Creating Covid signage and wayfinding for open-air museums

A case study from Amberley Museum
Signage
Julia Edge
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A volunteer at Amberley Museum next to a Keep your Distance sign
A volunteer at Amberley Museum next to a Keep your Distance sign

Once the home to a thriving chalk pits, Amberley Museum in Arundel, West Sussex, occupies a large open-air site of 36 acres with more than 40 buildings, including historic and modern display buildings and a cafe.

The impact of Covid 19 on our signage and wayfinding has been significant. Previously, our directions to our visitors were scant, largely consisting of “please don’t touch” and “please close the door behind you” signs. Visitors were given a map and allowed to wander.

After we reopened, we decided not to impose a set route around the museum site – it’s so large that it easily absorbs the 300 visitors without feeling crowded. Instead, we looked at each building and made individual plans.

We created one-way routes around our larger exhibit areas using barriers (recycled picket fencing) and floor arrows (spray painted and taped).

Previously these areas were free-flow, and visitors have commented that they had seen things they missed on previous visits. And the challenge was to devise a route that made sense in terms of the exhibition content and didn’t miss any key exhibits out.

Reopening safely after lockdown meant that we needed lots of new signage that was effective but felt appropriate in style and not too officious or corporate.

We designed a template for our signs based on the second world war government poster Keep Calm and Carry On, and then varied the colours and messages.

Consistent signage at Amberley Museum
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The feel was suitably vintage while maintaining an authoritative tone. “Keep your Distance” signs have been used in some buildings and exhibit areas. Smaller areas, which are limited to one household at a time, have “Keep it in the Family” posters.

The “Wash your Hands” poster appears in every toilet cubicle and a modified version, “Sanitise your Hands” on the 20 hand sanitisers available around the site.

A grant from South East Museum Development for our reopening, and money from donation boxes, helped to us pay to get the signs professionally printed on foam and correx. 

Sudden changes in the Covid-19 rules have posed a challenge. We anticipated changes around social distancing so used “Stay a safe distance apart from other family groups” rather than a set distance.

But the introduction of mandatory face covering came into force shortly after we re-opened and all of our money for signage had already been spent.  We produced laminated “Wear your Face Covering” signs and will replace these in a more durable material when funds allow.

By doing the artwork in-house, and using fairly cheap signage materials, we created a flexible system, where we could easily edit signs and create new ones. Our volunteer carpenters made the stands for the signs and for some of the hand sanitisers out of wood we already had on site.

Signage at the museum has not always been consistent, and in the future we hope to review all of our signage (wayfinding and interpretation) and agree a site-wide format and style.

Our Covid-19 signage, which is found all over the site, is a large step in the right direction.

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Julia Edge is curator at Amberley Museum

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