fbpx On Exhibition Design | Ecsite

On Exhibition Design

Beyond the Lab: The DIY Science Revolution’

Curated and produced by the Science Museum, London, the Sparks exhibition ‘Beyond the Lab: The DIY Science Revolution’ explores the stories of seven remarkable people who are opening up scientific research to everyone, taking it out of universities and professional labs and into people’s homes, workshops and backyards. From diabetics who are hacking their own medical devices to community groups tracking pollution in their neighbourhoods, the exhibition tells the stories of a growing number of ‘DIY scientists’ around the world who are busily hacking, experimenting and inventing.

From 2016 to 2018, ‘Beyond the Lab’ will tour 29 different museums, science centres and research institutions across Europe. Considering the intense touring schedule and the how varied hosting venues are, ‘Beyond the Lab’ presented two major design challenges: how to design an exhibition that could be installed and de-installed fast and easily and that will allow for flexible layouts. To tell us how these challenges were overcome and the story behind the exhibition design, we invited ‘Beyond the Lab’s curator Louis Buckley and exhibition designer Andres Ros Soto to answer five burning questions on the exhibition design.

Let’s start from the beginning: how did the curatorial concept of ‘Beyond the Lab’ come to life and how it is reflected in the exhibition design?

The first inspiration we had was from the ‘DIY’ theme of our content. Although the DIY scientists featured in the exhibition are doing science in all sorts of ways, we wanted to evoke the idea of a workshop. We chose to use perforations to suggest pegboards for DIY tools and this also creates a great aesthetic for the exhibition as a whole – it has become the design identity of this exhibition.

The other major curatorial/design crossover was with the use of large-scale portrait photography. It was important to us that the stories were people-led, and the most effective way of getting this across was to use photography of these people as an integral part of the design and interpretation.

Can you tell us more on how the perforations/pegboards are used throughout the exhibition.

The pegboard-inspired perforations play an important role in the structure of the exhibition. They have a dual functionality – as well as being used to fix things to the structure, they create a strong visual identity. It is a very flexible medium to work with, for instance, the pegboard system allows us to attach multiple labels, like translated panels, which can be removed and changed very simply.

We have also followed the perforations through into the wooden building material, again as a design element as well as performing an important practical functional. The mirroring of content and design, structure and function, is something we feel is quite unique about our approach.

With such an extensive tour, involving such varied venues, layout flexibility becomes paramount. How do you maintain a curatorial narrative when the layout needs to be so flexible?

Having a flexible system is key for the exhibition to work throughout its tour. However, we did have to find a way to slightly constrain the layout so that the narrative was maintained. We achieved this by – literally – fixing individual stories into clusters, grouping seven stories into three themes and by using theme colours to make these distinct. Beyond this, the stories can be explored by visitors in any order, with no fixed beginning and end. This aspect of the exhibition content meant it was suited to a modular system and could be adapted for different venue requirements.

Another challenge of the varied venues meant that we couldn’t rely on any pre-existing structures in the venues, such as walls and lighting. This meant that everything is completely self-contained in the exhibition. It was certainly a design challenge but we have achieved something that fulfils this practical function and looks great too!

Absolutely! And besides, it responds to another practical requirement: the need for easy and fast install and de-install.

The exhibition build for ‘Beyond the Lab’ has to be simple enough to be used and understood by people with all different levels of experience in exhibition installation and design.

We have used a simple concept based on a DIY building system called Gridbeam. In that way, the exhibition content of DIY science is reflected in the building materials. There is even a single Allen key needed for all the fixings. It has been designed to be intuitive and straightforward, which feeds into the attractive simplicity of the design.

Sparks is a pan-European project. When designing ‘Beyond the Lab’, has that came into consideration in term of visitors? Is there a target/ideal visitor for the exhibition?

We have tried to make sure that content can be communicated through images where possible, to minimise the need for translation (the exhibition text will be translated into 25 different languages). The use of photography also helps in providing a distinct visual identity for the exhibition.

As well as the portrait photographs we worked with photographer Angela Moore to create ‘storyboard’ photography to show how objects or processes work. We’ve also used graphics created by 2D designer Michael Montgomery – such as maps, diagrams and visual symbols such as arrows that make use of the perforated structure. All of this helps to create an experience that can be shared by all our visitors across Europe, on a level that surpasses linguistic boundaries.

Other than language barriers, we believe that the people-led stories in the exhibition are universally interesting. The content touches issues which are relevant to visitors’ lives wherever they live, from air pollution to antibiotic resistance. As for an ‘ideal’ visitor – we hope that the exhibition will attract people from all walks of life who are interested to see how ordinary people are harnessing science in all sorts of fascinating ways.

Sparks is a H2020 funded project aimed at raising awareness of Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI) through exhibitions, events and publications, with a specific focus on technology shifts in healthcare and medicine. Led by Ecsite, Sparks will be carried out over a three-year period (July 2015 to June 2018) by a network of partners including science centres and museums, science shops and research institutions active across the whole European Union and Switzerland.


  • Exhibition
  • exhibition design
  • sparks
  • RRI