A key goal of the project was to integrate the Art Museums’ surrounding context into the map. Thus helping to orient visitors not just to the structure itself but to the broader foundation as well.
In early 2022, attendance at the Art Museums of Colonial Williamsburg (AMCW) was rising from the COVID-19 lull. The foundation had just recently completed a 65,000-square-foot expansion which altered the entire circulation pattern for the structure. Under these pressures, it became obvious that the previous museum guide was not functioning well for wayfinding purposes as well as failing to enhance the visitor experience.
The wayfinding environment at the AMCW is complex. The institution is actually two museums in one building, The DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum and The Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum and is connected by a subterranean gallery space to the reconstructed Public Hospital of 1776. The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation (CWF) is also preparing to break ground on the new $25 million Colin G. and Nancy N. Campbell Archaeology Center, directly across the street from the Art Museums entrance. Both buildings will exist in a similar architectural vernacular with symmetrical colonnades, and will have similar functions in Foundation’s Master Interpretive Plan, therefore forming a larger joint guest experience.
The previous guide was designed to be compact, low ink and easy for staff to fold as it was printed almost daily on an in-house office printer. The map was oriented around the building entrance and not the entrance to the galleries, where most visitors first picked up and interacted with the museum guide. This led to a difficult wayfinding experience for guests. Additionally, the museum guide labeled all of the many museum galleries, leading to excessive information being displayed on the map. After identifying these key problems I began researching the content and layout of other major institutional maps and guides. Through this process I decided that a dimensional map with perspective would best suit the needs of our guests.
I was able to simplify the layout and reduce the amount of content to the essentials. I reoriented the map so that when a visitor first steps into the galleries the museum map is oriented the same way they are facing. I also added exterior features such as the surrounding roads, the iconic Public Hospital of 1773, nearby bus stops and directions to the Historic Area. This exterior context better integrates the AMCW into the wider CWF Historic Area. By adding the silhouette of the under development Archaeology Center, the map is ready to be expanded to seamlessly include both the Art Museums and Archaeology Center as an interconnected unit. The team and I reduced the exhibitions shown on the map to ten of the most popular and most useful for wayfinding, such as galleries featuring iconic objects, like the Carousel in Sidewalks to Rooftops or the “Warming Machine” in “Every Article… suitable for this Country” .
Iconography and Dynamic Programming
I made adjustments to the existing iconography set, adding icons to better specify restroom facilities and accessibility. Additionally, an expandable set of “artwork” icons were created to identify the ten promoted exhibitions. The information about the Art Museums was also reduced for clarity. To make the guide more adaptable to ever-changing Art Museums programing, I proposed a dynamic QR code which would seamlessly connect guests the upcoming attractions web page. The content is updated monthly but QR code never needs to be changed, allowing the museum to purchase larger quantities, limiting cost.
Numerous prototypes were created, issued to floor staff, and then revised upon, to reach the final guide. This insured functionality, clarity, and legibility. The final guide has two covers; one representing an item from the DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Collection and one representing the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Collection. They are mixed and then distributed to guests. As of October 2022, more the 50,000 guests have made use of the new Art Museums Guide.