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  • Writer's picturePhillip Ratliff

Blocking an exhibit for everyone

Updated: Jun 27

Installer Jeremy Gossett blocks panels for the new Southern Railway Depot exhibit in Leeds, Alabama.


The designs files have shipped off and the print-offs have arrived. Jeremy Gossett is now installing panels at the Southern Railway Depot.


Jeremy’s methodical approach to installing embodies an important principle: don’t go big until you’ve gone small. Don’t attach permanently until you’ve blocked it out and everyone agrees that this is the best layout. If you were watching this particular installation in real time, you’d see Jeremy get progressively more committed: first green or blue painters tape, then double-sided adhesive, then, eventually, construction adhesive or picture hooks. Along the way, we’re both phoning and updating the client with real time photos.


Going small before going big is a principle that will always serve you well. You probably already used it when designing the panels. You don’t print them until everyone has reviewed them and you all love them. That means multiple eyes on their design, first as InDesign files, then as print offs on copier paper, and finally, as the panels themselves.


When installing, it’s the elevations you care more about. For the elevations, you want good rhythm, with a nice mix of small, medium, and large panels. That way, your wall design is organized. There’s hierarchy.


And when there’s design hierarchy, there’s information hierarchy. Some information is for everybody. Make that information large. Headers defining the theme of a an entire wall or large portion of a wall orients everyone. But not everyone has the time to graze through photo captions. Make those small, usually around 18 points.


Which still isn’t that small. Font legibility must be maintained as you block an exhibit. Can a person in a wheelchair read the panel in question from her vantage point?


Here at the depot in Leeds, as we continue to obsess over accessibility, we’re considering how large and how high, the exhibit’s flow and its sight lines: these are the variables we continue to hone — because installation is also design. And at this design stage we’re continuing to make sure that absolutely no one gets left out.



To discuss how Backstory can help you launch your interpretive space, contact Phil Ratliff at 205.234.0336, ratliffphillip@gmail.com. It's surprisingly easy and may cost less than you think.

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