Over the years, our understanding of how to use exhibit design to draw in a diverse audience has increased exponentially. If you’re interested in expanding the reach of your exhibit, you may find the following suggestions for each potential audience helpful.
Online exhibits engage visitors from various walks of life and with multiple learning styles in ways that physical museums cannot due to spatial, budgetary, and practical constraints. A variety of adaptations can be incorporated online so that the needs of everyone from kinesthetic learners to read/write learners can be met. These adaptations include:
- Uninterested in a topic: Using a multidisciplinary approach increases the likelihood of tapping into a sliver of a visitor’s interest and encouraging further exploration. Similarly, introductory "hooks" can invite exploration through posing a question or inviting a visitor to click to learn more.
- Interested in a topic: Genuine, deeply researched content lends legitimacy and authenticity to an exhibit, while prompting visitors to delve deeper into their topic of interest and explore ancillary topics.
- Linear thinkers: Visitors who assimilate one piece of information after another in a straight line appreciate an exhibit with a clear hierarchical structure. Navigation with "next" and "previous" links is useful, as is a traditional site map.
- Nonlinear thinkers: These visitors thrive when they can make connections between related conceptsor even seemingly unrelated concepts. Multiple hyperlinks enable them to jump around to related topics, and a local search engine allows them to quickly find what they need without scanning pages of irrelevant material. Presenting your exhibit in an alternate view, such as with a concept map like SpicyNodes, provides an at-a-glance visual representation of the relationships between pieces of information.
- Graphical learners: For these visitors, a picture is worth more than a thousand words. They assimilate information from images, maps, interactive timelines, visually appealing layouts, and SpicyNodes concept maps.
- Auditory learners: Museums have long used audio guides with physical exhibits. Virtual exhibits can incorporate audio guides, audio clips, and standalone podcasts to appeal to those who learn by listening.
- Read/write learners: Visitors are accustomed to reading text on web sites, but lucid, clear writing in a journalistic style is most appealing to this audience. Narrative captions that provide additional information, bulleted lists, and sidebars also draw in read/write learners.
- Kinesthetic learners: This audience thrives on interaction. Exhibits that provide an alternate node view, and incorporate movies, do-it-yourself activities, clickable illustrations and maps, and concrete examples are more likely to reach kinesthetic learners.
- Non-English speakers: Ideally, an exhibit translation should go further than a literal translation from English. Strong, journalistic writing in the visitor’s native language will engage non-English speakers, as will content that draws upon distinctly culturally relevant source material. When an online exhibit is adapted to Mandarin Chinese, Spanish, Hindi (in Devanagari script, the official written form in India), Arabic, Indonesian/Malay, Bengali, Portuguese, Russian, Japanese, French, and German, the exhibit becomes accessible to the majority of the world’s population.
- Members of multi-user virtual environments: Creating a subset of content for communities like Second Life can reach visitors who might not otherwise find an exhibit. However, a virtual world/space is not necessarily an "exhibit."
- Visually disabled: Exceeding Section 508 requirements creates an exhibit that is accessible to the visually impaired, and also works well for future devices. Audio guides provide an alternate way for those with visual impairments to access the exhibit.
- Mobile users: Reflowing content for mobile devices with various sized screens enables access anytime and anywhere.
For additional research, see:
Museums and the Web archives - Archives & Museum Informatics organizes an annual international conference devoted exclusively to Museums and the Web. MW is the largest international conference devoted to the exploration of art, science, and natural and cultural heritage online. Browse and search the MW Papers Bibliography on-line.
Exhibit Files - A community site for exhibit designers and developers, Exhibit Files is a community and shared collection of scientific exhibition records and reviews. It emphasizes physical exhibits, with some online exhibits. Browse case studies and reviews of exhibits and exhibitions.