- They are sturdy. Look at that metal frame! The text is protected by a thick sheet of plastic (not yellowed or scratched; is that a special kind of plastic?). And the sign stands on two very firmly embedded poles. These things are equipped to stand out in the sun and snow year-round. Moreover, they have to withstand eager kindergartners running over to them, slapping them in excitement, climbing on them, and many other things I can't even imagine but the kiddies definitely can. They are up to the task! (The signs, that is — but the kiddies too.)
- They clearly refer to their subject matter. Despite having to stand in the open air, and not on a wall obviously beside an object (see the previous post on botanical gardens), they are well-placed and -oriented so as to be clearly linked to their subject. The example above faces the horses and, as extra help, even shows the horses in a drawing.
- They start with perfect "hook" questions. You can imagine a kid and parent approaching the horse sign and the parent beginning to read the yellow box: "If it whinnies, then it's a...." "HORSE!" replies the kid. I really think this isn't just my fantasy; the sign is begging for this interaction. As for the sign below, which explains nitrogen binding among legumes, I had just wondered aloud what was growing in this big bushy field when I came across the sign that begins with a green box, "So what's growing here?" I call that perfect.
- The drawings are simple. Too often the graphics in signage get complicated or rely on colors that have long since faded. Not here! A basic but beautiful line drawing gets the point across in both signs. Even as a lover of color, I far prefer this style for clarity.
A successful display does not need a fancy new design idea or technology to be successful (indeed, sometimes those can really go awry!). Some of my favorite displays are very simple; their strength lies in being extremely well-conceived in terms of how they achieve their few basic goals. One great example is the signage at the Domäne Dahlem in Berlin, a charming set of fields and cottages meant to teach the visitor about old-time farming and artisanal trades. The signs scattered around the grounds are excellent in several simple but important respects:
Ideas on Display
A humble space to reflect on concepts of museum display as enacted across a wide range of subjects, countries, and approaches.