To illustrate the ideas explored below, I developed a fictional branding for the exhibition, Extraordinary Ideas from Ordinary People. See the full exhibition branding package on my portfolio page.
LET’S TALK ABOUT Museum BRANDING
Your museum’s branding package was probably one of the first things approved by your board. Your brand is your identity. It should encompass your vision and mission and be the building block for all future marketing strategies.
Your branding is your organization’s voice. It’s how your audience and supporters recognize you everywhere - online, in print, and in your space. One way to think about branding is that it’s your “style.” Just like it’s important to have a clear and recognizable style for your organization, I would argue that it’s just as important to brand individual exhibitions and events.
Let’s talk about Museum exhibition branding
The visual footprint of your exhibition is most likely the first point of contact your audience will have to the show. It could be seen on a poster, an ad in a community paper, or on the title wall in your space. So it’s important that the exhibition branding is clear and that it communicates the tone of the show.
When you start developing an exhibition’s visual branding, do some research. Like any branding project, your exhibition branding package should tell a story. Doing this research and getting all parties involved on the same page will keep your process focused and the final branding clear. In my process for How to Design a Museum Exhibition Logo, I outlined questions to answer before creating a main title logo. These can also be used when developing the overall “style” for the exhibition:
What is the exhibition about? What tone should it set?
Is the exhibition playful or serious? Is it about science or history? Is it exploring one person’s work or a collection of ideas? You exhibition branding can be the first point of contact a visitor has. The way it looks should clearly reveal the tone of the show.
Who is the exhibition for?
Think about who will be in your space. Odds are you want to appeal to the largest group possible, but try to focus on a core group that would respond most to the content of the exhibition.
Age can be the most common difference we can introduce to design. For example, an exhibition targeting children may be more playful than one that focuses on engaging with adults.
What’s the ultimate goal of the exhibition?
Is your goal to build upon what your institution has already done? Or is your goal to break into a new territory and engage with unfamiliar visitors? Defining clear goals for your exhibition will inform design decisions.
Is there any precedent?
Whether in culture or in your museum’s history, is there any visual precedent to connect with? Don’t reinvent the wheel when incorporating visuals your audience is already familiar with will jumpstart their understanding of what your new exhibition is about.
What time period is the content or subject from?
If your exhibition is about a person or subject with historical context, find ways to introduce that to the exhibition branding to give unconscious cues about where this fits into history. An easy way to place something into history is to research what typefaces were popular or what kind of printing techniques were developed and used during the time.
Having a clear branding for your exhibition can catapult the interest you want your audience to experience leading up to an opening. It can also communicate context for what the information is and where it’s from. When used in the physical space itself, this branding can act as a gallery guide to lead the viewer through the room and establish boundaries for the exhibition with signage or wall colors.
Museum exhibition branding CASE STUDY
Now let’s get literal with a case study:
Your museum is working hard to organize a new exhibition to open next year. You have all of your research and artifacts collected. Funds have been raised and final loans are being negotiated. Some of your biggest donors are on board for this, so you really want it to connect with your community and be a success.
Now think about how you want to spread the word. You’ll probably want to start early with teases about the show. Maybe run a few social media ads to raise engagement. Then you might put some posters up around town a couple months out and run a radio ad. An email blast to your members will invite them to RSVP to the opening. Postcards in the mail will reach the snail mail lovers.
And all that is just leading up to the opening. The potential for your audience to hear about the exhibition from different sources is pretty big, and exactly what you need to drive interest. The best thing you can do is consider branding early on so that every message your audience gets is clear and consistent.
Branding can be very abstract, but for an exhibition, it can be as straightforward as picking a great title, creating a logo, and using consistent colors and type on all visuals. It can be as simple or elaborate as you want, but maintaining that consistency is going to amplify all the hard work you’ve put into this. Of course, make sure to fit inside your organization’s overall brand and goals, but give this sub-brand its own voice.
Then, go even further and include those colors for any events related to the exhibition. Share photos with the logo on social media. If you have a lot of square footage and multiple exhibits or ideas in your space, it can make or break audience engagement to have visual ques to remind them where they are and where they should head to next. You don’t want a visitor to walk into a new gallery and not know if they are still in the same exhibition space.
The importance of branding in Museum exhibition design
There are people whose careers are built around branding and marketing (I should know, I am one!) but it doesn’t have to be hard. Just remember to keep it simple and consistent, and hire a museum graphic designer if you can. Elevated and intentional branding that will engage with your audience and contribute to the best experiences possible is worth the investment.
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