...why exhibit graphics look like they do?

An Ever Wonder? podcast from the California Science Center

07/22/2020 (updated 07/31/2020)
A dark-haired man with a mustache and beard intently examines an architectural model with a space shuttle inside

For the first few episodes of this podcast, we've been taking you behind the scenes of the California Science Center to meet some of the people who design and develop exhibits.

In the last episode, we talked about exhibit labels in science centers and museums, which help explain what’s going on in an exhibit. But exhibit labels aren't just blocks of text. They appear on graphic panels that use colors, fonts, photos, and illustrations to tell a visual story. For example, you may have noticed that the graphic panels in our Ecosystems galleries look different than the panels you see underneath Space Shuttle Endeavour. Do you ever wonder why exhibit graphics look the way they do?

In this episode, we talk to Jeremy Stoller, the graphic and digital media manager at the California Science Center. As a designer, Jeremy crafts many of the things you might see and use when you visit us, from the time you log onto our website, all the way to when you're standing in front of our exhibits and looking at one of the graphics.

Have a question you've been wondering about? Send us an email to tell us what you'd like to hear in future episodes.

Subscribe to our show on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or Google Podcasts. To see a full list of episodes, visit our show’s webpage.


Perry Roth-Johnson: 0:05

Hello this is Ever Wonder from The California Science Center, I’m Perry Roth-Johnson. For the first few episodes of this podcast I’ve been taking you behind the scenes of The California Science Center to meet some of the people who design and develop exhibits. In the last episode we talked with Jennifer Lawrence who writes exhibit labels that appear all over The Science Center these labels help you as a guest interpret what the heck is going on. If you haven't already heard that episode I encourage you to head back and listen to it first. But now our exhibit labels aren’t just blocks of text. They appear on graphic panels that use colors, fonts, photos and illustrations to tell a visual story. For example, you may have noticed that the graphic panels in the Ecosystems galleries look different than the panels you see underneath space shuttle Endeavour. Do you ever wonder why exhibit graphics look the way they do? Well, today I'm going to introduce you to Jeremy Stoller, the graphic and digital media manager at the California Science Center. As a designer Jeremy crafts many of the things you might see and use when you visit us from the time you log on to our website all the way to when you're standing in front of our exhibits and looking at one of these graphics.

Perry Roth-Johnson: 1:24

Welcome to the show! Thanks for coming on.

Jeremy Stoller: 1:26

No problem, thanks for having me.

Perry Roth-Johnson: 1:28

Now you said your title is graphic and digital media manager and I know you wear a lot of hats at the Science Center. You design graphics for exhibits and signs and more, you also write code and develop our website among other things, and when we were talking earlier the other day I think you said you view yourself as an experience designer.

Jeremy Stoller: 01:45


Perry Roth-Johnson: 01:46

Can you tell me a little bit more about what you mean by that?

Jeremy Stoller: 01:48

My primary concern whether I'm doing graphics or web or exhibit design—anything I do is comes down to thinking of the user and what is their experience. Am I meeting their needs and guiding them along the way? And I'm in a position where I am now where I sort of help craft what that experience is from the time that they first log on to our website to figure out who we are and when we're open and help them get to the Science Center and then wayfinding to help them get from the parking lot into the building and find their way around and then their experience with the exhibits themselves. So it's a full user journey with the Science Center.

Perry Roth-Johnson: 02:35

Okay, so it's not just looking at each place where a guest might be having an experience either in front of exhibit or in front of their phone or computer when they're on the website, but like the whole journey of different experiences kinda link together on your entire visit.

Jeremy Stoller: 02:51

Yeah, and we can design a great exhibit and if nobody knows where it is and can’t get to it then that’s not gonna help them very much right, you know?

Perry Roth-Johnson: 02:57

Yeah, that’s kinda a problem.

Jeremy Stoller: 02:58

And realistically just the way that people's brains work, you know? Even if they have a great time at some of our exhibits but if they can't find their way back to their cars at the end of the day or if that's a bad experience then that leaves them wanting more so.

Perry Roth-Johnson: 03:12

Talk to me a little bit about what makes a good exhibit in general and then owning a little bit more on your area which is what makes a good exhibit graphic, but just generally like what makes a good exhibit is it just something that is really pretty attractive or is there something deeper there?

