Association of Science and Technologies Centers

Exhibit Tips from Around the World

This is an extended version of an article that appeared in the January/February 2014 issue of Dimensions magazine.

On building interactive exhibits to last

I am convinced that small and seemingly insignificant parts can make the difference between an exhibit that will last for years with almost no maintenance and one that will need constant repair. I offer two design details making this point, although there are dozens that would be equally illustrative.

Both of these examples involve the hand-wheels that allow visitors to turn hand-crank generators, etc. Many times these are purchased “off the shelf” from suppliers like Reid Tool. Often these wheels have revolving crank handles, but the bearings in the handles are not of high quality and fail after a short time. I have seen this happen repeatedly. Therefore I designed a custom crank handle with sealed ball-bearings. I then purchased wheels with stationary handles, which I removed and replaced with these new handles. I have done this to numerous exhibits and none has failed. Some have been in service for over 20 years. Yes, it costs about $500 for each custom handle, but isn’t this money well spent?

Hand-wheels and most levers are mounted on shafts. Most are held in place with setscrews and keyways. This can cause problems, too, because the wheels come off and injure visitors or because they won’t come off when repair is required. My solution has been to machine a hexagonal end on the shaft and broach a matching hex in the center of the wheel. (See photo.) A single screw and washer holds the wheel in place. This prevents the wheel from coming off unless removal is required. Removing the screw allows the part to be easily taken off.

John Bowditch, director of exhibits emeritus, Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum, Michigan

On building your exhibits team (and your exhibits)

Why have an exhibits team? It is my belief that a science center’s primary mission is to involve its audience in science. Part of that mission is to be a role model for your visitors, to walk the walk as well as talk the talk. A science center can’t say “Hey kids! Science is fun; you can do it!” if they had to buy all of their exhibits from outside sources. The processes that the exhibits team goes through in creating exhibits give an insight into the learning that the exhibit has to convey to the visitor. Also if you built it, you can fix it or improve it.

There are three ways an exhibit must work (adapted from Ken Gleason):

  1. Attraction: If they don’t use it, it can’t achieve anything.
  2. Function: It must work, keep working, and be safe.
  3. Education: What we’re for, and why we’re doing it. 1 and 2 lead here.

The subtlety of the exhibit building process is that you have to build something that is not only safe, reliable, and economical, but that also conveys the correct ideas into the minds of its users. The only way you can see into the minds of the end users is to test early and often. You have to establish that an exhibit is educationally effective before it actually exists in its final form.

This has big implications for how you build your team. For your exhibit developers, you need flexible, open-minded people who can build and tear down quickly, using formative evaluation with the audience throughout. Only when the exhibit is working well do design and engineering become important.

The exhibits are the most visible expression of the organization’s philosophy, so everyone has a stake in how they are made. Education staff uses them for teaching, marketing staff uses them for publicity, and maintenance staff keeps them going. Therefore, the evaluation process should include staff as well as visitors, keeping the points for feedback well defined so that the work can progress smoothly.

As you build your team, keep the responsibilities clear but the barriers between job functions low. Continuity and communication are important. Once the pipeline is primed with the first exhibit, prototype development and production can progress simultaneously.

In the 1990s, it took 27 people to build 160 exhibits in two years. Computer-aided design and computer-aided manufacturing (CAD/CAM) mean that you can prototype quickly and outsource the parts using fewer people, but the time with visitors for development is the limiting factor.

Harry White, science center consultant, At-Bristol, England, United Kingdom

On Universal Design

Consider this: You have an obligation in the United States, by law, to make your museum compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), but you have the opportunity to embrace Universal Design. Which would you rather be known for?

When ADA came into existence, much of the practical application focused enabling people with mobility challenges to engage public buildings—mostly by widening doorframes, retrofitting ramps and elevators, and in the case of museums, lowering tables and exhibits along with the structural improvements.

