• Phillip Ratliff

First steps: Designing an exhibit on the Longleaf Pine Ecosystem

Creating an exhibit is a process. To make that process run smoothly, you have to assemble the machinery first. There are committees to form, foundational documents to write, project management calendars to fit into everybody’s busy schedule. Backstory can help build that machine and get it up and running.

We’re doing just that with the Landmark Park Interpretive Center project. Working with Executive Director Laura Stakelum, Backstory assembled a panel of six scholars familiar with the subject of that exhibit, the longleaf pine ecosystem. The scholars represent niche areas in the exhibit, from insects to controlled burning.

They will guide the outline, check facts, and direct our copywriters to the best sources. Backstory equipped the scholars with job descriptions and rubrics for reviewing copy and design drafts. We want to be upfront about the scope of work and as clear as possible about the feedback we need.

The scholar's committee is just the start. Another crucial aspect is the style guide. Backstory uses the style guide to inform the language of the exhibit in two senses of that word, language:

First, the guide tells us what sorts of panels and labels we’ll use. This connects to the exhibit’s visual language.

Second, the style guide also helps the copywriter make visitor-friendly word choices and answer thorny questions about usage — which are ever-present in an exhibit on a specialized topic. Will we capitalize “longleaf pine ecosystem?” What about species? Will we use the common name or the scientific name? The AP Style Guide only goes so far.

With these structures in place, the real work of the exhibit design process can begin. And so it will with the Landmark Park project. Check back for updates.

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