August 19, 2016 • History Factory
A birds-eye view of our exhibit design for New Balance’s Visitor Engagement center.
The best corporate exhibit design transforms business artifacts into thought-provoking works of art every bit as compelling as what you might see in a world-class museum display. Here are three of our favorites:
When we were contacted by company in 2012, the leadership team made it clear that they wanted an exhibit that spoke directly to its authors — communicating, especially, the fact that HarperCollins was committed to putting the needs and aspirations of its authors above all else in every decision it made. We knew that the tone of our exhibit had to be aspirational. It had to make authors feel pride to be a part of HarperCollins family. Fortunately, while doing our research we found a wonderful symbol of that very idea: a spiral wrought-iron staircase in one of its earliest headquarters buildings that a veritable pantheon of legendary writers had ascended over the years.
So we did something rather ambitious. As the centerpiece for a headquarters-wide exhibit program, we built a massive “author bookcase” to flank the new space’s dramatic two-story staircase and filled it with stories, quotes, pictures and artifacts from some of HarperCollins’ most famous authors.
Now, whenever HarperCollins editors look up at our exhibit, they are reminded — day in and day out — of the fine work that their predecessors did as well as the fact that the manuscript they are currently working on may belong to the next Zora Neale Hurston or Maurice Sendak.
When writers walk into HarperCollins’ headquarters, they see the names and stories of illustrious authors on the wall and they feel as if they’ve entered the Pantheon of the literary world. Everyone, whether they’re a budding author or an established one, looks up and says the same thing. “I want to be part of that group,” they say. “I want to be on that wall.”
As we discovered more about the company’s history, we learned that New Balance’s founder, William J. Riley, came up with the idea for his company’s famous arch support as a result of raising chickens in his backyard.
One day, while Riley was feeding his chickens, he noticed they had excellent balance, in part because of their tripod-shaped claws. That got him thinking: Why not build a special arch support that mimics the pronged foot of a chicken?
That claw-shaped design—as well as the company’s three core values—are important symbols for New Balance, so we designed a 30-foot-tall claw-shaped structure for the company’s massive lobby, which included dozens of triangular panels that told the story of the company through the evolution of its products.
Company officials liked the idea, especially that we were going to make the ground-level panels highly tactile, composed of actual footwear and apparel, as well as artifacts from athletes and associates.
Using a large touch screen at ground level, visitors can explore and delve into the content above and around them. It is a truly immersive experience. They can go as deep into the history of New Balance as time allows. There is a wealth of content, but the viewer stays in control.
The exhibit, which we purposefully titled “Shell and the American Landscape,” occupied a cavernous space in the corporate headquarters lobby, which had been previously occupied by a now-shuttered Texas bank. Shell executives made it clear that they didn’t want any pictures of CEOs in their exhibit. Nothing corporate. No discussions of business strategies. They wanted an exhibit that told American history through the lens of Shell’s many achievements.
So we brought in generations of gas pumps, a huge horse drawn tank wagon, vivid artwork from old Shell gas stations, and amazing relics from aviator Jimmy Doolittle, who had been instrumental in Shell Oil’s contribution to America’s World War II effort with the development of 100-octane aviation fuel.
Not only did it draw crowds and plenty of media attention, it also proved that the benefits of a carefully planned corporate exhibit far outweighed the costs. To this day, Houstonians don’t look at the iconic Shell Oil clamshell sign and think about the Dutch. They think and see Texas.
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