by Ralph Ammer
Communication in four dimensions
Just like the square and the circle in Edwin A. Abbott’s “Flatland” visual designers sometimes seem to be living in a world of only two dimensions. We are used to work with representations, arranging texts and images on screens or pages. We tend to think flat. Accordingly when it comes to designing exhibitions we are tempted to mount planes on walls, expecting the viewers to “read” the exhibit like one would read a book. Here are some thoughts on how to expand this limited world:
Here and there
It is hard to accept how scarce patience and attention are in an exhibition. After doing some math we won’t be surprised that the viewers quite often don’t spend more than 30 seconds in front of one artefact. One important aspect we should bear in mind here is the bodily situation the viewers are in. It is sometimes hard to empathize with somebody who has been on her feet for hours surrounded by crowds of people while we are seated comfortably in our quite studios sipping our favourite hot beverage. But we should! In an exhibition environment the abitilty to take in information is usually dramatically reduced.
What does that mean for us?
First of all our goal might not necessarily be to convey extensive knowledge. Rather we aim at getting the visitors’ attention and to awaken their interest.
Think about the body as a medium
And here comes great news: The visitors are physically present! This means that we can engage them in a memorable physical experience. We can appeal to their other senses besides sight, let them move through interesting spaces and actively participate in the situation.
A social experience
People rarely go to exhibitions alone. Seeing a show is quite often a social experience. We can integrate opportunities for mutual exchange and joint experience into our designs.
For instance we might prefer settings in which visitors face each other rather than avert others while staring at a wall. Encouraging interaction and conversations among visitors will make their visit both more pleasent and memorable.
The Exhibition as a Stage
To show artefacts in an exhibition takes so much more than just putting them on a pedestal so that people can look at them. Exhibiting is an act of dramatization. We create a stage for the encounter of the viewers with the artefacts and each other.
In our case the setting for this drama was the “Werkschau” exhibition of the University of Applied Sciences in Munich in July 2015.