Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Less is More

From the desk of Tim Willis, Director of Exhibitions and Visitor Experience

I’m intrigued by what is going on in a visitor’s mind when they first arrive in a museum. I suspect it’s a mix of excitement (we hope) and anxiety (where do I go, where do I pay, what’s on?).

Design theory says that people need time and room to adjust from the outside world before they negotiate the beginning of a visit – and I’m sure this is right. However, in many cases (our situation included) the architecture of the building does not allow this respite. Instead, one is required immediately to make decisions.

Adding to the anxiety I’m sure, is the information we seem determined to thrust in their way: directional signage, visitor services, admission rates, special events, membership deals and promotional blurbs of various kinds. As museum buildings age, coordinated signage treatment seems to breakdown. The result can be a cacophony – just when the visitor is looking for simplicity.

I don’t think it needs to be this way. In my view, the Victoria and Albert Museum in London provides – overall – one of the best museum experiences anywhere. Visiting the V&A is easy, and their entrance experience is a model of simplicity.

Images: Two video monitors convey all that you need to know at the V&A

The entrance rotunda is a study in restraint. The absence of signage is a real lesson. Millions of visitors come through this space every year. And it appears that they get most of what they need from just three sources – an information desk and two video monitors. It seems that focusing everyone’s attention to a very few key places is more effective than asking them to look everywhere.

Less is more.

Image: V&A’s Dale Chihuly sculpture has a certain ‘wow’ factor … but beneath it the entrance lobby is a model of restraint

Tim Willis

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