Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Designing Exhibits: Telling a Story Visually

Exhibits are one of the most popular History Day categories. According to the NHD Rule Book, the standard is a museum-quality exhibit. But what does that mean, exactly?

Think about the last time you visited a museum. When you enter an exhibit, you should immediately see its title—that tells you what the exhibit is about (the topic). There is often a panel of text under the title that explains what the exhibit hopes to convey, and perhaps even what it hopes viewers will learn—this is the equivalent of its thesis. They tell viewers what to expect as they enter the gallery.

Exhibits are often divided into easily navigable parts. Once viewers read the title and introductory text, they will begin to walk through the gallery. It's crucial that the internal logic of the exhibit is evident, and that it's easy for viewers to find their way through it.

So, for example, let's say you're visiting an exhibit about national parks in Washington State. The title is "Washington's Crown Jewels," and the introductory panel tells you that the three big parks in Washington were created in different eras and represent different views about the environment. By understanding the forces that shaped each park, we can learn how environmental philosophies have changed over time (thesis).

You might reasonably expect a three-part exhibit, with sections on Mount Rainier, Olympic and North Cascades national parks (main ideas). And within each section, you might reasonably expect to see the story of each park divided into nearly identical subsections: perhaps something like "Creating the Park," "Environmental Viewpoints," "Political Realities," and "Lessons from the Park." At the end, when you are about to leave the gallery, there is likely to be a panel or two that summarizes what you've seen and discusses its importance—this is the conclusion, and it must focus on the historical significance of the topic.

The parallels to the three-panel History Day exhibit are apparent. Exhibit designers carefully consider everything that could potentially be included in the exhibit, and they must be strict about excluding anything that doesn't relate directly to the exhibit's main idea or thesis. It confuses the viewer and muddies the message. That goes for not just panel text, but captions, labels, images and artifacts. It's tempting to include a fact or image that is just really cool, but if it doesn't clearly connect to the thesis, pitch it. (It's hard, I know.)

As you get ready to put your History Day exhibit together, keep these design tips, courtesy of Ohio History Day, in mind:

  • Spacing: Think about negative space (blank areas on the board). Is it even? Is there enough?
  • Image selection: Choose visually interesting images and make sure they help advance the story you are telling.
  • Labels: Keep them short, sweet, and simple. Write them to be read aloud.
  • Interaction: Think of ways to keep your audience actively engaged in your exhibit: puzzles, flip ups, etc.
  • Quotes: Think about the length and interest of the quotes you choose. Think about which ones best illustrate your thesis. Think about holding the viewer's interest—are they really going to stand there and read thirty long quotes?
  • Creativity- Have fun! Think of different ways you can use the board to support your main idea.
  • Fonts: Choose fonts that are easy to read, and make sure they are large enough. If you are reducing font size to fit more on your board, you've probably got too much on there. Review content and eliminate accordingly.

We've got some helpful worksheets about exhibits on our website—check them out!

No comments:

Post a Comment