Nina Simon (a museum exhibit blogger not to be confused with the singer) has a very interesting post on her blog, Museum 2.0, which discusses the concept of ‘negotiated agency’ as it applies to museum exhibit design. The term and the concept is borrowed from the famous game designer Will Wright (‘Sim City’). It describes the phenomenon whereby designers working in an interactive medium (such as video games or exhibit design) are able to use their design to allow players (or attendees) more or less agency when interacting with the final product.
To illustrate this, Simon uses the example of the game Pac-man vs Grand Theft Auto. While both are interactive experiences, the latter provides a much more open world and more options for the player. That’s why games like this are typically called ‘sandbox’ games. They provide a world that can be molded and significantly impacted by the player’s actions.
This can be applied to exhibit design as well. When designers are working on a new exhibit design, they can tailor it to allow visitors to the trade show exhibit more or less agency. In other words, a display can be designed so that it has hardly any interactive elements at all which may mean that it is less interesting and engaging, but also provides more control for the exhibitor to dictate the content and control the experience.
On the other hand, some of the most intriguing exhibit design allows a large amount of ‘negotiated agency’ and attendees are able to interact and even leave their own mark on the trade show exhibit. This means that the company who is exhibiting has to give up a measure of control, but often gains back a lot in that their exhibit is much more likely to make an impact on attendees.
This applies to museum exhibit design as well as to trade show exhibit design. Some of the most memorable museum exhibits that I can recall involved a great degree of interactivity. The same rings true for trade show exhibits. Allowing visitors to interact and tailor their own experience makes the exhibit infinitely more engaging. Savvy companies are already taking advantage of this to ensure that they maximize their impact with their trade show presence.