Jeremy Stoller: 03:27

I think what makes an exhibit good depends on what your expectations are for the exhibit. So, I mean ultimately every exhibit we put on the floor has some sort of goal—some something we want people to get out of it and it may be a simple concept, it may be or advanced concept and really whether it's good or not depends, is determined by does it do that, does it meet that goal? Are people getting out of it what we want? I can say as a general rule the way I think about exhibits as a whole in in our institution; you know our mission is to stimulate curiosity and inspire science learning. Again, coming back to the experience by giving them an experience that will stimulate their curiosity in science in general and inspire them to be interested in science and engineering in other parts of their life. So we're not we're not a classroom where we we sit kids down and we teach them or not a book that you read. You know, we’re trying to give you a memorable experience, a fun memorable experience so you will associate, you know, fun with science and you'll be more open to things that you find out later, and we'll expose you to some concepts and you may or may not get those concepts, you know, really, when you're in our exhibit, but that'll sort of help enforce information you're getting elsewhere. So when you are in a classroom or you are reading a book and you come across it to be, like, oh yeah—it's like that thing I saw at The Science Center.

Perry Roth-Johnson: 04:57

Let's talk about, we’ve talked about exhibits generally but when you're at a specific exhibit and you probably have questions about like, “What am I looking at? What is going on here?" If there's some freaky science thing happening and usually there's a label next to it, a graphic, and you help make those graphics right? So, like, what makes a good exhibit graphic?

Jeremy Stoller: 05:21

It’s a, during the development of these things it’s a negotiation between the graphic designer and the content developer and curators and stuff as well to find the balance of what it, how much information can we put into this thing and in the fewest words we can so we're not overwhelming people but still getting the point across. And it from a graphics perspective I'm concerned with what we call the visual hierarchy. So as we’re laying things out within the exhibit I want to make sure that I can I can control where the person is looking. So this is the piece up here that's going to grab you first, and that's going to get your attention and hopefully pull you in so you look at some more, and then your eyes are going to move down to this text over here or this image over there, right? And I can move your eyes around the graphic panel as you stand there and interact with this exhibit in order to get you the right information at the right time as best I can. And then when it comes to the design itself we want it to be something that makes sense within the context of the exhibit and the gallery. You know when you get into that level where we're talking about fonts and colors and that sort of thing, then it goes beyond just this one exhibit generally because we have a gallery of exhibits, and I want to make sure that when you are at this exhibit you understand that it connects to these other things around you. That way, as you go from exhibit to exhibit you can sort of build from one to the other. You can... you understand they're connected, and each one will help you get a little bit more in depth on the topic of the whole gallery.

Perry Roth-Johnson: 07:13

So like within each gallery like you want to use the same fonts across a gallery so that all kind of feels cohesive. It holds together even if you aren't a person that is trying to pay attention to fonts. You just as a human being will innately kind of get a sense of like, I'm in one gallery now and then when I walk over to a World of Life or Creative World is going to have a different font over there—it's going to feel like a different thing that you’re walking into.

Jeremy Stoller: 07:38

Yeah. We want the color choices and background imagery if we have any and the font choices to feel like they belong with the subject that we're talking about, and it's this is where it gets really touchy-feely. It's like in different fonts and different colors used in different ways are going to elicit different feelings in people and, you know, and it's just drawing on, you know, what your history of the connections you had out in the world and how you see things being used. So, it's... it's not something you can always quantify but it's looking for what are the fonts that are gonna make some... when they see what someone sees it's going to make them feel the way I want them to feel or have this sense about that subject matter that we’re working on that I want them to have.

Perry Roth-Johnson: 08:32

So, I know you do a lot more work recently on web development stuff, and when you’re designing the Science Center website, are you kind of going through the same thought process as when you're designing exhibit graphics? Or are there like other different considerations you have to take into account like cause maybe the screens are smaller?

Jeremy Stoller: 08:52

Yeah, with the web you have a lot less control over how people view what you were producing.

Perry Roth-Johnson: 09:03

Oh that’s right because you’re not printing it out.

