Structure in Exhibits

A couple of weeks ago, Facebook reminded me of what my status update was a year ago. Being the sentimental and nostalgic guy that I am, I was reminded of a trip to St. Louis, Missouri, that I took with my family at the same time last year. I decided to go back and look at the pictures to relive the good times and to see how much my hair line had changed in twelve months.

As with most of my family vacation photo files, I have more pictures of signs and exhibits than I do of my children. I get to see my children every day. I may not ever have a chance to see a great use of a complementary color palette at a museum in Missouri ever again. It also keeps your kids’ egos in check by letting them know that it is not all about them.

While browsing through the images I came across a few images that I haven’t shared before of a really cool exhibit featuring the architecture of the Gateway Arch. The exhibit is not at the arch itself but at the St. Louis Science Center.

Here are some images and thoughts.

The design of this structures exhibit was clean and architectural in nature. I love how the materials echo raw materials of a construction site. Even the justified text could represent building blocks. Of course it could have been designed by someone who likes squares, but I think it was purposeful.

These panels continue the consistent message presented on the orientation sign. The concept is expanded with the blueprint-type symbols and open-ended question approach. Of course this is enough to bore my children to death (though death by type is underrated). This was the option that really inspired them…

These pillow building blocks allow children to practice what it takes to build an arch. You will notice that Anna (in the middle) is restraining her younger brother William (the destroyer) so we could get the picture of the complete arch.

This is not related to the structure exhibit, but I just had to share it. I’m not sure what incident led up to the creation of this sign but it was warranted, trust me. Do you have any ideas?

You’ve Got a Ticket to Design

I am a pack rat. My basement is filled with boxes of old photos, stolen yard sale signs, certain emotionally important Tastykake wrappers, and mix tapes from high school girlfriends. This occasionally earns me extended periods of the silent treatment from my wife, punctuated with flurries of the very loud treatment. But still I can’t throw anything away.

One of the things I hoard is ticket stubs. It’s likely no surprise to people who know me that I have nearly every ticket stub from every sporting event I’ve ever been to. Ticket stubs from especially important sporting events, like the only two baseball playoff games I’ve ever seen in person (in 1993 and 2008) and the time in 1999 when I caught a foul ball at Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia, are displayed prominently in my house. (What my wife hates more than anything is that I usually keep those ticket stubs in the plastic soda cups I buy at those games. There are a lot of plastic soda cups in my house.)

Ticket stubs offer an opportunity that many sites pass up. A thoughtfully designed ticket is much more likely to be kept as a souvenir and included in scrap books or photo albums than your standard-issue TicketMaster ticket. Given that most people are not like me and actually throw stuff away every once in a while, a generic, nondesigned ticket is likely to be discarded.

Visual interest and appropriateness are essential to making a ticket stub into a souvenir. The two tickets pictured here are from a trip I took to Spain in 2007. The first is from a three-minute carousel ride my then three-year-old son took at a medieval festival in the Basque village of Hondarribia, the second from a day-long visit to the Guggenheim museum of modern art in Bilbao. The tickets are attractive and the design elements—color, type, and image—are appropriate to each experience. They succeed in transporting me back to those moments.

The ticket pictured above for the Architectural River Cruise in Chicago is visually interesting and is more likely than most to be kept as a souvenir, but it’s not interpretive. If it had included the theme of the program or the organization’s mission statement, it would have been even better. Also, while the interpretive program, which Shea wrote about back in 2009 during a joint Caputo-Lewis family vacation, was terrific, I do not remember any mention of William Butler Ogden, Chicago’s first mayor, who is pictured on the ticket. (You’ll notice that the ticket is for a child under 7. This is because we put Shea in red suspenders and a beanie propeller hat and passed him off as a kid.)

When I am not able to keep a ticket stub, I breathe deeply into a paper bag for a few moments and look for another solution. On a visit to Kuala Selangor Nature Park in Malaysia, I was forced to hand over my ticket, so I photographed it instead. I don’t speak Malay, so I was really hoping that the inscription at the bottom of the ticket, “Sah untuk satu perjalanan sahaja,” was an inspiring theme or mission statement, but it turned out to be the rather uninspiring “Valid for one journey only” (which, no matter how you look at it, does not work that well as a program theme or an organizational mission statement).

Sometimes, ticket stubs are surprising sources of inspiration for designers, as with the unique typography featured on the ticket for the Sky Deck atop the Willis (formerly Sears) Tower in Chicago. And sometimes, tickets are not much to look at (even if they are unique), but people like me keep them anyway because they remind us of especially good experiences, as with a recording of the NPR show “Wait, Wait… Don’t Tell Me!” in Las Vegas.

If I visit your site and you hand me a ticket, you can pretty much rest assured that I’m going to keep it, much to my wife’s chagrin. For most normal people, however, it’s not such a sure thing. Any time you hand something to a visitor—be it a map, a brochure, or a ticket—I hope you’ll take the opportunity to make it meaningful and attractive, and convey your important messages. Remember, it may just end up prominently displayed in a plastic cup in someone’s house.