But in today’s world, potential museum visitors have widely varying abilities beyond mobility. The really important note is that the Universal Design philosophy goes beyond designing exhibits with specific disabilities or challenges in mind—it’s a way of thinking about exhibit development that allows everyone, whatever their ability, to learn from and enjoy the exhibit.

The first step is to begin with this mindset from the start as you begin to develop your content and design the exhibit. The idea is to proactively remove as many barriers as possible. This means designing the exhibit experience in a way that it engages as many senses as possible—visual learning, text, audio, touch, and more. In this manner, it’s more likely that the exhibit will be able to accommodate people from all walks of life and create an exhibit that’s more engaging and immersive overall.

Many science centers struggle with the fact that they’re often seen as a place just for children, but that’s not the case—they want to be visited and enjoyed by everyone. Embracing Universal Design principles—and creating exhibits that are accessible to a wider range of guests—can help bring in those target lifelong learners that museums may not be capturing now, and keep them coming back.

Tom Owen, vice president, PGAV Destinations, Saint Louis, Missouri

On drawing with light

Science museums seek to exhibit accurate Lissajous curves associated with the swings of a double axis mathematical pendulum. The simplest way to do so is to attach a pen to the end of the pendulum that swings above a piece of paper. Yet this system has disadvantages: The pen creates friction with the paper and influences the motion of the pendulum. In addition, one must change the paper after every drawing and replace the pen after a few hours or days.

There are many other methods for motion recording, from dripping sand from a funnel to measuring the pendulum motion with electronic sensors or video recordings that are converted to a sketch on a computer screen. Yet those methods are either expensive or their implementation is complex.

The “writing” technique we have developed at the Bloomfield Science Museum Jerusalem is based on materials that change their color as a result of being exposed to light. These materials can be “written on” using a purple light-emitting diode (LED) flashlight or a laser beam. The color-changing does not require a developing process; the change occurs right at exposure and the process is temporary and reversible; the “writing” fades away after a few seconds or minutes. The materials we use are called “photochroms” (photo=light, chrom=color), materials whose chromisity is affected by light, commonly used in “auto shade” sunglasses. By attaching a purple laser pointer to a pendulum that swings above a photochromic coated plate, we can create “frictionless drawings” of an endless number of accurate Lissajous curves with almost no maintenance.

The Footprints of Light exhibition used this technique to draw motion in several mechanical exhibits.

Amir Ben-Shalom, head of exhibit development, Bloomfield Science Museum, Jerusalem

On the process of contextualizing dinosaur fossils

1. Museum paleontologists work with a reconstruction artist to create a full skull cast.  The reconstruction artist first makes replica casts of all of the fossils that were discovered. Museum paleontologists work with the artist to identify analogous material and use computer modeling to visualize the missing pieces.

2. Museum preparators work with paleontologists on the placement and orientation of fossils within the cast.  Museum preparators and paleontologists locate where the fossil material will reside within the skull cast, lightly marking the cast to indicate fossil placement.

3. The reconstructed skull becomes a foundation for an armature in which multiple mounts allow fossil material to be embedded. Preparators remove pieces of the cast using a variety of cutting and grinding methods, to accommodate the fossils. They reference the fossils frequently to make sure they will fit nicely within the cast.

4. Preparators make mounts to connect each fossil to the skull armature. As pieces are removed from the cast skull, the preparators make mounts to hold each fossil in place. For complex mounts, they weld brass and steel or solder silver in a series of complex bends and joins. Simpler mounts require only pins that can be screwed into the cast or epoxy sculpt to form fit the fossil into the cast. After the mounts are complete and test fitted, the preparators paint and pad the mounts.

5. The completed armature of the cast with embedded fossil material is assembled and displayed. When assembled, the armature displays fossil material embedded within the cast. Labels highlight the difference between the fossils and cast reconstruction. The context of the cast helps visitors understand the overall form of the dinosaur and provides a more meaningful engagement with the fossils.

