Exhibition Design: Title Lockup 101

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What is an exhibition title lockup?

A title lockup is essentially an exhibition’s branding. The final design may also be referred to as a wordmark.

Your title lockup is most likely the first point of contact your audience will have to a new exhibition. 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 design is clear, readable, and that it communicates the tone of the show. In this way, you can think of your title lockup as a kind of logo for your exhibition.

 

Wordmark – a typographic mark; a wordmark does not have any graphic elements beyond letters and words.

Lockup – the final form of a title design, with all of its elements. For example, the final lockup of your title will include exhibition title, subtitle, and any supporting graphic elements. In some cases it could also include main sponsors or funding program, and museum name or logo.

 

What makes up the anatomy of an exhibition title lockup?

  1. Title – the big idea of the exhibition. This should be the first thing a viewer would take away from seeing the design.

  2. Subtitle – the idea of “title: subtitle” can be a useful tool in naming an exhibition and is very popular with curators. It can make your word count high, but is an important part of your lockup.

  3. Imagery – while not necessary for every title lockup, small graphic elements beyond words can be useful in giving visual cues to what the show is about or who it is for.

  4. Museum’s Branding – often, your exhibition title is going to be presented next to your Museum’s brand and any funding or sponsor information.

What makes an exhibition title Lockup successful?

Its relation to and balance with the main subject

My favorite part of exhibition planning and designing is the research. The more you can relate a title lockup back to its subject, the more useful it will be for visitors to understand and be excited about what is on view. This can be as simple as using a typeface that was popular during the time of the subject or including a small graphic element that represents the theme of the exhibition.

Creating those visual cues can be a great tool, but always keep in mind the subject matter of the exhibition. Tonal balance with what is on view is important. The lockup should not overshadow any hero image used in marketing.

Its legibility and versatility  

Your title lockup could be seen as a thumbnail on your website or life-size on your title wall. So it’s important that it is clear and easy to read. Also, keep in mind that it could be used on a calendar, opening ceremony invitation, or in-gallery guide. It shouldn’t be too difficult to print or read at a small size.

Its alignment with a museum’s branding standards

In thinking about all of the different ways your title will be viewed, many of them are probably alongside your museum’s logo or funding information. An exhibition’s title lockup is not subject to strictly follow your museum’s branding, but it can be a helpful tool for your audience to recognize your institution. One trick to is to set the main title in a unique and interesting typeface and to style the subtitle or funding information following the museum’s branding standards.

Examples of Successful Exhibition Title lockups

Below are three examples of successful exhibition title lockups. You can see more on Mandalu’s Museum Exhibition Pinterest Board.

For MOMA’s 2014 exhibition highlighting the life and work of René Magritte, the Museum’s art department designed a custom typeface in the spirit of the artist; a perfect marriage of subject and theme. This type was used to style the main exhibition title wall (seen here) as well as other wall text throughout the space.

The National History Museum’s 2016 exhibition, exploring space through the work of artist Michael Benson, includes a beautiful example of incorporating a subtle graphic element beyond type that reinforces the exhibition’s theme.

The Smithsonian Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden’s title design for their current exhibition (on view through Summer 2019) is a great example of clear, versatile design. The styling of the title and subtitle are refined and recognizable. A testament to the adaptability of the design, and creativity of the designers, is the title wall, which displays the lockup in silver vinyl.