The New Year often brings the promise of exciting new projects.
What questions can you ask to help get a sense of whether someone you've never worked with before might become a good (or great!) creative partner for your next museum/exhibit/design project?
1) How do you prototype exhibits?
Every aspect of an exhibition, including labels, can be tested out with visitors before the “final” version is produced. This does not have to be a horribly expensive or time-consuming process. As a matter of fact, masking tape, markers, and cardboard can go a long way in creating simple prototypes.
Avoid anyone who says things along the lines of: “We test out everything in the shop...” or “ We don’t need to prototype, because our stuff never breaks.” You need to turn real visitors loose on exhibit prototypes to avoid the dreaded “I never thought they would do that with our exhibit!”
You can find a free downloadable article on exhibit prototyping on the POW! Website.
2) What’s your favorite exhibit?
If the response to this question is either a blank stare or a glib sales pitch --- RUN! Ideally, your potential creative partner can report on why specific aspects of an exhibit component or entire exhibition interested them or moved them in some way.
For example, I loved a large scale interactive component based on one of the scenes from a children’s book by William Steig. There were magnet-backed creatures and plants that multiple visitors could move around in a room-sized jungle scene. This was part of a larger exhibition of Steig’s drawings in a normally “hands-off” museum, The Jewish Museum in Manhattan. It was clear through this area, and a few other places in the Steig exhibition, that the designers wanted to provide some colorful, open-ended experiences for families.
3) Will you let us directly pay subcontractors?
Money changes everything, doesn’t it? The financial aspects of your exhibit process should be as transparent as possible. The best designers allow you to see “the books” so you can be assured that the maximum amount possible of your project resources are being spent on items that will show up in your exhibit galleries.
Beware of too many miscellaneous fees or excessive charges for things. It is reasonable for any designer to cover their overhead charges, but it is just as reasonable for you to ask to contract directly with specialists serving as subcontractors to avoid excessive “markups”.
4) Have you ever worked in a museum?
While this is not a complete deal-breaker, a design solution from someone who has actually had to fix an exhibit after 600 grade-schoolers have pummeled it carries a lot more weight with me than a beautiful computer rendering from a recent design school grad.
Don’t be afraid to ask practical questions like, “How will this work with large school groups?” or “Will this computer interactive automatically reboot if it freezes up?”
5) Who are some of your repeat customers?
At the end of every crazy exhibit project and installation, after everyone has had a few days to obtain the requisite amounts of food, sleep (and showers!) you ask yourself an important question: Would I ever work with (fill in the blank) again?
The people who you continue to work with, and who continue to work with you, speaks volumes about your work ethic and the ability to get the job done. The mark of a great museum exhibit designer is how they overcome unexpected challenges related to timing or finances or the other hundred things that could cause a project to become unhinged.
What are some of the questions you ask potential creative partners? Let us know in the "Comments" Section below!
Don't miss out on any ExhibiTricks posts! It's easy to get updates via email or your favorite news reader. Just click the "Sign up for Free ExhibiTricks Blog Updates" link on the upper right side of the blog.
Paul Orselli writes the posts on ExhibiTricks. Paul is a GREAT creative partner who 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!
If you enjoy the blog, you can help keep it free to read and free from ads by supporting ExhibiTricks through our PayPal "Tip Jar"