Stories in Space: Design Strategies for Museum Interpretive Materials


Ann Marshall, Principal, Annex Design Services
Alice Parman, Independent Interpretive Planner
Alan Ransenberg, Exhibition Designer, The Alchemy of Design
Nicole Trudeau, Owner, Squid Ink Design


Kitty Connolly, Botanical Interpretation Manager, Huntington Botanical Gardens, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens

By Kitty Connolly

This session took place during the Western Museums Association 2013 Annual Meeting

Four designers shared their knowledge in “Stories in Space.” The presenters, in order, were Alice Parman (independent consultant), Alan Ransenberg (The Alchemy of Design), Nicole Trudeau (Squid Ink Design), and Ann Marshall (Annex Design Services). The topic must have struck a chord with WMA attendees because the room was overflowing with people busily taking notes. The question period included a lively discussion among the panelists as well as back and forth with the audience. Kitty Connolly (Huntington Botanical Gardens) moderated the session.

While in many ways the three exhibitions they presented were quite different, during the session a few commonalities rose to the surface. Each designer approached their project from the visitor’s perspective and advocated for the visitor during design development. This meant there was a common focus on digestion, as in ensuring that content was presented physically and conceptually so that visitors were able to comprehend the “big idea” without being overwhelmed. Luckily, this concept itself (sometimes known as the Pepto effect) was quite digestible and made an easy take away for attendees. Each presenter also emphasized that designers should use the entirety of their immersive environments to support exhibition content. Their projects demonstrated this approach. Some other techniques included use of whimsy and color coding, creating spaces for reflection, layering information within a clear hierarchy, presenting unexpected perspectives (size, view, placement), and providing clear orientation. Alfred North Whitehead’s idea that people have to fall in love with a subject as their first step in learning seemed to resonate throughout the projects.

In the end, while each exhibition requires a fresh design, it does not require starting from scratch. These experienced designers generously shared the lessons they’ve learned, some of the considerations they bring to projects, and their certainty that thoughtful design can serve museums and their visitors.

Kitty Connolly, Botanical Interpretation Manager at the Huntington Botanical Gardens, has had the pleasure of working on artifact and living-plant based exhibitions since 1995.

Please review some of the presentations from our session:



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