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Museum Design: Rethinking Traditional Exhibit Design: Volume Inc.’s Approach at the California Academy of Sciences


Using an inventive visual strategy that offers the visitor an experience akin to scientists exploring nature, Volume Inc. has redefined the approach to traditional museum exhibitions for the California Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park.

Under architect Renzo Piano’s direction, Volume Inc. collaborated with a design team to create freestanding modules, which float as a seamless extension of the building’s architecture. Unlike enclosed exhibits, the meandering quality of the open-air gallery encourages interaction and fosters discovery.

Volume Inc. founders, Adam Brodsley and Eric Heiman, studied how people use information to tap into a lyrical approach to information delivery. Using a hierarchy inspired by specimen display cases of early science, the visual language distills information into manageable snippets, without sacrificing rich content. The "specimen box" design promotes a meaningful experience that allows the viewer to digest the exhibit based on intuition and interest level. This design solution reflects how people process content in contemporary times, offering a "2-second, 2-minute or 2-hour" visit.

Housed in a contemporary cabinet of curiosities, the exploration of the "Island of Evolutions" and "Altered State: Climate Change in California" exhibits is enriched by a variety of media — specimens, videos, interactive displays, sustainable direct-to-ply prints and low-energy LED lightboxes — that support the museum’s mission to protect the natural world.

"Volume’s comprehensive approach to design and understanding of the exhibit experience was invaluable in accomplishing our goals for opening day, " said Chris Andrews, Chief of Public Programs at the California Academy of Sciences. "They created a multi-layered, engaging visitor experience that drew from tradition and translated it in innovative ways."

Exhibit photos available at:

Volume Inc. just wrapped the design of a 15, 000-square foot exhibit for video game developer Square Enix, as well as campaigns for the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts and the 29th annual San Francisco Jewish Film Festival. Volume Inc. has worked with corporate clients, lifestyle brands and cultural institutions alike, from Microsoft, Adobe, Sony, Logitech, Heath Ceramics, ReadyMade Magazine, Chronicle Books and Levi Strauss & Co. to the AIA, AIGA, SFMOMA and McSweeney’s.

Volume Inc. believes there are different volume levels for every person, cause and message. Helping corporate, community, and cultural entities fine-tune these levels to connect with audiences, Volume Inc. has created comprehensive identity programs, brand launches, exhibits, environments, books, films and Web sites. Co-founders Adam Brodsley and Eric Heiman are also both design professors at the California College of the Arts in San Francisco. For more information, visit

See also:
California Academy of Sciences Goes 3D with Dolby 3D Digital Cinema 
Museum Exhibit Producer Jonathan Katz Speaks about California Academy of Sciences at Two February Events in San Francisco

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