William Black, exhibit services supervisor, and the Exhibits Department, Natural History Museum of Utah, Salt Lake City

On designing digital games

Future Energy Chicago is a games-based simulation at the Museum of Science and Industry in which players collaborate and compete to create an energy-efficient landscape for Chicago. Playing in teams, visitors can reinvent the home, the car, the transportation system, the neighborhood, and the power grid. Grounded in real-world data, the simulation presents complex energy issues in a fun, social experience.

Multiplayer games-based design was completely new to us, and it was critical to conduct an in-depth formative evaluation process encompassing paper and digital prototypes, which we did with Randi Korn & Associates (RK&A). Not only did this shape key design and content decisions, but it also highlighted the importance of particular elements—two of which we discuss here—that are applicable to many types of projects and budgets.

  • Don’t underestimate the power of the paper prototype! After settling on a framework for the game play, our interactive media design partner, Potion, created inexpensive paper versions of each of the digital games. These full-scale prototypes mimicked the actual anticipated design, as project team members became “human computers” to respond to players’ choices. This paper testing led to overarching design adjustments that we could further test through quick, iterative changes along the way. It also led to significant changes in the games’ scoring metrics.
  • Involve the design team in the evaluation process. Potion’s continuous involvement and presence during testing meant that 1) they observed audiences’ reactions first hand and could integrate simple, effective changes, and 2) the follow-up discussions with RK&A were seamless, keeping us all on the same path of improving the experience.

The time and energy spent on the paper prototyping and Potion’s participation in the process was invaluable in achieving conceptual clarity, while saving considerable time and expense.

Patricia L. Ward, director of science and technology, and John Llewellyn, senior exhibit developer, Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago

On naming an exhibition

In 1999, Ben Gammon from the Science Museum, London, published an article entitled “Everything We Currently Know About Making Visitor-Friendly Mechanical Interactive Exhibits” in the Informal Learning journal. At that time, as I started my own career working on exhibition development for our family-owned firm, Gammon’s outlined lessons, such as, “Users don’t look up,” formed my professional coordinate system. In this sense, if the name of a gallery is above the visitor’s line of sight, the sign needs to be visible from a far distance so visitors do not need to move their heads more than a few degrees to see it. If this is done wrong, all the effort that went into thinking of a “snappy” name to catch the visitors’ interest is useless.

Very often, exhibit developers keep using working titles for too long. Finally they end up on labels and graphics throughout the finished exhibition, which is not necessarily a good thing. In a perfect world, we would do a full reset after fabrication and  formative evaluation. Based on evaluation feedback and a “fresh look,” we would rename the actual exhibits and the gallery. We had this chance more than a decade ago at the Glasgow Science Centre, Scotland, United Kingdom, and exhibits such as the Bernoulli Blower turned into Floating on Air or the Sliced Torso became Salami Sam.

The whole renaming process after having accomplished the development of an exhibition project is quite an effort, especially concerning administration and documentation, but going this extra mile is absolutely worth it.

Axel Hüttinger, managing director, Kurt Huettinger GmbH & Co. KG, Schwaig bei Nürnberg, Germany

More on naming an exhibition

Naming is one the most difficult steps in the process of creating an exhibition, especially because it is for a “lifetime.” It’s like choosing a name for a child—it involves many ideas and many more advisors. So let me be one of them.

In September 2013, we opened the EXPERYMENT Science Centre in Gdynia, Poland, in a new facility. We had six years of history and experience, so the general rules of naming exhibitions were well known to us.

Science center experts always say, “Don’t use a school subject as a name for your exhibition.” I can agree with this advice—words like “physics” or “mathematics” can be boring and scary, as associated with a school environment. But honestly speaking, in our former exhibition we had such names, and it was amazing when a child said “I had a great time in Physics today.”

