Thursday, September 13, 2012

Zoo-ming Into Labels in San Diego

Last weekend, I had the chance to visit the San Diego Zoo and was really struck by the variety of interpretive labeling strategies and designs in play.  Competing with lions and tigers and bears is tough stuff,  but I did see audiences of all ages engaging with some of the labels (in between doing things like making faces at baby hippos).  Although many of the labels were pretty traditional, the range of approaches and willingness to experiment a bit were worth observing--and provided lots of ideas that can be scaled for different kinds (and budgets) of exhibits.

So here's a bit of what I saw.  Above, the lesson that interactives are not just for kids, or even just for families as a woman poses in the fake iceberg in the polar bear section.  Below, part of an interactive showing how much meat polar bears eat daily,  using the easy to understand metaphor of a refrigerator.
The zoo had a number of fairly complicated messages about species conservation, climate change and other ecological issues to convey, and they did so in a number of ways ranging from the very simple to the complex.
This is a section of what, in a museum, we might refer to as a tombstone label, with the basic information about each species, but with the bar showing the range of endangerment of each animal.  The label below (really a large almost sculptural installation) talked about CO2 levels.
The zoo seemed to use, and appreciate the impact of sculptural installations.  Some of them were realistic animals to pose by,  but others just generated a sense of play or wonder.  Below,  metal monkey cut-outs along a walkway;  a snake skeleton, and a detail of paving.
Different areas of the zoo had distinctly different feels and incorporated designs and textures along with text and images to make those distinctions clear.  And in the popular panda area, a marker board like those found in restaurants keep visitors up to date and encouraged them to check out the panda-cam from home.
The zoo is a place where memories are made, and plenty of places were available for families to pose for photos:  on sculptures, behind big cutouts or playing with a big pull-out interactive.
And finally, two things that made me laugh.  First, a zookeeper, looking surprised as he's caught in the wild and second, a label with a caution I'd never seen before.  Clever and useful!

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