Just One Thing about Exhibits

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Join Paul Orselli with "Just One Thing about Exhibits" interviews !

Paul Orselli and POW! have started a new video project called JOT@Exhibits (Just One Thing about Exhibits.)

The video series will feature exhibit designers and developers who want to share "just one thing" about exhibits in a short video.

Please check out the JOT@Exhibits videos embedded below or on the POW! YouTube Channel.

 

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ExhibiTricks blog

  • Exhibit Design Inspiration -- Decisions, Decisions!



    Sometimes as part of a museum exhibit experience, we'd like the users to make a choice of some sort -- "Which historical figure do you want to find out about?"  "Choose one of these six minerals to test ..." "Did your animal survive the winter?" and so on.

    While these kinds of decision points as part of an interactive experience can be handled by a digital/computer device or (gasp!) some sort of Artificial Intelligence application, I'm a big fan of a decidedly more "old school" analog approach -- incorporating the devices used in board games (dice, spinners, flippers, carnival wheels, etc.) to provide different content or experiential choices for museum visitors.

    Why use things like dice or spinners in an exhibition instead of a randomized digital equivalent?

    Here are a few reasons:

    SOCIABILITY 
    Watching a spinning carnival wheel or having several people throw dice to make a choice in an exhibition is inherently a more social experience than one person hunching over a touch screen.

    SUSTAINABILITY
    Spinners or dice don't need to be plugged in.

    ACCESSIBILITY
    Physical selection devices can be used by people with a wide range of abilities.  For example, all these "old school" game devices can be set up so that users with low or no vision can still participate.

    SCALABILITY
    Game elements can also easily scale up or down. Large-scale game elements add to the "sociability" factor mentioned above.

    Check out this example below from a nature game (about geese!) I saw during my last trip to Bulgaria.



    TESTABILITY
    Simple selection devices can be easily mocked up when testing exhibit prototypes, or just by doing a quick Google or Amazon search for "game piece suppliers," you can find lots of good places to buy all sorts of pieces to use for testing or in finished exhibit components.

    In that regard, while researching this post, I came across a great website boardgamegeek.com. In addition to having all sorts of information about, and reviews of, board games, the site also has this handy webpage that provides an alphabetical listing of online outlets that sell game pieces and related materials. 

    FAMILIARITY
    Most, if not all, of your museum visitors will automatically know how to use a carnival wheel or set of dice.

    MAINTAINABILITY
    Last but not least, these low-tech items are very durable and easily maintained or replaced.  Even better, all of these items can be self-contained -- that is, without loose parts.  Even dice can be put into spinning cages or the awesome Pop-O-Matic, so they don't go astray.



    So, why not take a chance (roll the dice!) and incorporate some "old school" physical game elements into your next exhibit design or prototyping session?






    Don't miss out on any ExhibiTricks posts! It's easy to get updates via email or your favorite news reader. Just click the "Sign up for Free ExhibiTricks Blog Updates" link on the upper right side of the blog.

    Paul Orselli writes the posts on ExhibiTricks. Paul likes to combine interesting people, ideas, and materials to make exhibits (and entire museums!) with his company POW! (Paul Orselli Workshop, Inc.) Let's work on a project together!

    If you enjoy the blog, you can help keep it free to read and free from ads by supporting ExhibiTricks through our PayPal "Tip Jar"
  • Successful Imperfection




    The other day one of my sons wanted to cook up a little surprise for our family.  He worked hard to make some onion bhaji based on a recipe that one of his college friends taught him.  (You can try making some of your own bhajis by following this recipe.)

    Everyone enjoyed the special appetizers and found them quite tasty, but I noticed my son was a little upset, and I asked him what the problem was.  He was disappointed that the bhaji hadn't turned out exactly how he had hoped and had actually thrown some of them away because he didn't think they were "good enough" to serve.

    We are often our own worst critics, and many times the fear of "less than perfect" paralyzes our work. 

    Sometimes parts of an exhibition or a new program won't be 100% complete or be *perfect* on opening day -- and while that might gnaw at us as creators, our visitors are usually focused on enjoying the new exhibits or programs we've created.

    Let's continue to learn from our failures, but let's also take time to savor our "imperfect" successes.



    Don't miss out on any ExhibiTricks posts! It's easy to get updates via email or your favorite news reader. Just click the "Sign up for Free ExhibiTricks Blog Updates" link on the upper right side of the blog.

    Paul Orselli writes the posts on ExhibiTricks. Paul likes to combine interesting people, ideas, and materials to make exhibits (and entire museums!) with his company POW! (Paul Orselli Workshop, Inc.) Let's work on a project together!

    If you enjoy the blog, you can help keep it free to read and free from ads by supporting ExhibiTricks through our PayPal "Tip Jar"
  • Do You Need Walls to be a Museum?



    Do you need walls to be a Museum?

    It's a question worth asking again, as the Rubin Museum of Art recently announced that it would be closing its New York City museum building later this year -- essentially becoming a "museum without walls."

    There are many instances of emerging museums starting out as "museums without walls," with the ultimate aim in those cases to end up inside a permanent museum home rather than reversing the sequence as the Rubin is doing.

    But really, what are the essential qualities of a "museum"?  I would say that strong museum experiences are defined by three S words: Stuff, Stories, and Social. (Note that "Structure" isn't one of those S words!)

    First, you need some kind of "STUFF," whether artifacts, collection objects, or exhibit elements.  Even completely digital museums, like the Girl Museum, still emphasize the notion of thematic exhibitions, albeit through purely online installations.

    Secondly, you should have strong STORIES to share.  The FREE THE MUSEUM project works to share stories and place their installations in and around communities in places like parks, streets, or community gathering places rather than museum buildings.

    And lastly, museums must be SOCIAL places, providing opportunities for people to gather and interact with each other.  The "new" Rubin Museum aims to provide such social opportunities for people to interact with new installations related to Himalayan Art by working with creative partners around the world.

    So I would say you do NOT need walls to create strong and memorable museum experiences. 

    However, it will be difficult for "wall-free museums" to shift the natural perception of so many members of the public who immediately think of permanent, physical buildings when the word "museum" comes up and consider museum buildings the mark of institutional legitimacy.






    Don't miss out on any ExhibiTricks posts! It's easy to get updates via email or your favorite news reader. Just click the "Sign up for Free ExhibiTricks Blog Updates" link on the upper right side of the blog.

    Paul Orselli writes the posts on ExhibiTricks. Paul likes to combine interesting people, ideas, and materials to make exhibits (and entire museums!) with his company POW! (Paul Orselli Workshop, Inc.) Let's work on a project together!

    If you enjoy the blog, you can help keep it free to read and free from ads by supporting ExhibiTricks through our PayPal "Tip Jar"
  • Why "Best Museum" Lists are the Worst!




    I hope your museum is better than chasing after some hokey "best of" list.

    USA Today regularly publishes multiple categories of these "Best Museum" lists.

    The whole process starts with an incredibly bad premise -- how can you compare two completely different museums, say the Museum of Modern Art and the American Museum of Natural History, and claim one of them is the "best"?

    The people who most often seem interested in these "best museum" lists are executive directors or board members begging you to vote (multiple times!) for their institution or museum marketers looking to churn out another breathless press release.

    Do we really need our work recognized by giving ourselves flimsy PR bragging rights because of some bogus "best of" list?

    You don't actually get to claim the title of "the best" for your museum with some cheesy marketing stunt -- instead, you need to try every day to create amazing experiences so that your visitors keep coming back to your museum, again and again, and telling their friends and family to do the same.








    Don't miss out on any ExhibiTricks posts! It's easy to get updates via email or your favorite news reader. Just click the "Sign up for Free ExhibiTricks Blog Updates" link on the upper right side of the blog.

    Paul Orselli writes the posts on ExhibiTricks. Paul likes to combine interesting people, ideas, and materials to make exhibits (and entire museums!) with his company POW! (Paul Orselli Workshop, Inc.) Let's work on a project together!

    If you enjoy the blog, you can help keep it free to read and free from ads by supporting ExhibiTricks through our PayPal "Tip Jar"
  • Cool Tool: KEEPa Magnetic Clip



    My brother-in-law recently told me about KEEPa -- a cool multi-function magnetic clip/strap device.

    A durable polyurethane strap has two super-strong magnets encased at each end, surrounded by small ridges to reduce sliding or skidding.



    KEEPa is the perfect kind of multi-purpose tool -- the more you use it, the more new ways you come up with ways to put it to use.

