While visiting Savannah, GA last summer, I attended an exhibit of masterworks by French sculptor Auguste Rodin at Telfair Museums’ Jepson Center. The show was superb, and, of course, the sculptures didn’t disappoint, but the graphics in the exhibit and around town were equally impressive. A quick review of my trip photos revealed that I had taken as many shots of the signs and banners as I had of the artwork itself.
The show’s bright purple and magenta color palette stood in direct contrast to the dark bronze sculptures and to the contemporary, white museum interior. The bold palette was counterintuitive, unexpected – and exactly as intended. To those familiar with Savannah, this was yet another beautifully designed offering from Telfair’s talented creative director, Holly Akkerman.
Early in her career as an exhibits intern at the North Carolina Aquarium on Roanoke Island, Akkerman enjoyed making signs. “Doing the aquarium’s signs suited my skillset and sparked my interest in museum design,” Akkerman recalled. “I’ve always enjoyed organizing information.”
Now applying her talents for Telfair, Akkerman puts that skillset to use every day. “We have 15-18 exhibits a year, 3-5 of which require major marketing campaigns, so we stay very busy,” she explained.
For the Telfair’s Rodin exhibit, Akkerman imagined the museum interior as a blank slate, which she strategically populated with bursts of color, as well as Rodin’s iconic signature. “When choosing colors, everything must be considered, including how well it will work on the marketing pieces,” she said. “And in Savannah, you also have to factor in the trees and plants growing everywhere.” A subtle sign can look good one day and be lost in overgrowth the next.
The city also shuttles visitors around town in distinctive “pedicabs” that can be decorated to provide extra visibility around the downtown’s central core. “The pedicab company gave us a template, and we usually decorate five or six of these ‘moving billboards’ for each show,” Akkerman said. The pedicab designs always reflect the other design materials – incorporating the show’s color palette, fonts and graphics – to reinforce a cohesive system.
Working alongside museum curators, Akkerman researches themes and ideas that arise from pre-show planning meetings. “Some exhibits come with supporting imagery, but often we will pull graphic elements from sources such as lender art archives or the Library of Congress image data-base,” Akkerman explained. “The fonts used should also be evocative of the work on display.”
Akkerman suggested a few tips to ensure effective event design. “The best designs are fun, engaging and legible, but don’t be afraid to try a crazy idea. If it starts to get too playful, step away and come back later,” Akkerman said. “It’s always better to evaluate your work with fresh eyes.” Critical evaluation is harder than it sounds, but taking time for one “last look” is often worth the effort.
Akkerman’s work for the Telfair Museums proves that the concepts of boldness, legibility and a sense of fun are not mutually exclusive.
More examples of Akkerman’s creativity can be seen at hollyakkerman.com.
Hidden in Plain Sight
During renovation of the Telfair Academy building, scaffolding covered the exterior façade, making the museum appear closed, and attendance suffered.
With the budget already stretched, Akkerman had to find a solution that was efficient and effective. “The scaffold wrap was blue, so we only printed a few panels and matched the color to maximize the effect,” she explained. “The word ‘OPEN’ was the most important part of the message, so we made it the design’s most prominent element.”
The overall impression was that of an integrated design solution, not a last-minute add-on – and it didn’t break the bank.
Enhance your Signs of the Times reading experience by exploring our interactive digital edition. Receive it in your inbox by subscribing online.