Museum Exhibit Design and the Selfie

museum exhibit design

In 2013, the term “selfie” was ushered into the Oxford English Dictionary codifying both the word and the practice as part of our everyday lives. That “selfie” beat “schmeat” — the word for a form of synthetic meat that was another contender — may mystify future generations of social scientists but the sheer ubiquity of self-made portraiture should keep them busy for centuries. Perhaps they too will recognize one of the emerging trends of selfie making, the so-called “museum selfie.” We may also ask, should museum exhibit design bake selfies into the experience? 

To be clear, we’re not talking about a museum comprised of selfies (though that already exists — it’s opening on Hollywood Boulevard this week). No, today we’re exploring the taking of selfies in curated experiences from eternal institutions like the Louvre or the recent trend in pop-up museums for ice cream, pizza, and most recently the Museum of Illusionswhich just opened in New York City’s West Village.

Taking a picture of oneself with the Mona Lisa (I’m looking at you Beyoncé and Jay Z) or other eye-candy is not just tolerated, it’s encouraged. Why? Because selfies seldom exist in a vacuum, they travel from their owner’s device onto the social media platform du jour in a matter of seconds, give or take the time to apply an aptly chosen filter.

These images are often accompanied by a variety of hashtags with at least one usually indicating the location of the selfie’s genesis, or as often, geolocation does it for them. Boom — the museum gets an awareness boost within Instagram’s image-driven culture and the selfie-maker gets to appear cultured on Instagram. Win, win.

Questions: Are savvy museums courting such activity?  Does it align with their individual missions? Or should we question it at all so long as museum traffic of both the foot and online variety spikes? Well, whaddya say, duckface?

Learn more about our work in museum exhibit design here (selfies not-included).

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