Storytelling Tips for Museum Exhibits

December 23rd, 2015

museum exhibitMuseum exhibits are a powerful way to take a topic and make it visible and tangible for museum visitors. A successful museum exhibit design will enthrall visitors with rich information and a compelling display. While there are a number of qualities that define an excellent museum exhibit, perhaps the most important is an engaging story. Weaving the elements of your design into a fascinating narrative allows you to capture visitors’ attention in a way that no other technique can do. Following are a few of the ways you can use your museum exhibit design to create a compelling story.

Organize your story around a single objective

Effective storytelling in a museum exhibit is focused storytelling. The narrative you create should have a single purpose around which it is organized. For instance, it can encourage visitors to act, emphasize a particular aspect of your company, or recount historical events from a certain perspective. In order to determine what to focus your exhibit on, ask yourself what the central message is that you want to convey to museum visitors. What do you hope to accomplish?

For instance, say you want to create a museum that tells the history of your company. You could choose from among objectives such as emphasizing your company’s ability to innovate, teaching visitors about your philanthropic goals, or focusing on your business’ longevity and expertise. Each of these objectives will result in a slightly different museum exhibit design. Once you know what the organizing principle of your design will be, you can more easily create a compelling narrative.

Visually highlight the most important parts of the narrative.

Organizing your story around a single objective is only the first step in creating a compelling museum exhibit design. Once you know how you want to organize your story, you will need to visually highlight its most important parts. By allowing certain elements to stand out (through techniques such as larger text, technology, etc.), you allow visitors to quickly understand the basics of your narrative, no matter how briefly they stay.

The parts of your story that are the most visible in your museum exhibit design should be the broad points of the narrative (i.e. major company milestones). This does not mean that you omit the details that enliven your story. These details can be included in layers (such as longer presentations and smaller text) for visitors who want to spend more time exploring your display. This technique allows visitors to quickly grasp the broad outlines of the story if they wish to pass through quickly, or to take time to delve into the more detailed narrative if they want to learn more.

Create a logical flow.

Any story you tell needs to have a logical beginning, middle, and end. In addition, good stories all contain the essential elements of a plot, such as rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution. The story you tell through your museum exhibit design is no different. Each element of your design should contribute to a logical narrative arc.

For instance, if you want people to quickly pick up on the story’s progression, you might consider dividing your exhibit up based on the beginning, middle, and end of your story. In order to help visitors understand the arc of the story, you can use lighting, technology, and graphics to convey the rising action, the climax, and the resolution of the narrative. The key is to make sure that your exhibit is arranged logically so visitors can easily follow the story as it unfolds. When moving through this type of exhibit, visitors will be more engaged, delve more deeply, and remember your story longer.

Engage visitors’ senses.

One of the most important elements of a museum exhibit design is that it provide a stimulating experience that captures visitors’ full attention. While there are many ways to do so, one of the most effective is to engage visitors’ senses. A story that is only conveyed through writing may be interesting for visitors who enjoy the written word. However, it may lose the attention of others who are more tactile, or aural, or visual. In addition, visitors who have certain disabilities (such as blindness or hearing impairments) may not be able to enjoy the story if it is only told in one way. As a result, the most effective museum exhibits engage all of the senses.

For instance, instead of simply writing down information on a placard, consider adding compatibility with a screen reader, or provide technology to have the information read out loud to the visitor. Add elements (such as millwork or statues) that can be felt or manipulated by visitors. Include interactive technology (such as kiosks or mobile apps) that will interest more technically-savvy visitors. By creating a museum exhibit design that engages all the senses, you will create a truly immersive, and accessible, experience for all of your visitors.

Use compelling graphics.

Finally, never shy away from using quality graphics in your museum exhibit design. The graphics (such as placards, signage, photographs, and images) are the elements that bring the story to life. They are the elements that explain and interpret the artifacts and objects that are on display. As a result, they need to be high-quality, clear, and compelling in order to create a museum exhibit that will effectively tell a compelling story. For instance, the basic elements of good graphics include clear, readable fonts; relevant and stunning images; plenty of white space, and a balance of complementary colors. In addition, your exhibit company’s design services should be able to guide you regarding the exact graphics that will best represent your story in your display.

A museum exhibit is a unique opportunity to tell a story that people need to hear. Using effective storytelling techniques can make it easier for you to convey your story in a compelling and memorable manner. By organizing your narrative around a single goal, highlighting the most important parts of the story, creating a logical flow, engaging visitors’ senses, and using compelling graphics, you can tell a story through your museum design exhibit that visitors will remember for the long-term.