Back to the Drawing Board

Word and Image department
June 20, 2013

In a previous post I wrote about design as a process of collaborative evolution, and nowhere is this more apparent than with the creation of a large exhibition like William Kent. At last count, there are at least 10 people who regularly attend the design meetings for the V&A version of the show. This includes, but is not always limited to: the curatorial team, who are responsible for the exhibition’s content and intellectual rationale; the exhibitions department, who coordinate the logistics of the show; the designers, who determine how the exhibition will ultimately look; and the project managers, who ensure everything’s running smoothly, on time, and (everyone’s favourite bit…) on budget.

The exhibition design is now well underway, but I wanted to take you back to the drawing board to show how the initial scheme for the show was conceived by our designers from the firm Hara Clark.  Here are some sketches that show the first stages of their vision for the exhibition:

An early sketch of the exhibition layout by HaraClark

A very early sketch outlining a potential layout for the exhibition. It’s changed a bit since then! © Hara Clark Ltd., London.

A development sketch by HaraClark

Another early sketch outlining how some of the objects will fit into the scheme. © Hara Clark Ltd., London.

A development sketch for the exhibition by HaraClark

And another, which includes a hint of 2-dimensional graphics. © Hara Clark Ltd., London.

In the months since these sketches were presented we’ve had regular meetings to share ideas and developments, and the design is constantly refined to meet requirements from different parties. These include everything from standard instructions from conservators (“Don’t hurt the objects!”) and health and safety (“Don’t hurt the visitors!”), different display conditions required by external lenders and insurers, occasional modifications in curatorial content, and a general consensus on what will provide visitors with the best experience possible. After each meeting the design is returned to the designers who, with unfailing enthusiasm, then adapt their latest plans accordingly.

An example of Hara Clark's environmental graphics

Hara Clark use a combination of computer generated images and old-fashioned pencils to present their ideas. Here are some early options for environmental graphics. © Hara Clark Ltd., London.

It’s satisfying to look back at these preliminary ideas as it shows how much the exhibition design has developed in the past four months. In comparison with the first image above, the space will be much more open and varied, allowing for dramatic changes in atmosphere and a more immersive experience. The designers also have a clever optical device up their creative sleeve that ties the exhibition to one of Kent’s major artistic contributions, but I’ve promised to keep schtum about what this will involve! For the ‘big reveal’ you’ll have to wait until the exhibition opens in March. For now, mum’s the word.

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