Pleasing displays depend on numbers & locations

Walkers prefer surroundings that are complex but understandable, neither bland nor unreadable.

Walkers prefer surroundings that are complex but understandable, neither bland nor unreadable.

To review, we are talking about the fourth of nine kinds of path: display paths. And we’d like to know how to stimulate interest in  sculpture or specimens along a display path, where to put them for greatest impact.

Here’s a suggestion:

We appreciate plants and sculpture along paths best when our surroundings please us. Pleasure peaks when the scene shifts. The new surroundings promise a surge of new information, a joy to us humans. So one of the best places for a new statue or botanical specimen comes just after a change in scenery.

In developed settings, scenery shifts typically at and just after street intersections. Partly as a result, signs are typically placed just before intersections to inform walkers how to proceed and shortly after intersections to assure them they’ve made the right choice.

Similarly, interpretive signs are usually placed just beyond a habitat shift to explain the new surroundings and, by happy happenstance, just when the walker is most receptive to absorb it. This further suggests that such signs should be placed either at both ends of each habitat, or the path should be made uni-directional.

Storm King Art Center often separates one sculpture from another by topography, as here where Maya Lin's "Wavefield" appears over a grassy knoll. [Photo: Edward Sudentas]

Storm King Art Center stimulates interest in sculptural forms by placing them just over the rise, as here with Maya Lin’s “Wavefield.” [Click on photo: Edward Sudentas]

This is true of all nine kinds of paths–we’re most receptive to new sights and sounds when the scenery shifts, and studies show we remember best what happens just after an intersection or open space.In fact it’s one way we remember paths: “Then there was a rhinoceros just past the intersection, and then there was a zebra on the far end of the plaza…”

In every case, the primary caution is that too many sudden changes leads to information overload, so discontinuities and displays should be spaced out along the route. That’s reason that over the past few centuries  botanical gardens have gone from crammed systemic beds to spaced out display gardens along a leisurely stroll route.

The peak of pleasure and the onset of overload varies. Where  the frequent visitor is enjoying the few things along the path that are new, the first-time visitor has already wearied of the overload of a path where everything is new.

Signage helps minimize overload, easily ramping the newcomer up to understanding. Signage can also be made optional, as with a cell phone dial-up system, used only by those who need it.

The opposite premise is that too few changes in surroundings lead to boredom. So along a bland route, breaks should be added to increase interest without being so numerous as to become jumbled.

For display path designers, striking the right balance between too much old hat and too much novelty, and placing the interesting bits in the right places are the keys to pleased “customers.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *