Don’t blame design for bad exhibition design

Fay Sweet is absolutely right (Private View, DW 22 March), but then she was not around when a number of us at the Central Office of Information rebelled at the design and introductions of exhibition systems in the Seventies because we knew that they could spell the end of decent exhibition design. They did not, in fact, because, while the work of the Department of Trade and Industry Exhibition Division collapsed into an untidy heap of extruded aluminium, the divorced COI managed to keep up standards in its prestige and world fair work.

Those of us facing creative death in the DTI found museums and museums found us. Fay Sweet happily leaves museums out of her castigation, while she quite rightly goes on to have a go at art gallery exhibitions.

In both instances she is wrong to blame the designer. Most trade shows are a sea of system stands erected by contractors and fitted out by reps. Most art galleries have exhibitions hung by keepers with labelling dictated by keepers, essentially for keepers.

If a designer is given a specification, he or she will do as they are told. If designers are not called in at all then there is nothing they can do. I suggest Ms Sweet goes to the Imperial War Museum, the National Museums and Galleries of Merseyside, the Natural History Museum and many provincial museums if she wants to see decent exhibition design. Perhaps she should also pop into a major public exhibition such as the Motor Show, where designers are actually used; they may not all be brilliant but at least there is evidence there of a client-designer relationship.

When a client realises he or she has to communicate effectively to a wide public then you really do see something happening. Go and have a look, Ms Sweet. It is not all perfect but, believe me, it is getting there.

Giles Velarde

Giles Velarde Associates

Pett Level

East Sussex TN35 4EF

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