    Find out more about KEEPa on their website or see people putting it to use on the KEEPa Instagram page.





    Don't miss out on any ExhibiTricks posts! It's easy to get updates via email or your favorite news reader. Just click the "Sign up for Free ExhibiTricks Blog Updates" link on the upper right side of the blog.

    Paul Orselli writes the posts on ExhibiTricks. Paul likes to combine interesting people, ideas, and materials to make exhibits (and entire museums!) with his company POW! (Paul Orselli Workshop, Inc.) Let's work on a project together!

    If you enjoy the blog, you can help keep it free to read and free from ads by supporting ExhibiTricks through our PayPal "Tip Jar"
  • The "Three List" Trick





    As I continue coordinating my plans for 2024, I'll often be relying on my trusty "Three List" trick.

    Despite the "best-laid plans" for our museum and exhibit projects, things often do go awry.  Whether it happens during the initial stages of value engineering (often providing neither "value" nor "engineering") or just before the opening of a new building or exhibition, the harsh realities of schedules and budgets often squeeze our hopes and dreams like a vise.



    In an effort to shake myself out of the funk that often accompanies different parts of the exhibit/museum development process, I've taken to creating three lists for myself and suggesting that clients do the same.

    What are the aims of those three lists, you ask? 

    1) Things that MUST happen before opening

    2) Things that would be NICE to happen before opening

    3) Things that ABSOLUTELY WON'T HAPPEN until after opening

    Exactly which things you put on your lists will vary from project to project and situation to situation.  (It's a pretty sure bet your new museum will need working front doors on your first day, but if a few staff office chairs arrive a week late, it's probably not a reason to cancel the opening gala.)  But to proceed otherwise, as if everything on all the punch lists and wish lists and to-do lists will happen before opening, is, at best, a rookie mistake or, at worst, a one-way express ticket to Burnout City.

    So pause a moment to process the bad news you just got from your General Contractor (or Director or Fire Marshall or Lead Designer ...), then take a deep breath and gather your team together to start updating your three lists.

    Your project (not to mention your health and sanity) will be better for it.






    Don't miss out on any ExhibiTricks posts! It's easy to get updates via email or your favorite news reader. Just click the "Sign up for Free ExhibiTricks Blog Updates" link on the upper right side of the blog.

    Paul Orselli writes the posts on ExhibiTricks. Paul likes to combine interesting people, ideas, and materials to make exhibits (and entire museums!) with his company POW! (Paul Orselli Workshop, Inc.) Let's work on a project together!

    If you enjoy the blog, you can help keep it free to read and free from ads by supporting ExhibiTricks through our PayPal "Tip Jar"
  • New Year, New Games!




    Our family just received some new games over the Holidays that I'd like to recommend.**

    Good games, like good museum exhibit experiences, share a few common traits:

    1) Easy to learn and play.

    2) Fun for a variety of age levels.

    3) Challenging, but not too challenging.

    4) Interesting enough to play again and again.

    So here, in no particular order, are some games that you might like to check out. (The link attached to each game name brings you to Amazon.)



    Charty Party is a card game for adults that reminds me of another card-based game called Apples to Apples. During each round of Charty Party, one player is chosen to be the judge and flips over a chart card. The other players then anonymously play their funniest orange card to name the Y-axis of the chart. It's an easy but often hilarious game.
    As the name of the game and the picture below implies, this is a game about birds!  You play against other players to collect bird cards, get different types of food, and gather eggs in various ways. Wingspan is a gorgeous-looking game, with each one of the beautiful playing cards showing an accurate picture of a real bird. Wingspan feels educational but not boring -- with interesting, solid gameplay.

    We like the game so much that we bought one of the "expansion" packs -- in this case, the Asia Expansion set, which adds a whole new flock of birds to learn and play with!





    Brought to you by the same people who developed the "Exploding Kittens" game, Mantis (named after the super-cool oceanic creature the Mantis Shrimp) comes with a bonus physical copy of the comic book, "Why the Mantis Shrimp is My New Favorite Animal."

    The aim of the game is to be the first player to get 10 or more cards into your score pile. You do this by collecting matching sets of colorful Mantis cards and/or stealing those same cards from your opponents! Mantis works as a card game for kids but is also one of the adult party games you’ll want to play again and again.





