How to Brand a Museum Exhibit

One of the most enjoyable things about creating a new exhibit is designing its brand identity. The process begins months before the exhibit actually opens and requires a bit of research, brainstorming, and testing to ensure that the look of the exhibit is different than previous exhibits and also made for the intended audience.

The branding ensures that the marketing materials and in the physical design of the exhibit space are consistent with one another. Marketing materials include rack cards, exterior vinyl banners, invitations, store products, press releases, print advertisements, and posters. It then creeps into the actual overall feel of the exhibit space through introductory titles, labels designs, wall colors, typography, language, and interactives.


There are many ways to begin this process, but here are the steps and questions we ask ourselves when we develop the identity for each exhibit.

  1. Who is our audience? Who is the exhibit mainly for? What type of design would they respond best to—contemporary or traditional? We then create a text-based logo based on our analysis. For our Cats & Dogs In Art and Life exhibit we thought our audience would be expecting to see something fun. We took some inspiration from brands in pet stores to get an idea on type treatment and tried a bunch of different fonts to see which worked the best. We get our fonts free from Google Fonts and Font Squirrel.cats+dogs-titles
  2. What are the objects like in the exhibit? How can we craft our design so it works well with them? Which object symbolizes the exhibit best? Can it easily be communicated on marketing materials? We had hundreds of objects and graphics to choose from to use as the identity in Cats & Dogs In Art and Life. However, we didn’t think any of them worked well on either a rack card or banner. We tried using stock images but they didn’t exemplify the “art” angle that much. So we dug a little deeper and found two drawings from different artists and used them as a pair. Since they were black and white line drawings and we wanted to keep this fun and colorful, we decided to use bright colors as a background in the final graphic.branding-concepts
  3. We also explore color palettes in conjunction with finding objects to go along with our text based logo. Picking a color palette is always a difficult decision because every team member has different feelings on colors. So we look at a bunch of different palettes and choose which ones we think would fit with the objects selected and intended audience. We used a magenta color for one of the galleries in the Cats & Dogs In Art and Life, which would not have worked in A Tradition of Craft where the majority of our audience was male.
  4. Then, we mix all of these elements together for our marketing and exhibit materials by using different templates and design elements (which require even more drafts and tests).

Going through this is quite a bit of work but it’s fun and exciting to see the process on how the final identity is developed.

Mike Messina is the Interpretive Projects Associate at the Connecticut Historical Society.


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