Experience with Storyline Testing for Exhibition Planning
“Storyline Testing” refers to a special type of research conceived by People, Places & Design Research to meet the needs of museum clients as they plan new exhibitions and/or interpretive experiences. It’s a holistic method to assess visitors’ likely reactions to an entire exhibition, before it is fully designed. Like other formative evaluation studies, the point of previewing an exhibit design is to find out whether people are likely to understand it and find it appealing. But unlike many other formative evaluation studies, this one emphasizes the overall visitor experience rather than discrete exhibit elements, and uses sketches to represent the exhibition rather than a physical mock-up.
Some typical challenges in concept development are: what ‘main message’ will people take away from the exhibit experience? how will expectations affect people’s experience of the storyline (e.g., is it influenced by alternative titles, and/or by visitor interests or misconceptions)? It’s also possible to test different design strategies (e.g., the sequence of exhibit areas, or omitting a specific area or component) to see how that might affect visitors’ understanding of the interpretive messages.
Examples of our Storyline Projects
( * Award winning exhibitions)
Boston Black, The Children’s Museum, Boston
Five Friends from Japan, The Children’s Museum, Boston
Nature Matters (final title: Living West), History Colorado, Denver
Keota (final title: Destination Colorado), History Colorado, Denver
Shapeshifting: Transformations in Native American Art, Peabody-Essex Museum, Salem MA
World of Ecology, California Science Center, Los Angeles
Mating Games, Aquarium of the Americas, New Orleans
Life Over Time, The Field Museum, Chicago
* Traveling the Pacific, The Field Museum, Chicago
Native American Hall, Carnegie Museum of Natural History, Pittsburgh
Polar World, Carnegie Museum of Natural History, Pittsburgh
Katrina (final title: Living with Hurricanes: Katrina and Beyond), Louisiana State Museum, New Orleans
Human Origins, Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, Washington D.C.
* Amazon Rising, John G. Shedd Aquarium, Chicago
* Philippines Coral Reef (final title: Wild Reef), John G. Shedd Aquarium, Chicago
Mississippi River Gallery, Science Museum of Minnesota, St. Paul
Mysteries of Catalhoyuk, Science Museum of Minnesota, St. Paul
After the Dinosaurs Were Gone (final title: Crocs Rule), Science Museum of Minnesota, St. Paul
Habitrek, Roger Williams Park Zoo, Providence RI
Interpretive Tour Preview, President Lincoln’s Cottage, Washington, D.C.
Colonial Life, Connecticut Historical Society, Hartford
Living in Balance, Exploris, Raleigh NC
* Recycled Reseen, Museum of International Folk Art, Santa Fe NM
Majolica Pottery, Museum of International Folk Art, Santa Fe NM
* Wayang Kulit: Indonesian Shadow Puppets (final title: Dancing Shadows, Epic Stories), Museum of International Folk Art, Santa Fe NM
Diverseit in de Tijn (Diversity in Time), Nationaal Natuurhistorisch Museum, Leiden, Netherlands