Museography : the project

> French version

What is included in museography

Museography, whether in a museum, in a temporary exhibition or an interpretation centre deals with the exhibition sequence, and to the mediation of this content to its visitors.

The museographer, or exhibition specialist elaborates, defines, conceives it all. The presentation of the museum depends on his/her skills. This may range from editorial definition to document research, from text writing to inventing mediation devices and monitoring their realisation, from defining budgets to the general coordination of a project.

Sometimes, a whole team must be brought together with the museographer, with the librarian, researcher, iconographer, audiovisual, sound and multimedia scriptwriter, interactive device developer, editor, translator, mediator, presenter, preventive conservation specialist, economist, audio guide and embedded systems designer, accessibility specialist, the person designing the editorials and derivatives, or accompanying documents for the tour of the exhibition, etc., in order to participate in transmitting the content to the public – the main purpose of museography – these jobs may include all of the above persons or only a few – the number varies depending on the size and nature of the project.

When working at an exhibition, the curators truly do the work of a museographer, however they carry the name ‘curator’.

All sorts of dialogues

For the commissioner, the project leader and executive, or sometimes called “project owner” as in architecture – museography exists to respond to his expectations as general objectives which must be achieved, regarding exhibition style and also deadlines and budgets. The museographer’s approach ensures inclusion and respect for the audience.

Museography also includes the savants – scientists, researchers, collectors, specialists, historians, resource people…. Scientific expertise must indeed be included in content creation for the exhibition, and museology plays this role, acting as a mediator between the savants and the public. To do this, museography proposes methods for improving, expressing, researching and teaching such subjects – in a word their mediation, via an exhibition or a museum.

Another fundamental collaboration takes place between museography and scenography. Scenography is provided by architects, scenographers, designers and light specialists. They set the path, shaping it, and interpreting and translating the content defined by the museography.

Graphics also have a crucial importance in content expression: graphic designers no doubt bring the texts to life but also animate fixed images (icons, maps, diagrams, timelines, etc.), film presentation, interactive devices, educational information, directions.

At every stage in the conception, between museography and scenography/graphics, there are exchanges, dialoguing, and adjustments between form and content. These complementary approaches come together in one project and are mutually enriched.

Museography is only one of the skills necessary in the creation of an exhibition, but its role is mainly in the coordination of the said project. It often connects the different representatives, which suggests listening, imagination, persuasion and a certain sense of coordination. In many cultural institutions, the commission is provided by a museographer.

The presentation of a project is developed within the institution, or it may be completely or partially subcontracted externally.

Whatever the case may be, an exhibition, whether permanent or temporary, indoors or outdoors, in a museum or elsewhere, is always a collective work, always the result of a synergy among a multitude of actors.

The main steps

During the design of a project, the people responsible for the presentation, who are therefore in charge of defining the content, attend to what is usually called museographical programming (or screenwriting), which takes place at varying levels of detail that is, the project becomes increasingly detailed, as it progresses. They are the driving force and the coordinators, from the beginning and throughout the design and presentation of the project. They work as a link between scientific knowledge and future audiences. Establishing budgets and provisional plans is also among their responsibilities.

Designing an exhibition project or a museum can be divided into several steps. At each step, documents are created by all, they are approved, changes may be requested and made. It is an intense activity in which each one, commissioner/project owner, scientific expertise, museography, scenography, graphic design has its place and role. The work of one stems from and depends on the work of another, good understanding and great coordination are necessary for the successful completion of the project. The commissioner remains the main decision-maker and the general supervisor.

The main steps which are usually taken and which accompany the design and realisation of the project are described here. This adaptable framework has to be adjusted to suit each situation.

  • The Strarting Definition

The definition, idea conception and the framework in which the project will develop is the starting point. From this step, we are talking about museography. Providing the museography for the project is entrusted to one person (director or project manager, exhibition director or manager, museographer, curator, etc.), or to a team, either inside or outside of the institution responsible for the project, whose task it is to define the cultural objectives of the project and its outline, as well as estimating the time and financial resources necessary to carry it out.