So how can we choose exhibition names that encourage guests to visit our science center? After many brainstorming meetings, discussions, quarrels, and fights we finally did it. New names of exhibitions in our new premises are HYDROWORLD, THE TREE OF LIFE, OPERATION: HUMAN, and INVISIBLE FORCES.

Beautiful, aren’t they? To us, they are. But before we invented our wonderful new names, we used some working names for a long time. They stuck in our heads. What could we do to forget about them? Repetition of the new names was the only solution. Happily, we had a big opening ceremony and huge media interest. We had to describe EXPERYMENT Science Centre and its new galleries so many times. Repeating and repeating has helped us to remember and get used to the new names. Moreover, we had one more motivation to remember them: a huge number of new colleagues. In order to have good team communication, we had to use the new names so as not to confuse our team members.

So dear moms and dads of news exhibitions! The most important piece of advice is: Always try to have a final name as fast as you can. Otherwise it will be difficult to give up the previous, working name. The name of an exhibition should be short and appealing for public relations materials. It should not be too serious, but it should be intriguing. Also, check out what your name means in some foreign languages—otherwise there is a chance of unintentionally amusing tourists from around the world. And last but not least, don’t ask too many advisors. You know best how to name your child. Good luck!

Ewa Jasinska, director, EXPERYMENT Science Centre, Gdynia, Poland

On the process for developing an in-house exhibition

Science World British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada, created a new music exhibition, AMPED, in house and with unprecedented support from the local community. With so many parameters to explore, the challenge was to develop a cohesive focus that maximized the visitor experience without creating prohibitive costs.

We hope the guidelines below will help you develop your own amazing in-house exhibition.

  • Once your executive team approves the project concept, develop a creative brief that outlines your broad objectives, budget, schedule, and success criteria.
  • Research exhibit content relevant to your target audience. For AMPED, we consulted the local music community, reviewed academic literature, and researched music-related equipment.
  • Your research should yield a variety of stories that could be presented to the public. Select the best stories that would make unique, engaging, and easy to use, yet feasible, interactive experiences. For AMPED, the theme became the story of technology and popular music.
  • Place those stories in a storyline, explaining the content/experience and the best way to convey each story (e.g. interaction, infographic, programming, web link, tablet app, etc.) AMPED required large infographics to relay complex content.
  • Create an Exhibit Concept Document for each interactive experience, detailing content, objectives, visitor experience, possible equipment, and possible pitfalls. We saw loopers as a key experience in the AMPED exhibition and dedicated a considerable amount of time developing a quick way for visitors to learn how to create music loops.
  • You are now ready to create your prototype and evaluate the experience with test groups. We set up AMPED exhibits near our main entrance and encouraged the public to try out the equipment. We found this feedback to be extremely useful.

Creating your own exhibition in house can be quite overwhelming, but it can also be very rewarding. Don’t be too quick to pick up your hammer or paintbrush. Careful development and planning can ultimately save you time (during the crunch), resources, and frustration.

Jason Bosher, communications coordinator, Science World British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada

On writing exhibit text to facilitate family learning

One of the functions of the museum is to provide visitors with stories told by each object. The object itself often attracts visitors, while the texts that tell its story are completely ignored. For museum professionals, writing good texts that visitors would love to read is always a big challenge.

In our museum, the “parent-child social context” is often key. In a typical scenario in our galleries, children who are interested in an exhibited object are likely to ask their parents, “Mom/Dad, what’s this?” This question often troubles the parent, and he/she replies like this: “Something . . . something very old,” trying to avoid the question. But if parents could easily find relevant text, they would be happy to read it for their curious children.

I suggest utilizing two different types of text to help the visitors understand the exhibitions: short text and longer text. The short and simple text’s role is to attract parents’ attention immediately. And it helps them think like this: “This text seems to help me in answering my kid’s troubling question.” It then leads them to read the longer text.

