Why does SEEING look the way it does? Claire Healy, Exhibition Designer, explains!

In this blog post, our Exhibition Designer for SEEING, Claire Healy, take us through why the gallery looks the way it does for this exhibition.

When beginning the process of telling a story within a space, it helps to borrow from literary theory and map a story shape onto the space. This gives the visitor’s journey a structure and helps to ground the experience. As Lead Designer for the SEEING exhibition at Science Gallery Dublin, one of the first decisions I made was to use the ‘lilypad’ story shape. This shape works well for theme-based exhibitions, where each exhibit highlights a different aspect of a single theme. If you imagine that each lilypad is an exhibit, then its roots below the surface holding everything together, represent the theme. The visitor ‘jumps’ from lilypad to lilypad, exploring different facets of the theme. This story shape gives equal importance to each exhibit and allows the visitor to explore the exhibition freely, which was ideal for SEEING.


Find out more about Claire's lilypad story shape in this downloadable PDF design explainer she made for the show


The concept driver for the early design work was the notion of perception. Working closely with the Science Gallery team, I developed a number of design principles and used these to finalise the design approach. Seeing is a rich theme for a designer to work with, and the thematic crossovers between art and science are clear. I knew we had an opportunity to do something visually strong related to science that would spark the visitors’ imagination and make them question what they were seeing. I wanted to demonstrate the wonders of both colour and form, of how we perceive them within a space, and to generate curiosity around SEEING and the exhibits. The exhibition design concept statement describes ‘a bright playground of interactivity full of visual surprise inspired by our perception of colour and form’.


This also features in Claire's design explainer – just click here to download!


For every exhibition, Science Gallery Dublin chooses a lead colour. This colour is something that is deeply considered by the team. For SEEING, the lead colour was inspired by ‘visual purple’, also known as rhodopsin – a pigment in the retina that converts light into electrical impulses and acts as the mediator between sight and perception. This colour is said to precede our perception of any other colour. When choosing the colour palette for exhibition elements, we opted for complimentary colours to this lead colour, using a range of clean pastel shades and pops of neon throughout for their colour emitting properties. The colour wheel or visible spectrum was also an inspiration due to its roots in science and its use in art and design. Discovered by scientist Isaac Newton, David Batchelor illustrated the roots of the colour wheel in his book Chromophobia (the fear of colour); “Newton did more than name the colours of the rainbow. He also took the band of differently refrangible rays and joined up the two ends. In doing this, he made the first colour circle, the first diagram of colour and colours.” Part of our colour strategy included using colour blends and gradients to reference the visible spectrum and analogical colour – colour that blends from one to another seamlessly.

Perhaps the boldest colour move was to apply translucent coloured window film to the entire glass facade of Science Gallery Dublin. A first for the gallery, this window made a big impact both inside and out by creating coloured light within the gallery spaces that transformed depending on the time of day and the strength of the incoming sunlight. The window graphic by graphic designer Sinead Foley demonstrates colour blending through overlapping translucent coloured window film.


Our glass facade facing out onto Pearse Street

We used the same technique at the entrance of the gallery where the automatic doors open and overlap to create a colour blend. 


Our front doors

Inside the exhibition, in an entirely seamless white space, large anamorphic supergraphics melt from the wall into the floor and appear as 2D or 3D depending on the vantage point you perceive them from.


The supergraphics seen from two different viewpoints

Coloured vinyl also links exhibit elements that may otherwise seems disparate and moves across horizontal and vertical planes to accentuate our perception of the space. 


Blue light from the exterior glass vinyl fills the space

Colour jumps from one surface to the next in the label design where neon vinyl applied to the back of the labels creates a colour glow that can be seen reflected on the white exhibition walls. The boundaries of two solid colours applied to the back of each label in diagonals are blurred when reflected to create a colour gradient. These were then lit from behind by lighting designer Eoin Lennon with a few clear LEDs to further enhance the effect. 


Neon vinly applied to the back of our signage creating a glow

The lighting design built on the approach to use colour blends and gradients. We created blends of coloured light using ROSCO gels and linked the ground floor to the first by creating a colour gradient along the steps of the stairs.

The feature wall used a combination of these ideas. Lit up from below, white light bounces off a fluorescent pink wall and escapes the computerised numerical control (known as CNC) cut graphic quote to blend with colour applied on the front of the feature wall using a blend of coloured light created using ROSCO gels on spots from above.


One of the quotes in the exhibition space

Quotes were placed around the exhibition (and beyond!) to demonstrate how SEEING permeates all kinds of disciplines and modes of thought. Shaun O’Boyle, the Research Coordinator, and Lucy Whitaker, the Digital Marketing and Communications Coordinator, chose a range of quotes that help to give a glimpse of the breadth of the theme.


Even the toilet walls became part of the exhibition!

These quotes helped to support the overall aim of the exhibition – to inspire conversations and thought around the theme of SEEING and to push the boundaries of what we currently understand.

Another final design element which prompts us to question our perception is the exhibition catalogue, designed by Sinead using photochromic ink which appears only in sunlight or UV light.


Now you see it, now you don't! Photochromic ink appearing outdoors in UV light.

Want to see Claire’s designs in the flesh? SEEING is open to the public at Science Gallery Dublin until September 25th 2016.

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