Recently on the ALHFAM listserv a member, who is dealing with a horse nipping problem at their museum, wanted some advice on signage as they are ” . . . discussing posting more warnings/signage of some sort but also don’t want to litter the landscape with dire threats and graphic warnings in blood red and blaze orange.” I appreciate their dilemma and also their colorful description of signage options.
All museums and public buildings are required to post signs to comply with certain laws or codes. Often, there is little we can do, or would want to, to change this type of signage. Exit, AED, fire extinguisher, and similar signs benefit from their uniformity. Most of the population knows what to look for when they need to find these things and that’s the point.
What about the rest of our non-interpretive signage–especially the ubiquitous museum “Do Not Touch” sign.
The signs in the image above are the most basic. We need to let visitors know the quilts aren’t for touching but the commonality of Do Not Touch signs calls into question their effectiveness. There are so many you just stop seeing them (like Starbucks). Some might have the red circle with a slash image that universally means “NO!” or a few other words depending on what’s being dealt with–Do Not Touch the Dollhouse, Do Not Pet the Goat, etc.–but the message is all the same and likely, eventually, invisible.
So how to make them visible again without “graphic warnings in blood red or blazing orange.”
Sometimes the message alone is enough. Like the vulture warning in the top image (captured during a family vacation to the Everglades). The sign is boring, standard issue NPS but the message is quite unique. I was so intrigued I hastily inquired about car-damaging-vultures at the visitor center. Needless to say, the message alone caught my attention.
The sign in the image below works for a different reason:
This one, though, is my favorite from my personal “collection:”
This was clever. It was on its own on the side of a building in an area with nothing of note nearby. That alone made it stand out. The title was intriguing and the “Don’t Vandalize the Buildings” message laid out like exhibit text. Of course, after reading the sign I noticed all the words/names carved into the building (you can see the evidence in the picture).
More effective than your typical “Do Not Touch” sign? Not sure, I didn’t talk to staff about it. It was, however, a novel approach that made me stop, pay attention, and think about the message. Isn’t that what we want?
Please share your anecdotes and images of unique and effective museum signage.
As an aside: I take odd photos at museums while on vacation. Recently I took a picture of a recording hygrothermograph at a visit to the Art Institute of Chicago with my fifteen-year-old. She rolled her eyes at that but was really disturbed when I shared it on Facebook. How could I not? I’ve never seen environmental readings so stable!