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Museum Displays Nowadays

Museums, once merely the repositories of various collections and static displays must nowadays compete for audience attention with a host of electronic educational and entertainment media. Every day, hand-held devices and interactive video media captures more and more of people's time and attention. As electronic information and entertainment delivery systems increasingly dominate our culture, designers of museum displays and exhibit booths must take into account that the prospective visitor has many choices when deciding where and how to spend his time.

Commercial venues such as amusement parks offer the promise of a pleasurable experience to attract the ticket purchaser. To stay in business, even they have had to re-create their amusements to include interactive electronic media as well. In the same vein, museums can continue their archival and educational mission only if they incorporate these contemporary features in their display designs. Museums have to compete with the distracting new media as well as the other entertainments that are adapting and co-opting those media as part of their own offering.

Likewise, museum display designers must be conscious of new trends in display technology and communication media to effectively continue in their traditional role. Just as they employ the latest computer imaging and electronic information technology for cataloguing, processing and storing their collections, they must adopt the same consciousness of advanced technology to the design of their displays. Accomplishing this through the display design process is most effective if the designers incorporate pleasurable multimedia attractions, regarded by some as distractions, as part of their information delivery system.

An example of this might be to invite the prospective visitor to participate in interactive media and make him a part of the display process. Having the visitor create a persona or assume a virtual role in the message delivery system is a wonderfully entertaining way to attract and keep his attention while delivering the substantial message that is the original mission of the museum. The visitor can become a virtual participant in the display or exhibit booth. This was not possible in the era of dusty, glass-enclosed displays and static dioramas that used to be the mainstay of archival museums.

The display design process is where it all starts. The designer, while maintaining the unity of the cultural theme of the museum, is challenged today to provide entertainment and emotional titillation in competition with interactive videos games, 3D movies promoted by trailers on YouTube.com, as well as competing in substance with the internet itself as a source of information and education. Why not design a display that integrates all these media as much as possible to effectively attract and hold the attention of the visitor? Invite the visitor to use his smartphone or iTouch device as a virtual guide through the museum, allowing him to interact electronically with individual display modules. And make such devices available to the visitor if they do not already have one.

An important segment of the museum audience is comprised of parents and teachers leading their charges into what they hope will be an educational experience they can enjoy together. Museums are usually established to offer a thematically focused collections of historical artifacts and documents. Children, as well as adults, are today used to receiving information and entertainment in a multimedia environment. They often enjoy and seek out internet and television based virtual reality situations and electronic role-playing. Museum planners should not regard those social trends as undesirable obstacles. Instead they should embrace them and use them to their advantage.

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