At this stage, a preliminary study, called a definition study or feasibility study is often done, including a museographic synopsis. The needs are analysed, a diagnostic is made, and the subject, places and possible collections are considered, an identity concept is proposed, objectives are determined, the description of the spatial and functional constraints of the project (major scenographic options, ambiance) is begun : from here, the scripting of the project begins.

At this stage, planning and provisional budgets are produced. They will be refined during the following steps.

  1. When creating a new museum, or improving existing museographic equipment, this preliminary study is more important. Moreover, it includes an architectural and functional programme, a description of the audience, users, and desired modes of operation, and if need be, a preventive conservation approach and treatment methods for the collections.

These documents will form the main pieces of the consultation organized to recruit an architectural team (scenographer, often with an architect when constructing or restoring a building), which then produces an architectural and scenographic outline [ESQ].


  • The next step in developing the museographical project

Most of the time, at this phase in the project, the task of the museographer is divided into three main successive stages of conception:

  1. the creation of a museographical pre-programme (also sometimes called a general museographical programme)
  1. The creation of a museographical programme (also sometimes called detailed museographical programme)

(These two documents, developed in constant dialogue with the scientists and experts, serve as the basis for, design briefs for scenographers and graphic artists who spatially and visually create the exhibition. Document 1 allows them to produce a draft outline. Document 2 allows them to produce a detailed draft.)

  1. the creation of design briefs for the mediation tools (audiovisual, sound, interactive devices, audio guides, models, experiments, etc.), business consultation folders, to consult the businesses carrying them out. Another significant step often included in this process, is the editing of exhibition or museum texts.

The headings of each step vary from place to place, but what is found in each step corresponds roughly with the following:

  1. Museographical pre-programme (also sometimes called a general museographical programme)

To create this document, the person or persons in charge of the museography:

  • Are responsible for or coordinate the documentary research, targets to be met, works, illustrations, determine, if need be, the scientific research which must be produced and meets with a scientific committee;
  • Define the course, the ambiance, the principles behind the layout by describing the proposed visitor’s experience;
  • Decide on the content, prioritise the themes and organise their production based on the different sources of information available, according to choices made in constructing the narrative or the course;
  • Offer support and original mediation tools, from which they derive the descriptions (audiovisual, models, multimedia, augmented reality, sound, etc.);
  • Define the general methods of presenting the collections and participate, if need be in their preselection;
  • Define where the textual elements and illustrations are placed in the exhibition.

This document includes a definition of the scientific objectives, the mediatory choices, educational and cultural reasoning for the exhibition as well as the course’s scenario (content, division, prioritization of the themes, reference images, desired scenographic ambiance, proposed mediation tools, target audiences) and an editorial graphic chart.

This document is sent to the scenographer and the graphic artist, who then propose a scenographic and graphic draft outline. The scenographic draft outline develops shapes, volumetric measurements, general climates. Elements of the pre-programme are installed in the space, and the dimensions are predetermined. The scenographic tools are outlined, the main lighting line, circulation, the materials and the ambiance are also defined. The graphical draft outline defines a visual identity and a graphic chart (colours, ambiance, typographies, stylistic choices).

At this stage, the planning and budget are produced, by both the scenographer/graphic artist and by the museographer.

  1. The museographical programme (sometimes also called the detailed museographical programme)

This constitutes a finished, detailed and definitive version of the content definition of the exhibition course. It especially includes:

  • The detailed and structured description of the content, a definition of the number and the types of the mediation support tools (graphic, audiovisual and multimedia support tools, targets, etc.);
  • Definitive selection of the items and pieces presented, with signs showing their presentation modes, collage and conservation constraints;
  • iconographic selection and final film;
  • Exhibition texts, previously submitted to a reading committee and/or a scientific committee;
  • Synopsis of all the mediation support tools: audio-visual, audio guides, visual guides, sound, models, multimedia, augmented reality, etc.

In due time, those responsible for the museography may be responsible for the procedures involved in negotiating rights to loan exhibition objects/pieces of work, ordering images and the procedures involved in negotiating rights to images and items.

