Mirrored activity label in the V&A’s British Galleries. Photo: ©Victoria and Albert Museum, London

V&A, London

Colin Mulberg, 17.10.2011
Active interpretation engages a wider range of audiences than traditional displays; it reaches out to visitors in a different way to static displays, so the labels require a different approach.

Labels for interpretative activities must signal that part of the display is different. They must capture the visitor’s attention and involve a call to action.

For example, the displays of mystery objects in the British galleries discovery areas at the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) give the answers back to front so that visitors have to move a side panel to view the text and diagrams in a mirror. Visitors are drawn into the activity and cannot resist trying it out for themselves.

Labels for interpretation activities are a great opportunity to try out different formats to physically and intellectually layer information.

The most successful activities (from more than 150 that I developed at the V&A with various project teams) were those that incorporated elements of audience research.

Text that focuses on the interests, prior knowledge and learning preferences of target audiences works best.

As labels for active interpretation often combine description with instruction, they are a key part of testing the activity with visitors before final production. If the label does not work, neither will the activity.

Colin Mulberg developed new galleries and facilities at the V&A for 12 years until April 2011, and now works as a freelance museum consultant. He can be contacted on 07757 800943 or colinmulberg@googlemail.com


V&A British Galleries discovery area