Some Observations on the Design of the Exhibit
Relevant to a Smaller Space
(updated 1/22/2011)

The main elements of the Smithsonian display gallery are:

  1. A high ceiling, with all the drop-down acoustic tiles removed, with all the industrial wiring and ducting painted flat back and with all lighting directed downwards, creates the illusion of a starry night sky. By configuring the gallery as mainly black, the visitor's attention is drawn towards any well-lit objects, displays and saturated color highlights. The conservative use of two saturated colors, orange and blue, are used to draw the visitor's attention to two themes: fiery impact on the one hand and sky and ocean on the other (respectively).
  2. A maze-like arrangement of exhibit cases and displays. Every line-of-sight ends in a display. There is no position from which a synoptic point-of-view can be seen. This invites the visitor to explore the maze and to some extent "memorize" the layout of the gallery space into different overlapping themes. One display, one wall, one case, penetrates the adjoining space of another. threading the user though the various themes.
  3. Large irons dominate the center of the gallery, inviting visitors to enter and touch the objects. Intimate contact with these irons imparts an illusory feeling of ownership to the visitor and she is reticent to "give-up" the item, or the experience, soon after. These objects draw the visitor inside and impart a very real feeling of ownership of the information in the display. Also, from this "central" point one does get, as much as possible, a view of all the themes that are on display.
  4. The Moon-rock display, reinforced by the colorless nature of the Moon itself, uses the least saturated pallette in the gallery. The extensive use of brushed aluminum adds to the high-tech look of space exploration and is completely devoid of color. The blue highlight accentuates our usual view of the Moon in the evening sky.

Most meteorites lack color and bold patternings. They are, quite bluntly, visually drab. In order to make them stand out visually, to make them grab our attention, we need to create a larger environment in which to place them which is even more drab and less visually interesting. Therefore, the colors surrounding a meteorite should be neutral, gray or dark and certainly less saturated with color than the meteorites on display.

Where the meteorite does exhibit bold patternings, either in its carefully lit Widmanstatten pattern or in the contrasting shadows and highlights of its abladed surface, we can depart somewhat from the above.

I would take issue of their choice of bright blue stands and boxes in displaying features such as orientation and flight markings (see below). Spot-lights accentuating these features with a neutral tan or gray background could have better served these meteorites. A great improvement could be made with more appropriate lighting.


The gallery has had its drop-down ceiling removed and all pipes, ducts, supports and conduits have been painted flat black.
This gives the dramatic impression of an infinitely deep night sky and focuses attention on spot-lit displays and back-lit graphics.
Ambient colors are unsaturated to give the gray and ochre color of meteorites dominance.
Two key primary colors have been chosen carefully for accent: orange-red accenting the fiery luminance of hot gasses and blue accenting both ocean and sky.

Multiple scales of display are intermixed with large irons inviting touch and small pieces securely behind glass.
Pathways are offset, giving the impression of fullness.
Note the impact of active titling, e.g. "IMPACT!"

The overall design is reminiscent of a Mondrian composition.

Large graphics attract attention to small artifacts mounted on blocks and rods of different heights.
The sans-serif type face is informal and unthreatening.
I've found the use of Comic Sans quite useful in making seeming distant computer programming concepts more friendly.
All of the text on this page was written in Comic Sans and should show up as such if your browser is set correctly

The globe in the ceiling penetrates into the display space and the distant image of Earth add to the illusion of being in the Cosmos.

Brushed aluminum provides the high-tech look of space exploration, the Moon rocks being displayed in the muted cool gray case with blue accents.

80/20 extruded materials would be well suited to replicating this look. The white metal tones complement the colorless surface of the Moon.
Again, large graphics draw the observer in for a closer look at the small rocks.
Strong vertical lines emphasize height and the large black background areas further serve to float the case in the dark vacuum of space.

Closeup of the individually lit jewelery-like treatment of the Moon rocks held in a case within a case.

Irons, visible from many locations in the gallery, invite intimate "touch."

Irons, visible from many locations in the gallery, invite intimate "touch."

Meteorites on the ground, meteorites on sticks, meteorites on boxes provide visual variety.

Perhaps the saturated blue attracts attention, but it washes out the subtle detail of unsaturated meteorites.
The aluminum information labels stand out brilliantly, but have been muted in PhotoShop for overall image clarity.
Spot lighting would improve the display.

Compare and contrast the use (or misuse) of color in these two displays.
<<< At left, the bright blue makes the meteorites appear drab despite their metallic scheen.
At right, the use of subdued unsaturated color makes the characteristics of the meteorites stand out. >>>