The body of the text (longer text) usually explains what kind of story the specimen has. In this type of text, we often use a dialogue (question-and-answer) format. When the parents find the dialogue text, they can make use of it and read the answer part for their kids. In other words, the parents can take the role of the characters in the dialogue, and at the same time, they are able to answer their kids’ questions. You can let your museum characters appear and talk in this type of dialogue. It will make it more fun and easier to understand.

Assisted by this parent-child social context, we have successfully conveyed what we want both kids and parents to know about the specimens. In this model, there are two important ideas. First, learning something from parents is often more efficient for children than learning it from someone else, because the parents know their kids’ learning levels and how much experience they have had so far. Second, a museum experience like the one above can provide a good learning opportunity not only for kids, but also for parents. We believe that “texts” may work effectively in learning at museums when they better fit the needs originated from a parent-child social context.

Junko Anso, former curator, Fukui City Museum of Natural History, Japan

On partnering with researchers

Increasingly, as many science centers move from presenting just basic science to including more topical and contemporary science, one challenge faced by many centers is in the research and development of exhibition content. Interesting and contemporary topics like nanotechnology, climate change, viruses, and even the Large Hadron Collider can engage the public but require some explaining.

The Science Centre Singapore has found that working with suitable partners can be a tremendous help in the development of a good exhibition. The partners in question are research scientists from universities as well as research institutions. For example, in our Earth, Our Untamed Planet exhibition, we collaborated with the Earth Observatory Singapore and were able to tap the expertise of some of the world’s leading Earth scientists to develop an exhibition that brought the topic to life while presenting some of the latest thinking in the field, as well as many local and regional examples. This has resulted in an exhibition that not only engages the public, but also is a valuable resource to science and even geography teachers.

The key to effective collaboration is to find a partner that shares similar objectives related to the promotion of science. Very often, many research institutions have a mandatory public outreach component tied to their research funding. When they collaborate with a local science center, research institutions benefit by fulfilling their public outreach missions and leaving the development of public programs to the expertise of the science center. Science centers benefit by tapping the expertise of research scientists at the leading edge of that field of study.

In order to maintain such collaborations, we actively visit and maintain ongoing relationships with all the universities and many research institutions in the country. Such visits, discussions, and sharing of ideas often result in new exhibition ideas and opportunities for funding.

Jyotika Thukral, senior communications officer, Science Centre Singapore

On producing exhibits in a developing country

There is a widespread movement in many developing countries in the last decade to promote scientific knowledge among the general public through science centers and museums. Interactive exhibits require special characteristics in developing countries. Because resources are very limited, exhibits should be produced at the lowest costs, with maximum durability to avoid high rates of exhibits depreciation. Strict safety precautions must be applied, as children in developing countries are not used to science centers and may use exhibits in unexpected ways.

The Planetarium Science Center, Bibliotheca Alexandrina, Alexandria, Egypt, represents an example of a science center that has a good level of exhibit design and fabrication skills and has overcome tight financial resources. Over the past 10 years, our main concern has been to build a qualified team in the field of design and fabrication of interactive exhibits. This team is aware of community concerns, interests, formal science curricula, and the needed pedagogical approach to maximize the visitors’ benefit from the exhibits and accompanying activities. To acquire hands-on exhibit design and fabrication production skills and experience, several training sessions were held in collaboration with international professional corporations.

Doing the design and fabrication processes in house using local materials may be 10% of the cost of buying the end product directly. Also, we seek partners to co-design and fabricate exhibitions rather than renting high-cost exhibitions. Our exhibition quality is getting closer to international standards through experience and avoiding repeating errors.

Reem Sabry, head of the Design and Fabrication Section, Planetarium Science Center, Bibliotheca Alexandrina, Alexandria, Egypt

On prototyping

The Museum of Science, Boston, has been prototyping extensively since the 1980s. We have experimented over the years with various ways of prototyping, all using an iterative process of exploring, testing, and refining learning and design strategies so that the final exhibition fulfills the project aspirations, which include meeting the needs of the widest possible range of visitor abilities, learning styles, and interests.

