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What’s in a Name? Evaluation of exhibition titles

By: Dr Lynda Kelly, Category: Museullaneous, Date: 04 Aug 2010

Tips on how to evaluate potential titles/names for exhibitions. Elements of this article first appeared in 'Visitor Behaviour', Fall/Winter, 1997, Numbers 3-4, Page 32

Clever or catchy? Informative or insane! Brash or boring? Titles must one of the least loved yet important aspects of developing exhibitions in museums. Titles need to capture the ‘essence’ of the exhibition subject area yet still be catchy enough to sell to a public that is constantly exposed to clever and, often inane, advertising and selling. Evaluators may be called in to help resolve arguments about this touchy subject but how is this best done?

At the Australian Museum we have conducted many evaluations for exhibition titles. We usually try to find out more information from visitors about why they like or dislike a suggested name which always gives interesting insights into what they think about the topic overall, as well as the Museum generally.

We often think that visitors haven’t heard of a concept or term, such as ‘biodiversity’ or ‘Indigenous Australians’, and are always surprised at the knowledge that our visitors bring to the Museum.

We often go to our visitors with ‘sexy’ or ‘cool’ titles that they hate, or conservative titles which they like. Either way it seems we can’t win!

So what to do? We have found that there are a number of issues or things to be aware of when choosing or testing titles:

  • There is a need to ensure that a sufficient variety of names are tested that allow some conclusions to be made about many different types of titles rather than just variations on a theme.
  • Visitors usually dislike titles that are trying to be ‘too clever’, but they want titles that are catchy and interesting, particularly younger visitors.
  • They don’t want titles that are misleading or could be misinterpreted.
  • There is a mixed view about titles being either too long or too short - some like them long with a sub-title, and some short.
  • Visitors usually want titles that will tell them what the exhibition is about and what they’ll see there.
  • They like titles that imply active experiences, fun and discovery (as long as this is followed through in the exhibition of course!).
  • There is usually one title that they dislike the most - often the one that the museum likes the most!
  • Make sure staff at reception/front-of-house are comfortable saying the name aloud as they'll often be the ones selling the exhibition to visitors.

Don't stress too much and remember, less is more in most cases and strap-lines often redundant quickly become redundant!

1 comment

Lynda Kelly - 8.02 AM, 09 February 2011

Problem solved - MIT's Random Exhibition Title generator! (via AAM Media and Technology on Facebook)

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