Building on the detailed museographical programme, the scenographer and the graphic artist create the detailed design, which, as its name suggests, goes into the draft outline with more detail. It involves the formal transcription of each element of the museographical programme. The scenographic tools, graphic art, lighting, audio-visual production and use of materials are spatially specified and technically defined. Detailed drawings of each exposed element are recorded. This detailed draft will then allow the creating of a scenographic project (PRO) which will contain all the execution plans for the general (exhibition ambiance) and detailed (each mediation tool) scenography. The graphic detailed draft details the layout of all the texts, image treatments, as well as the support, their dimensions, their installation and their execution process.

At this stage, the planning and budget are produced, both by the scenography / graphic team and the museographical department.

  1. Design briefs

Those in charge of the museography write the design briefs, which go into the tender documents for the content and mediation tools, in order to issue calls for tenders and to recruit businesses which will do them concretely. These may be films, multimedia, sounds, interactive features, shows, models, embedded systems… – among other examples. The planning and budget are taken into consideration.

Identically, those in charge of the scenography and the graphics write the design briefs and the tender documents, in order to issue calls for tenders and to recruit businesses to make the furniture, lighting, partitions, layouts, paintings – etc, and for the graphics, impressions and the installations – etc.

Material and audio-visual equipment, multimedia, computing are defined together by the museography and scenography and they are identically subject to the tender documents.


  • Completing the museographical project

At this stage, the museography team does many tasks. It involves:

– participating in the choice made to the providers who are going to create the content tools (audiovisual, multimedia, diverse installations, interactive devices, etc.),

– carrying out a definitive selection of the iconography, the sound and audio-visual records, and possibly negotiating their rights of use,

– making a definitive selection of the pieces, possibly negotiating their rights of use, organising possible transportation and management of the pieces,

– writing a final version of all the texts (often reviewed and approved by scientific referees and the commissioner). If need be, they are responsible for translations. They edit and proofread the texts, until they are ready for press,

– following, guiding, correcting the production of mediation tools (films, audio guides, models, interactive guides, sounds, etc.),

– ensuring work exchanges with the scenography and graphics team, for the final developments, the financial arbitrations, checks, etc.

– participating in setting up the exhibition, collection integration programme and mediation tools,

– ensuring deadlines, budgets, design briefs and the correct set-up of installations are respected.

Museography may also advise the commissioner on the operating costs (maintenance and function), on communication and the launch of the project, and the programme of events.

While the scenographic and graphic tools for the exhibition are being made in workshops or in businesses, those in charge must, on behalf of the commissioner-project owner ensure that there is a follow-up after the manufacture of the tools, that the deadlines are respected, items are delivered to the site, pieces are received and reservations are withdrawn. They are responsible for the installation and integration site, for its planning and organization. After the opening, they provide the work execution plans, and all the technical folders concerning their manufacture.

Different operating conditions

In the definition, conception and realisation phases, museography may take place in different forms, either:

> It is done internally, that is within a commissioner-project owner team, or the owner – part of the job may be contracted out;

> It is done externally as project management support, by a team responsible for the exhibition design or a museographer (working on a free-lance basis, auto-entrepreneur, individual entrepreneur, a sole proprietorship, a company, etc.), recruited via tender, and whose task is to help the project owner to define and pilot the project. They have an advisory role, a role where they may propose ideas, facilitate coordination, but the project owner remains the decision-maker. Often this position is held by those who carried out the definition study and the feasibility study and who ensure the project is coordinated and monitored;

> It is done externally in the context of museography project management. They are recruited through a call for tender, and must conceive and create the museographical dimension of the project. They imagine and produce the museographical project, and the commissioner-project owner approves it by requesting, or not, changes;

> It is done externally in the context of global project management, which gathers museography & scenography and graphic art – even architecture. It is recruited by a call for tender, and works to conceive and create the whole project. For reasons of decennial responsibility, it is therefore the scenographer or the architect who is the market representative.


And the footnotes…
*There is a distinction between exhibition and museum scenography, show and theatre scenography and the scenography found in performance halls, which makes three distinct jobs occur.

© Association Les Muséographes – Mars 2017