We have found that the most successful projects are ones in which the team engages in a design process that includes:

  • data-based decision-making
  • active reflection upon and discussion of critical issues
  • continual refinements of exhibition designs
  • a focus on the visitor’s experience and learning.

We typically prototype in phases, from the earliest concept in which we confirm that the idea has traction with visitors, to the near-final version of the component, in which we verify that the visitors can successfully use, learn from, and enjoy the component, and that the component is technically feasible and maintainable.

Research and evaluation staff are included in every team, which results in a seamless process, and ensures not only that findings from prototyping are applied throughout the life of a project, but also that lessons learned during one exhibit project are applied to other projects as appropriate.

Recently we have found success in increasing our emphasis on testing the technical feasibility and maintainability of components throughout the prototyping process. Our technical designers and exhibit maintenance staff are working closely to refine a process that ensures that components are designed in a way that they can be easily repaired, and that replacement parts are available and affordable, are safe for visitors, and are durable for long-term survival in our extreme exhibit hall environment!

Andrea Durham, former director of exhibits, Museum of Science, Boston

On incorporating current research into an exhibition

BodyWorks is a £2 million (USD 3,281,000) exhibition featuring more than 100 interactive exhibits, live lab experiences, and research capsules. Focusing on the wonder of the human body, BodyWorks aims to raise awareness of the science underpinning our health and well-being.

The key to incorporating current research into our exhibition was the time and resources provided to us by over 200 individuals and organizations. The relationships we built with these experts were vital. Here are our tips for making those relationships work:

  • Time: During the planning stages, factor in time to source, court, and develop your relationship with the expert. It takes time to know who is out there, determine what expertise they could provide, make contact, build the relationship, and maintain it.
  • Variety: Potential contributors have many other demands on their time so offering ways to contribute with varying levels of commitment is beneficial. For BodyWorks, our experts carried out a wide range of activities from joining the scientific advisory panel to supplying information to building complete exhibits.
  • Backup plan: If your expert is providing a critical element to the project’s success, have a backup plan. Despite people’s best intentions, they may let you down, so have a plan B.
  • Refresh: Current research is not current for very long. Design your exhibition so that it can be refreshed regularly and easily. We designed elements of the exhibition knowing that we intended to refresh them in 12–18 months, and therefore being able to do it cost effectively was important. We are continuing to work with experts who often incorporate this into their research grants.
  • Meet the expert: Once the exhibition is open, run public engagement sessions with your experts. This keeps the experts involved and not only enhances the visitor experience, but also allows you to easily incorporate new developments and reflect on any topical issues.
  • Relationships: Maintain relationships after your project has finished; nobody likes to be dumped. Return the favor and help your experts by facilitating public engagement or helping to compile their research excellence framework reports.

Robin Hoyle, director of science, Glasgow Science Centre, Scotland, United Kingdom

On planning traveling exhibitions

When designing an exhibition, it’s wise to take into consideration from day one whether or not it will be traveling, particularly internationally. Making sure an exhibition can be installed and dismantled easily, allowing flexibility for low doors and ceilings, keeping the number of trucks or shipping containers low, knowing the type of electricity technological components will require, and being mindful of the manpower and maintenance the exhibition needs are all paramount to its long-term success on the road. Additionally, once an exhibition is on the road, working with global partners to create strategic tour routes in particular regions can benefit everyone by saving money as well as wear and tear. An exhibition designed with these things in mind from the beginning stands a far better chance of being enjoyed all around the globe for many years!

