A Look at the Design of the Smithsonian

In this post, I aim to dissect and discuss the design of a museum and its exhibits ranging from the content, presentation, and contextual information. Using this design breakdown, I intend to design a new interactive kiosk for one of these exhibits.

Virtual Exhibits

To start, I would like to get a general overview of a museum, I have chosen the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum. Due to the current state of the world, I have opted to use the virtual walkthroughs of these museums.

  • Overall, the Smithsonian features a large floor space which allows it to feel open even with all the exhibits in place.
  • The design of many of these spaces looks like they intend to mock the inside of aircraft hangers to help build the setting.
  • The exhibits themselves provide a sense of scale that allows viewers to really understand just how large air and space crafts really are.
  • Most of the exhibits were view only and lacked personal interaction but it was cool to see many of these crafts suspended in the air in a way that allows us to view them at all angles.
National Air and Space Museum, Washington DC: First Floor
Steven F Udvar Hazy Center - First Floor


Continuing with the Smithsonian Air and Space museum, I will look at the use of typography. While online virtual tours of these spaces leave it difficult to read the contexts of each exhibit, much can still be discerned via the patterns of the type itself.

  • Almost all the type is exclusively san-serif type throughout the museum and exhibits. This complements well with the space and modern technology theme.
  • The information panels have a strong hierarchy and organization with images and colors. They also make use of a grid system to organize bodies of text.
  • The information panels use lots of text, a bit too wordy for me but is rich in cool historical information and facts.
Exhibit information panels at the Washington DC National Air and Space Museum

Physical Space

With the exhibits in the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum, I found it interesting how the overall “vibe” of the physical space and experience felt very modern instead of the expected heavy-handed tech look I expected for areas that contain great feats in human technology. I really appreciate the design decision as it does not take away from the experience of each exhibit.

No matter how old I may be, these spaces give me a feeling of wonder as I see these giant machines and their context in the history of human aviation. I think this was the exact feeling the museum designers wanted to evoke.

Learning Something New

It just would not be a museum experience without learning a few things along the way. I am a huge fan of space science and science fiction so of course, I will naturally gravitate to anything related to space.

Mockup, Lunar Module, Apollo

Online Exhibit: https://artsandculture.google.com/asset/mockup-lunar-module-apollo/agHe6VTRFg1JDQ

The image above is a 1:1 model of the Apollo lunar module which was used as an extended stay vehicle for the Apollo 15. 16. and 17. It was also used to carry lunar roving vehicles. This mockup was installed in the Smithsonian in 1974.

In Conclusion

Although my experience was virtual due to the circumstances of the world, I overall enjoyed researching the exhibits and design found within the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum. I think it was very insightful to see how each exhibit was laid out and the design of the spaces they are placed in. Observing the uses and qualities of type and their organized layout also gave me insight into how an interactive experience can be constructed to fit with the rest of the exhibits.




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Collin Patrick

Collin Patrick

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