    If you've ever imagined yourself tearing up Tokyo like Godzilla or blasting New York City from an alien spaceship, this is the game for you!

    A dice-driven game with a good combination of both luck and strategy needed to win, you compete against fellow "monsters" to collect energy points and avoid losing health points.  Each round plays relatively quickly, so it's a great game for people at a party to jump in and out of.



    Here's hoping your 2024 gets off to a fun and playful start!


    As I mentioned above, each game name leads to a link on Amazon where you can purchase your own set!  (** Note: Commissions may be earned from the Amazon links above.)





    Don't miss out on any ExhibiTricks posts! It's easy to get updates via email or your favorite news reader. Just click the "Sign up for Free ExhibiTricks Blog Updates" link on the upper right side of the blog.

    Paul Orselli writes the posts on ExhibiTricks. Paul likes to combine interesting people, ideas, and materials to make exhibits (and entire museums!) with his company POW! (Paul Orselli Workshop, Inc.) Let's work on a project together!

    If you enjoy the blog, you can help keep it free to read and free from ads by supporting ExhibiTricks through our PayPal "Tip Jar"
  • Museums and Restaurants



    As the end of the year festivities approach, I'll be spending time with my extended family. We will no doubt be enjoying many wonderful new museum and food-related experiences, so I thought I'd share this "encore" of one of my most popular posts that ties together the similarities between great dining AND great museum experiences.

    ENJOY! 

    Let me tell you about Bigelow's.  It's a little "hole in the wall" sort of place near my home on Long Island known for its fried clams. Bigelow's has been in business in the same spot since 1939.  I went there for lunch today with my son, Philip, and in between our sighs of pleasure and chatting it up with our fellow diners, I was reminded of how much a great dining experience is like a great museum experience.

    1) Everyone Knows Where It Is

    I know you can use Google Maps or Yelp, but if you ask somebody at a hotel front desk or a taxi driver where a local restaurant or museum is, they should be able to tell you right away. If the place is really good, they should also be able to enthuse about a memorable experience that they or a friend had there recently.  I remember visiting a city whose (unnamed) museum was practically across the street from the well-known professional football stadium, and not one taxi driver knew where that museum was located or had even heard of it.  That's sad.

    2) You Feel Welcomed Right Away

    Even if it's the first time you've been there, a great museum or dining spot makes you instantly feel welcomed and at ease.  It's a combination of the physical entry sequence (starting in the parking lot) and the staff people at the entrance that do the trick. You feel like you are in the right place and are starting out your visit in a positive way.  Think about the qualities of the places that always make you feel welcomed (and the ones that don't!)

    In the case of Bigelow's, you see the stools around the horseshoe-shaped counter (so you know where to sit right away) and the straightforward menu board lets you see your options (so you can start thinking about what you'd like to eat or drink as soon as you sit down.)  

    Contrast that with some museums where you have no idea where to pay your admission, or how to figure out which things you want to do or pay for.

    Welcome to Bigelow's!

    3) Friendly Staff Anticipate Your Needs

    You never wait for your water glass to be refilled, or twiddle your thumbs waiting for the check at a great restaurant. That's because the people who work there are alert and genuinely attentive to their customers' needs.  Great museums have actual floor staff interacting with visitors, not just chatting in a corner by themselves.  Wonderful dining and museum experiences share an important social component.  A positive interaction with a staff person often adds to the overall experience.


    4) You Tell Friends About The Place And Want To Take Them There

    A fantastic experience at a great place is one you want to share with other people. There's a reason "word of mouth" advertising is so sought after --- you can't fake it or spend your way there.  If you had a remarkable museum experience you tell other people about it.  And you want to go back there to share that positive experience with people you care about.  I've visited "museums worth a special trip" --  those places you would travel out of your way to go see based on a friend's recommendation.  I would definitely put places like The City Museum in St. Louis, or Chanticleer Garden outside Philadelphia in that rarefied category. 

    Bigelow's is worth a special trip!

    5) Memory Makers!

