Whenever I work on exhibit development projects, the same question occurs:
What comes first, the objects or the stories?
While it’s rarely a linear, either-or situation, and both approaches fold backwards and forwards onto one another, I’m firmly Team Story (it’s like being Team Edward, but with less sparkles). The stories are what matter, the stories are what visitors connect to, the stories are the catalysts that cause people to care. Start with the right stories, and everything else follows.
Andrew Stanton agrees. In this fantastic TED Talk, the filmmaker gives his list of storytelling goals.
What if you designed an exhibit using the same goals to guide your process?
What truth(s) are you telling that deepen our understanding of what it means to be human?
How are you going to make visitors care?
How will you make visitors work for their experience? How will they succeed?
What is your well-organized absence of information? How will visitors fill it in?
What do you promise visitors? What hints, enticements, and reassurances make it worthwhile for visitors to chose your experience?
Is your exhibit unpredictable?
Can you reject the expected?
Where are you evoking wonder?
Have you experienced exhibits that are grounded in storytelling? One of my current favorites is Quagga and Dodo at the Basel Natural History Museum, where a futuristic setting highlights the musuem’s Archive of Life and tells the story of extinction and endangered species.