Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Rewind: Are Exhibit Timelines So Boring Because of the Lines?

I've been thinking about time a lot these days -- how to display it, how to put events in perspective, and in context, with each other.  So I thought I would share an "encore" version of this post about exhibit timelines, one of the ExhibiTricks blog's most popular posts from 2019. Enjoy!

A while back I wrote a post asking for examples of interesting timelines in museum exhibitions.  Since then I've been wondering if the negative impressions so many visitors (and exhibit designers!) seem to have about timelines are actually a function of the flat, straight lines themselves.

Think about how daunting a seemingly endless line of jam-packed text and images seems when you are standing at the beginning point.  And now with the use of ever-cheaper screens and digital storage devices, there is a proliferation of what one designer called "the promise of the infinite label" (as if that was a GOOD thing!)

So here are four different ways (with images) of rethinking, or replacing, the standard linear "encyclopedia pages on the wall" approach to exhibit timelines.


Instead of marching tons of text and images in a line across the wall, why not break the information into manageable chunks and spread it out around the space?

A hub-and-spoke approach to spreading out information.

Movable "thought bubble" units.
Provocation on one side visitor response on the other?

Spreading out information with a map motif.


Could we engage other senses (like hearing) in information-dense exhibits?

Historic figures speak.

Listen Up! Text and sound.


How can we use all the space to have visitors look for information in unexpected ways and places?

Cubes -- look up and all around to approach text/images in non-linear ways.

Changing the space to change visitor expectations.

Look up -- and around!


Are there ways to exchange information by encouraging communication between visitors and the museum or interchange between visitors?  How can visitors change the information or the physical exhibit elements?

Exchanging information through flash drives.

Color-coded talk tubes to discuss different subjects?

Visitor-changeable low-tech data display

Hopefully, this ExhibiTricks post has given you some inspiration to scribble outside the (time)lines a bit.

Do you have some other ideas or images/links to share that don't follow the typical timeline?  Let us know in the "Comments" section below!

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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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