Jeremy Stoller: 09:05

Right. When I have an exhibit panel, I have a panel I know it's you know so many inches by so many. And this is the real estate I have—it's always going to be that size, it will always be viewable the way that I set it up to be viewable. And with the web who knows? I mean it could be a tiny little phone or a tablet or a tablet or a desktop or you know a giant monitor that people are looking at this stuff on—it can be any of those. So, for many years now responsive design has been the big thing so you have to, you're not really designing one website. It’s like you're designing an infinite number of web designs, you know, depending on how much some of the browser window is open or what device people are on.

Perry Roth-Johnson: 09:50

And sometimes when we make exhibits we will try to blend these worlds together right? Like sometimes a web might creep literally into the museum like we have like iPads in Ecosystems...

Jeremy Stoller: 10:02


Perry Roth-Johnson: 10:02

...that help people identify what fish they are looking at or what animal.

Jeremy Stoller: 10:05


Perry Roth-Johnson: 10:07

So then like those two worlds really are kind of overlapping for you definitely.

Jeremy Stoller: 10:11

Yeah, I mean there has definitely been more and more digital making its way into exhibits themselves, and for better or worse and I think there’s, I'm very interested myself in the intersection of those faces and looking for ways where we can sort of blend them and and have it create experiences that aren't just a digital experience that you can have as easily at home as you can have if you're coming into a museum, right? But make it something where it's... it may be digital and that might help us with some of our communication goals because of the flexibility that digital provides and its ability to react to different things, but it still has some of that sort of tangible feel that you get in a normal museum exhibit.

Perry Roth-Johnson: 11:07

Right. Do you have a favorite exhibit you know maybe at the Science Center, maybe somewhere else?

Jeremy Stoller: 11:13

I am notoriously bad at picking favorite anythings. I’ll point out one which is not generally thought of as an exhibit but I find just fascinating is in our Ecosystems galleries. In the LA Zone we have the giant map printed on the floor of Los Angeles. It’s a satellite image Los Angeles and I'm constantly amazed you know when we opened and we’d see people just crawling around the floor looking at stuff on that map and it was a, I mean it’s a static graphic, I mean there's nothing moving about it, right, but but it nonetheless produced a lot of interactivity and people got a lot out of it and saw, you know, oh here's my house and I can see how, where that relates to where the Science Center is and other things are. So, it was interesting.

Perry Roth-Johnson: 12:07

Like, why do you think people are crawling around on the floor to find out where they live?

Jeremy Stoller: 12:11

It’s, we’re showing them a perspective that you don't get to see in life very often, right? And even today when everybody's got Google Maps on their phones and on their computers, right? So, so they'll see satellite imagery, they’ve seen that before, but nobody's got a monitor that big, right? Nobody's got a screen that big that they can look at the map.

Perry Roth-Johnson: 12:35


Jeremy Stoller: 12:36

So it’s being able to show them this perspective that they've never been able to see in one place and allow them to get really close to it and look at it, you know, and you can see like oh there's my house, there's my car parked in front of my house right down to that level. To me it's almost an accidental win, right? It was an accidental exhibit, you know, they put it in there because it made sense for the LA Zone to sort of show LA and it’s a good atmospheric kind of thing to give some context to the gallery, and I don't know that anybody expected it to have that impact on people.

Perry Roth-Johnson: 13:19

Well, Jeremy, thanks for helping me take a little peek behind the scenes here the stuff that people are always looking at interacting with when they come to the Science Center. They probably had no idea that you were part of the team that kinda make it come about, so thanks for coming on the show.

Jeremy Stoller: 13:33

My pleasure, anytime.

Perry Roth-Johnson: 13:35

That’s our show and thanks for listening. Until next time keep wondering. Ever Wonder? From The California Science Center is produced by me, Perry Roth-Johnson, along with Jennifer Castillo. Liz Roth-Johnson is our editor. Theme music provided by Michael Nicholas and Pond5. We’ll drop new episodes every other Wednesday. If you’re a fan of the show be sure to subscribe and leave us a rating or review or tell a friend about it. Now our doors may be closed, but our mission to inspire science learning in everyone continues. We’re working hard to provide free educational resources online while maintaining essential operations like on-site animal care and preparing for our reopening to the public. Join our mission by making a gift at californiasciencecenter.org/support.