As one of the most famous museum’s in the world, the V&A attracts around four million visitors every year. Of those four million, some are first time visitors and some have become regulars, and some are happy just to explore the museum’s permanent collection, while others have come with a specific object or exhibition in mind.
Navigating the South Kensington museum’s three interconnected buildings, seven floors, 60,000 objects, five temporary exhibition spaces, four shops and three cafés is no mean feat even for the hardiest of gallery goers, meaning that its wayfinding system is an integral part of the overall visitor experience.
“Our brief was to facilitate an outstanding visitor experience, enabling people, whatever their interests, to explore the museum with confidence and curiosity. It was not just about getting people from A to B, but encouraging visitors to go beyond the ground floor, and discover lesser-known parts of the building and the rest of the museum’s collection,” says dn&co Creative Director Patrick Eley.
“Getting lost in museums is part of the fun – so much so, the shop even sells a keyring stamped triumphantly with the tag ‘Lost in the V&A’. But when you can’t find your way out, or more importantly to the toilet, it becomes frustrating and disorientating,” Eley adds.Black and white remain the core colour palette, while any extra colours have been stripped out except to highlight the museum’s paid exhibitions. “Acting as a beacon, these colours draw visitors through the busy ground floor getting them to their destinations faster, protecting one of the museum’s core revenue streams that help keep the permanent galleries free to enter,” says Eley.
One of the other key changes is a new map, which has been redrawn to work across digital platforms and environments as well as in print. Walls are now drawn as solid barriers, galleries are named as well as numbered, awkward cross-referencing has been removed and type sizes have been increased, all while making the map larger, more relevant and more compact to carry around.“Since the building is so vast, we took a city wayfinding approach,” says Eley. “People always need more help when a destination is out of sight, so similar to finger posts in an urban environment we introduced signs at the thresholds between spaces to reassure visitors they were still on the right route. They’re a bit like the breadcrumb trail in Hansel and Gretel, or the Theseus’ string in the Minotaur’s maze.”