Take a moment to think of a museum experience you had that you found deeply satisfying, engaging or intellectually stimulating. You will find that the visitor experience is not something tangible, but rather an ephemeral relationship that extends beyond the spatial and temporal boundaries of the environment. This is due to increased access and the proliferation of technology.
Today, the average visitor expects a similar level of interactivity within themed environments, compared to what they have on their computers and smartphones. In our media-rich world, technology should enhance visitor experiences rather than detract from it. One such example is the traveling exhibit, Titans of the Past – Dinosaurs & Ice Age Mammals at Science Centre Singapore, which uses realistic animatronics produced by Kokoro Co. Ltd, to enable visitors to experience and explore the different feeding habits of colossal moving replicas of adult and juvenile T-Rexs. However, the magic of themed environments does not end there.
Since exhibitions form an important component for themed environments, every element converges to contribute to the visitor’s experience. Visitor accessibility and attention are vital for enriching engagement. Designing a great visitor experience requires much planning and experience. Modern methods used to provide a more holistic experience include the use of Audio Visual (AV) technology to effectively bring exhibits to life, deploying audio guide systems and immersive sound simulations for rich soundscapes and augmented reality. The days of traditional exhibit-centric descriptions are long gone. Today, story-centric narrations with references to the exhibits and multimedia content set the standard. A fine example would be AmorePacific’s Story Garden in South Korea, which transforms static content into a dynamic platform. The result is a multi-sensorial gallery where exhibits, audio, immersive media and interpretive art installations come together to weave an emotional tale. Through an understanding of how multi-sensorial experiences can engage visitors, we are now able to design environments that result in longer dwell time, satisfaction and repeated visits.
Design thinking methods are being adopted by design experts as a tool for fostering creativity and solving complex problems. It demonstrates the importance of designing for individual needs, generating a breadth of ideas and building on each other’s ideas. As a result, museum exhibit design has undergone significant changes. During the design process, attention must be given to all aspects such as color, interior design, theme of the exhibition, placement, graphics and lighting. It is vital for spatial impressions! Therefore, the design and configuration of the exhibition space lighting is dependant on several planning parameters. One of the most important is ensuring that the lighting harmonizes with the room’s proportions. The way the ambience is shaped by light and shadow is a matter of fundamental importance. Together with the myriad of choices from luminaires to lamps, designing to meet the needs of museum exhibitions gets easier. Chanel’s “The Little Black Jacket” at the iconic Art Science Museum in Singapore, cleverly employs lighting to enhance a sombre mood and reflect a unique understated elegance. Designed to take visitors on an unforgettable, multi-faceted journey of fashion and style, three vast halls were turned into a cavernous space filled with white-washed walls and dimmed ambient lighting to house 129 celebrity portraits shot by Karl Lagerfeld himself. The exhibition successfully portrays the vivacity of Coco Chanel’s timeless fashion label and creates a bustling must-see show.
However, before such exquisite exhibitions can materialize, the entire process from design to build considers many variables. They range from exhibition theme to material usage, size of structures, venue and the exhibition’s budget. Thereafter, builders use value engineering to advise and propose suitable material types to clients, while freight forwarding companies handle the shipping and logistics of the exhibit. Before an exhibition opens its doors to the public, a Factory Acceptance Test (FAT) must be conducted prior to the soft opening for testing and commissioning to ensure that every aspect is in working order.
Museum curators, design experts, exhibition and event organizers need to be proactive while planning their design strategies and have a thorough understanding of the space. At times, collaborative efforts with other design and production houses like BRC Imagination Arts and Jack Rouse Associates will result in a more holistic experience. It is the business of builders of themed environments to create extraordinary experiences that evoke emotion, prompt discussion and open minds to new possibilities.
Brett Cameron, Creative Director of Kingsmen Exhibits Pte Ltd, shares that, “Ultimately, if we can create an engaging story, we will inspire an enduring connection to the subject. In its simplest form, this not only provides an appreciation, but also the power to ignite passionate responses, deliver experience and drive demand.”
The next time you are at a museum or a gallery, examine your surroundings and observe how they make your trip more memorable.
The contributor is the Sales & Marketing Director of Kingsmen Exhibits Pte Ltd, a leading communication design & production group in Asia Pacific & the Middle East.