Tom Zaller, president and CEO, Imagine Exhibitions, Inc., Atlanta, Georgia

On designing interactive exhibits for young children

When you design an exhibit for young children, you should not limit yourself to just downsizing all the components and adding a wild palette of colors. You have to start thinking like a child. It may not be possible to go back in time, but this simple set of rules will help you develop your ideas:

  • Rule #1: “The floor is everywhere my foot can reach.”
    • An adult mind has a mental barrier that prevents one from walking on a surface located higher than a foot and a half (half a meter) above the ground. Adults will see this surface as either a seat or a decoration. Toddlers, however, do not possess this kind of constraint. Use as much durable and antiskidding materials as possible, and watch the height.
  • Rule #2: It is never too low.
    • For adults, everything has to be within reach, and bending and crouching is tiring for us. It is totally the opposite with kids. For them, standing on tiptoes, lying on the floor, or reaching for something inaccessible is simply a lot of fun. Sometimes designers need to leave the rules behind to make an exhibit more enjoyable for children.
  • Rule #3: Kids are omnidirectional.
    • An adult focuses on a single experience, while a child participates in the entire environment with all senses. While playing in one place, the child constantly listens to sounds coming from all around and can analyze multiple strands of information. This gives us the opportunity to create complex spaces.

Karolina Perrin, designer, Karek Design, Krakow, Poland

On collaborating successfully with clients and partners

Having worked for 10 years in museum education, I am familiar with the high level of collaboration between organizations needed to create meaningful exhibits and partnerships. However, now that I have transitioned to exhibit development, I find it’s rare to hear anyone speak about how hard it is to collaborate on large projects with multiple contributors. Here are a few significant tips that have helped me develop great communication lines with clients and partner organizations, and make collaboration less of a chore and more of a joy:




    1. Go in with a detailed work plan and timeline. Make it clear who is responsible for each piece of development and design, and communicate prior to deadlines rather than after they have been missed.


    1. Create a template for receiving feedback, rather than tracking changes within a document. It leads to more articulate communication about the content, narrative, and design decisions.


  1. Organizations and consultants always have multiple projects and deadlines, many having nothing to do with the project at hand. Appreciate shifting schedules and other milestones that help your partners achieve their goals, without letting the collaboration suffer.

I have been working with Lee H. Skolnick Architecture + Design Partnership and Paul Orselli Workshop (POW!) to assist the America for Bulgaria Foundation in developing Muzeiko, the first children’s museum in Bulgaria. We, as a team, adopted these strategies to overcome language and cultural barriers and create what continues to be a conscientious, successful partnership.

Christina Joy Ferwerda, independent consultant, New York City

On creating sustainable exhibits

Create exhibits that go “beyond green,” by considering economic, social, and environmental aspects of sustainability. It can sometimes be helpful to focus your attention on the decision-making process itself, not just the outcome. For example, ask yourself, “How can I (choose materials, host an advisory meeting, etc.) more sustainably?” Then, think about all of the economic, social, and environmental ramifications, and choose the option with the most benefits.

Visit for tools and resources including:

  • Sustainable practices: Practical tips for incorporating social, economic, and environmental considerations into each phase of exhibit development: proposal writing, project management, content research and development, design, prototyping and visitor testing, production, evaluation, and end-life.
  • Decision-making tool: An activity to use with your team, intended to inspire a well-rounded conversation that leads teams to decisions that consider all three aspects of sustainability.
  • The Green Exhibit Checklist: A tool to evaluate the environmental sustainability of exhibits. It awards points in five key strategies for reducing the environmental impact of exhibit production, plus a sixth category for innovation.
  • Material guide: An online guide that was created to help exhibit designers and builders choose materials that are better for the environment, visitors, and workers, and that make economic sense.
  • Case studies: Individual case studies of how museums are integrating the three pillars of sustainability into their operations.
  • Envisioning Sustainability: An activity designed to help teams explore the concept of sustainability.

Contact OMSI at (503) 797-4658 to arrange for a training workshop or for more information on sustainable exhibits.

Kari Jensen, senior exhibit developer, Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, Portland

About the image: A 3/8-inch hexagonal shaft end will help hold a hand-wheel in place in a custom crank handle. Photo courtesy Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum

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