What I learned about museums…Without going to one

Bustling Atlanta is no stranger to hosting fantastic conferences. Upon learning that this year’s American Alliance of Museums Annual Meeting & MuseumExpo was taking place in my backyard, I knew I couldn’t miss the opportunity to strengthen my knowledge of effective museum design.

The Disillusioned Acoustician

I began my adventure into the world of museums with confidence. My role on a design team is to plan and create a seamless acoustical experience and I know how to create quality acoustics for an exhibit space and I thought I knew all about museum design. In a single day, a visit to the AAM MuseumExpo revealed my naiveté.


The animated dinosaur was awesome!

As I entered the exhibit floor, expecting to see architects, designers, and case providers, I was surprised by exhibits for museums themselves, traveling exhibitions, experts in shipping art, realistic tree and landscape fabricators, interactive media and games, audio tours, museum store assistance, and membership card designers. It really made me think about the needs of the museum beyond the physical building our design team creates.

While my individual role is important to the success of a project, it is imperative to consider how all pieces of museum design assimilate. The level of experience satisfaction a visitor feels is shaped by many factors from:

  • the initial collaborative building design process
  • to the architectural layout for effective exhibit transitions;
  • to a tailored, personal touch appreciated by the guest;
  • to forward-thinking of refreshing the space to remain current;
  • to how to portray a story and increase exhibit impact utilizing all components of a room.

Designers and owners must approach projects with an cohesive, integrated vision.

4 Foolproof Facts for Effective Museum Design

The conference sessions were engaging and highlighted the level of consideration and detail that museum designers must take. While I’ve seen exhibit design narratives and design documents, I hadn’t fully acknowledged the depth of planning that is crucial to creating the optimal display through placement, timing and aesthetics. In future posts, I will reflect on a few of the sessions I attended, however my key takeaways for effective museum design include:

  1. Establish a Vision. Early in schematic stages, design teams should construct a narrative considering visitor experience and the Owner’s vision. For an integrated and successful project, the vision must be expressed to the entire design team.
  2. Museums are democracies. Design is not. It is important for all opinions to be thoughtfully considered. However, it is necessary to have an effective decision maker who can balance needs and make the best choice for the project.
  3. Stimulating Exhibits are Technologically Enhanced. The challenge is to utilize technology in a way that is cohesive and increases the exhibit’s impact on the visitor.
  4. Interactive Blue Planet Theater at the Gwinnett Environmental and Heritage Center

  5. The Soundscaping Effect: The use of audio signal to enhance the experience, is becoming more prevalent and desired by museum directors, designers and visitors.

My days of mindlessly wandering through an exhibit are a thing of the past. In a single day, I gained a new appreciation for a museum visit, recognition of the effort required to construct a pleasing display, and a greater awareness of how I, as an acoustician, can better collaborate with the design team to create an exceptional museum.

Jessica Clements, INCE

Jessica Clements, INCE

Senior Associate, Acoustical Consultant
Jessica has over 10 years of experience in architectural acoustics, sound isolation, theater design, mechanical system noise and vibration control, and acoustical testing. She has particular expertise in the fields of civic and cultural facilities, higher education, health care, and religious facilities. Email Jessica
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