This week’s reading focused on the role of attention in designing effective interpretive labels.
Visitors focus their attention on objects and labels, and they read labels, especially well designed ones. However, attention spans prevent audiences from focusing on both objects and labels. This is where interpretive design should direct its attention because given the choice audiences will look at the object before the label. Labels should not try to compete with visual aspects; they are most effective when they complement objects. They should, however focus on an object’s most important features. Designers should create a dialogue between the label and the object. Measuring success of labels is contingent upon multiple factors: percent of visitors who stop, reading time, collateral behaviors, and knowledge gained.
A conceptual framework presupposes that attention is a vital to interpretive label design. Attention is selective, and attention to one thing often means neglect of another. Designers then have a big job because they have to strategize how best to allow an object and its label to stand out. Designers of interpretive labels should consider how isolated an object is, size, contrast in background, multi-sensory characteristics, and lighting. They must also take into account what causes people to miss labels. Traffic flow, attraction to objects of certain sizes, right-turn bias, and arrangement are some of the main reasons. Educationally driven messages work best if the labels are designed to minimize mental effort. This is an important step to make the experience both educational and accessible to audiences of all ages. While you don’t want to insult anyone’s comprehension and reading skills, you do want younger visitors to be able to read labels.
The article, “Telling a story in 100 words: effective label copy,” gives examples of how to construct a label. “When we write, we compose a mosaic. We pick and choose the “tiles” words, facts, and images. The article also gives other useful strategies: frame the journey through time, Consider a label a story, hook the reader with an anecdote/ suspense, and finally ask yourself, does it encourage readers to suspend disbelief?
In “Labels, Digital Included, Assume New Importance at Museums,” Judy Rand, label writer, observes visitors reading labels in museums to see first-hand how they react to them, if they even react to them. Rand points out that specialist often write, edit and design labels, and impanel focus groups test them.
What I gathered from the readings is that though there are agreed upon strategies for label writing, the audience’s attention and selectivity does not guarantee that they will interact with the labels in the ways museums professionals want them to do. It is up to the designers and the staff to stay creative and stay observant as to how best highlight an object with labels.