels: An Interpretive Approachthe definitive book about (wait for it ...) exhibit labels.  If you don't already own a copy you should click on the Amazon link above and get Beverly's book for yourself. (Or at the very least read this interview I did with Beverly when the second edition of Exhibit Labels was published.)



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Paul Orselli writes the posts on ExhibiTricks. Paul likes to combine interesting people, ideas, and materials to make exhibits (and entire museums!) with his company POW! (Paul Orselli Workshop, Inc.) Let's work on a project together!

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