Smoking not allowed!!

A colleague of mine once told me that, at school, his children had to pretend they were running a museum. The end result of their assignment was….regulatory signs with things that were not allowed.

I was thinking of this story while I was on a short holiday in Brugge (Bruges) Belgium. I visited there the Groeninge museum. This nice small museum has some art works from from great Belgian artists ranging from the 15th century (f.e. Jan van Eyck) to the 20th century (like Rene Margritte).

Upon entering the museum I stumbled upon all the things that are not allowed in this museum. See the picture below.

In a certain way most of these signs really offend me. It is like they think that I don’t know how to behave in a museum.

So what’s not allowed, starting top left:

  • Smoking
  • Mobile Phones (I think they mean calling with a mobile phone, not the phone itself)
  • Photography
  • Dogs (and other livestock I presume)
  • Backpacks
  • Suitcases?
  • Icecreams? (probably food)
  • Cups? (probably drinking)
  • Umbrella’s

To top it of this museum have a guards in uniform watching over the different galleries. Welcome to the museum Police state. A very hospitable environment.

To be honest I know there are people who really don’t know how to behave. But are signs the way to let people behave themselves? In one of my favorite books “the design of everyday things” the writer Donald Norman explains what bad design is. One of the main features of bad design is explaining in words or symbols what you can or can not do. Good designs speaks for itself, it is intuitive.

An example from another branch is Traffic Engineering. This article in Wired explains why dutch Traffic Engineer Hans Monderman hates traffic signs.

“Monderman considers most signs to be not only annoying but downright dangerous. To him, they are an admission of failure, a sign – literally – that a road designer somewhere hasn’t done his job. “The trouble with traffic engineers is that when there’s a problem with a road, they always try to add something,” Monderman says. “To my mind, it’s much better to remove things.””

How should this work for a museum? Should we remove all the signs and trust people that they will behave themselves? I am not a designer but why not start to remove all the signs and see what happens? Will the crowd go wild and start smoking and walking their dogs in the galleries? I don’t think so.

But how about those annoying backpacks…or suitcases? Maybe when you enter the museum you should pass a cloakroom where museum hosts will kindly ask you if you don’t want to leave your stuff at this guarded cloakroom for your convenience.

If someone really has the guts to talk on a Mobile phone when it is totally silent you can just ask him to talk quietly or stop calling at all. If you have a noisy museum (kids running etc) does it matter that someone is calling?

Photography…I can write a whole post about it. But I really don’t see why you don’t want people to take pictures of your museum or collection. Most of the time pictures enhance the memory of visitors. The nice experience they had being in your museum can be relived more vividly by watching the pictures. They can share the pictures with your friends on Flickr or other social websites. These are all good things for your museum.

Food/Drinking…Tricky one, I don’t have a nice solution yet to prevent that. But maybe some waste bins at the entrance with a sign (yes a sign) “drop your food here”. There are probably better design solutions.

I think that some smart design choices can make the experience of visiting a museum a lot more pleasant.

One tip: To prevent discussion with antisocial visitors print on the entrance ticket in the smallest font possible that you have house rules which can be viewed upon request.

NB: Does anybody know the right English word for Gallery Guard/usher/sentry (suppoost in Dutch)?