I have just returned from a weekend in London, during which I made a trip to the Museum of London to see their London Street Photography exhibition.

The friend I was with and myself are London-navigation savvy so we had no problems with buses and finding our way to the museum. After getting off the bus we walked in the right direction and saw some large lettering on the side of a building for Museum of London. Eventually, after walking round two sides of a building, we found our way in to the museum only to discover that there was a quicker way from where we had just come from.

On the information counter there was a notice saying that all the day’s timed tickets for the exhibition had run out. Although both of us had checked the details on the website, neither my friend nor I had noticed that there were timed tickets so we were a bit frustrated about this. (It turns out this information is actually on the site, but well below the fold and not on the Visit Us page at all).

After a little wandering around the permanent exhibitions we happened upon a queue of people who (a small notice informed us) were waiting to get in to the Street Photography exhibition. We did the obvious thing and joined the queue. We’d come all the way so figured we may as well wait. We noticed that the people around us in the queue had timed exhibition tickets. There was no-one to ask about this so we left the queue and went to find someone.

It turned out that the people with tickets didn’t need to be in the queue, and it was actually for people without tickets. Still figuring that we’d come all the way to see this exhibition we got back in the queue and waited a further 20 minutes before being allowed in.

The actual exhibition was very good. There was a lovely selection of photographs stretching right back to 1860, along with helpful information about the sort of cameras used, and trends in photography by era. They covered everything from street urchins to the decadent classes enjoying the city, with each photographer’s take on life demonstrated in their work. I was also interested to see an iPhone amongst the display of historical cameras, with careful explanation of the way it has changed street photography via its ability to upload media to the internet straight away.

It was very busy, and people’s inconsiderate behaviour did cause a bit of frustration when trying to see the photographs, but we did manage to get round them all.

The lesson of this story is that signage is very important. Too many signs, as we can sometimes find on Britain’s roads these days, are not much use. What we need is appropriate signs for the location, giving the customer the information they need. If there had been a sign on our way to the museum, we wouldn’t have walked out of our way for several minutes. If there was clear signage about the exhibition tickets, and the nature of the queue, we would not have wasted time and been confused at that point either.

Next time you’re thinking about the layout of your venue, your exhibition or a new building, take a moment to really consider signage:
What will the user be thinking?
What will they want to know?
How can you help them?

It’s a fairly simple process but it really will make a difference.

Museum of London

Image from museumoflondon.org.uk.