Information overload

Head On, Science Museum, London: Bentheim

Artists’ interpretations of the relationship between art and science is the theme of Head On, the first exhibition in the Science Museum’s new Wellcome Trust gallery. The show is divided into three themes: historical and contemporary examples of brain anatomy; Face, Form and Character, which includes ancient and modern-day measuring devices; and models of and metaphors for the mind – the most abstract theme of the three.

Design group Bentheim’s task, under lead designer Diego Trolliet, was to create graphics that helped clarify this apparently technical subject matter and make it accessible to a wide audience. Bentheim organised the exhibition information hierarchically, so it knew early on what graphic emphasis to give each. It mounted flip charts with information on each artist or installation on 1.2m-high rostra. This way, says managing director David Bentheim, wordier explanatory text could be broken up into more manageable chunks. And exhibits with shorter accompanying text just needed fewer flip-chart pages – easier than re-sizing text panels, he adds.

The flip charts are spotlit. Fragile exhibits, particularly historical manuscripts, must be displayed under low light, says Bentheim, an issue on which museums are becoming increasingly strict. But text demands stronger lighting and spotlights solved the problem, he says.

Giant ‘totem pole’ columns feature ‘chapter information’ on each themed area and are designed as signposts, too.

‘People stop when they see signs of life, such as crowds gathered round a point,’ says Bentheim. ‘[The totems] are subliminal guides as well as providing information.’ The flip charts also encourage an element of audience participation, he adds.

Head On shows until 28 July at the Science Museum, Exhibition Road, London SW7

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