    The best museums (and restaurants!) are memory makers.  They are the places that are part of every story that starts with "Remember the time we ..."  They are the places that you want to post on Facebook or Instagram because you felt the experience was worth capturing and sharing.  The picture at the top of this post shows my friends Bistra and Nadia from Bulgaria after a lunch we shared at Bigelow's.  They asked for me to bring them somewhere that was real "Long Island."  And even though they both grew up thousands of miles away, they loved it!  And what business can ask for more than that?

    As you are starting out your New Year and thinking about ways to improve the museum(s) you work with and for, maybe a trip to your favorite local restaurant can give you just the right kind of "food for thought" to inspire making some memorable changes for your visitors. Cheers!

    Instagram-ready "food for thought" from Bigelow's!



    Don't miss out on any ExhibiTricks posts! It's easy to get updates via email or your favorite news reader. Just click the "Sign up for Free ExhibiTricks Blog Updates" link on the upper right side of the blog.

    Paul Orselli writes the posts on ExhibiTricks. Paul likes to combine interesting people, ideas, and materials to make exhibits (and entire museums!) with his company POW! (Paul Orselli Workshop, Inc.) Let's work on a project together!

    If you enjoy the blog, you can help keep it free to read and free from ads by supporting ExhibiTricks through our PayPal "Tip Jar"
  • The Other 99%



    I've never received a congratulatory message about the 99% of exhibits in a project that are working wonderfully and that visitors are enthusiastically enjoying.

    Instead, understandably, people (whether they are visitors or clients) want to tell you about things that aren't working.

    Continually focusing on the things that need to be fixed can sometimes cause us to miss the bigger picture -- all the many, many parts of a project that ARE working.

    So how can we hold these two aspects of our creative working lives  -- the things that need to be tinkered with or improved, as well as all the cool things we've accomplished  -- in a helpful balance, or at least a sort of peaceful coexistence?

    I'll offer two ways of thinking about this creative tension between improvement and accomplishment:

    1) SNAPSHOT VERSUS MOVIE
    If you had to graph a creative lull or a tricky part of a project, it might look something like this:


    And at that particular moment in time, it might feel awful -- even hopeless. You might even feel like quitting. And that's the "snapshot." A moment in time.  


    When you are in that snapshot moment, it can be hard to have the proper perspective on the path of a project, which, often, if you take a moment to step back or evaluate afterward, looks more like this:


    Let's be honest, there are crappy movies. And maybe your project is one of those "Rotten Tomatoes." Or maybe the scene you're in right now just needs to be rewritten or reworked a little bit. You might need to force yourself to step out of the snapshot to find out. 



    2) LOOKING BACK TO MOVE FORWARD
    A retired school superintendent named George was one of my all-time favorite Board Members, and he would often remind us of something during tense meetings when we would be talking (or arguing!) about things that needed to be improved in, or added to, our museum.  

    George would say, "Yes, these are things we need to improve or programs we need to add, but let's stop and take a look back at some of the things we have accomplished in the past few months, or the past year.  What can we take away from looking at how we made those things happen?"

    It was a very wise strategy because it shifted the focus from the often contentious present and the uncertain future.  We would be reminded that in the past few months or past year, we had actually accomplished a lot of positive things together. And that we could add and improve more new things together if we used our past experiences to guide us forward.

    Years later, I realized that George's approach was very much in the spirit of Sankofa.  


    As mentioned in this Wikipedia article about Sankofa, the notion of "looking back to move forward," is used by the Akan people of Ghana. They often use an adinkra symbol, of a bird with its head turned backward to symbolically capture an egg depicted above its back, to represent the same concept. It symbolizes taking from the past what is good and bringing it into the present to make positive progress. 

    So, as we come to the end of another year, I hope you will be able to see not just snapshots but also movies. I also hope you will be able to look back at 2023 to move forward with learnings for the New Year and beyond.


    P.S. You know that tricky project you finished this year? It is AWESOME!




    Don't miss out on any ExhibiTricks posts! It's easy to get updates via email or your favorite news reader. Just click the "Sign up for Free ExhibiTricks Blog Updates" link on the upper right side of the blog.

    Paul Orselli writes the posts on ExhibiTricks. Paul likes to combine interesting people, ideas, and materials to make exhibits (and entire museums!) with his company POW! (Paul Orselli Workshop, Inc.) Let's work on a project together!

    If you enjoy the blog, you can help keep it free to read and free from ads by supporting ExhibiTricks through our PayPal "Tip Jar"