Carolyn Doroba’s Critique of Exhibitions Concept, Planning and Design by Tom Klobe

Exhibitions Concept, Planning and Design

By: Tom Klobe

 Critique by Carolyn Doroba

            Exhibitions Concept, Planning and Design is an excellent tool to help exhibit designers and curators plan both aesthetically pleasing and informational exhibits.

Tom Klobe is an award-winning exhibit designer who worked at the University of Hawaii museum, where he designed exhibits that beat out competitors like the MET and Smithsonian to win top awards. Klobe started out his career as an artist, and reading his book you can see how important his art background is in his methodology for creating the best exhibits possible.

The book thoroughly covers all aspects that Klobe considers important in exhibition design, ranging from the actual space where the exhibit will be, to how the human resources department is important, to funding, to the size of text on labels. The design of an exhibit is extremely important in order to best showcase objects, but it is important that the designer not lose focus on the objects while planning an exhibit. When Klobe talks about the process of exhibition design, he speaks about it in a fluid, artistic way. Klobe begins by stating the most important design aspect is space. Everything else is secondary. Before an exhibit can be put into motions, the mood of the exhibit needs to be decided and 3D models made. Without this critical planning stage, there will be difficulties in communicating your idea to others. Throughout the text, Klobe includes images with examples of the good and the bad.

Klobe briefly mentions the important details in concept, planning and design, focusing on the things he finds most important. While he briefly mentions how important transitions are, he spends page after page in detail describing how fonts should be equally spaced in sans serif font-type and positioned lower where everyone can read them. Some aspects of the book give specific details, almost like a how-to (as with the fonts). Others quickly go over topics, showing they are important but need to be assessed on an as-needed basis. For example,  surveying needs and resources is important in planning design, but it is based on current as well as future need is, for budget and space reasons. After talking about planning the exhibit itself, Klobe goes in to the importance of visitor’s needs, collaboration, interpretation, and even how to acquire funding. The first 80 pages read quickly and will be an invaluable tool to future curators.

The rest of the book consists of describing the case studies Klobe mentions as examples through the beginning. Most of the cases are from Hawaii, but there is good variety. Klobe chose exhibits that about art, architeture, and everyday items, so curators from a variety of backgrounds canrelate. The case studies serve as useful templates to go back to, since Klobe critiques the good and the bad in each one. I think the 50 case studies will be the best tool to apply, especially if you are a visual learner. He takes the principles he discussed at the beginning and shows you how to put them into use.

Most of the book reads like a set of vague instructions, where you are required to fill in the details and adjust the instructions as necessary for your own project.  That is one of the things that really drew me to this book. I feel like anyone interested in designing exhibits could read this book, whether artist or scientist, and still come out with the same basic, fluid principles Klobe is trying to convey.  The book can apply to all exhibits, not just art.

One aspect of the book I really appreciated was that it did not feel like Klobe was trying to make museums seem like temples, it was actually the contrary. The whole idea behind his principles is that exhibits should tell stories, set moods, make people feel, learn, and become immersed in the objects. When talking about how important visitor’s needs are, and how everyone has different learning styles, Klobe talks about museums as educational institutes. Museums have an obligation to present sensitive topics in a way that encourages critical thinking without patronizing any cultural group. He emphasizes tolerance and participation by all.

Klobe seems to portray exhibit design as a living, breathing thing. No exhibit will be exactly alike because of all the outside factors, such as building space, location, funds, even lighting.  Overall, Exhibitions Concept, Planning and Design was an excellent read. I would recommend the book to anyone interested in curating or exhibit design, as well as anyone already involved in those careers. In art museums, many times exhibit design is about showcasing the objects one after the other along the wall with little information given, which makes an exhibit seem cold and unwelcoming. In natural history museums, many times exhibits are more about the text and information rather than the objects themselves, which makes the exhibit seem overwhelming. That is why I think Klobe’s book is a beneficial read for all subject areas. No matter what your museum’s mission is, you can showcase your objects in a way that is pleasing to the visitor both in both aesthetics and information. It does not have to be one or the other. Klobe looks at exhibits as though they are an art form in and of themselves. The silent art.


Klobe, Tom. Exhibitions Concept, Planning and Design. Washington, DC : AAM Press,            2012. Print


Purchase at Amazon for: $59.99, paperback

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment