Brands as exhibits

—Juan Carlos Fernández

I’m fascinated by museums. I never miss the chance to take in an exhibit, either in museums that I know well and visit frequently, or those I discover travelling – be it planned or spontaneous. 

My professional bias means that I experience exhibits in much the same way as I experience brands. That has led to the analogy flowing the other way too: brands are the museums of business, gathering key elements of a company.

We can flesh out this idea from a variety of perspectives. Exhibits can be presented as a linear experience, with a starting point, middle and end, in much the same way as most films or novels. However, exhibits can also be immersive experiences, open to being lived according to the sequence that each person chooses – their own ordering of time and content. In museographical terms, you can centralize a show around a single focal point, you can decentralize it ¬– clustering elements together – or, you can distribute elements, linking them fairly freely with a general theme. 

There is also the question of meaning, depending on the context and the content. Both elements affect each other and help to construct the experience. For example, the same painting will be contemplated differently when it’s part of an exhibit on colour than as part of a show about technique or subject matter. It will also have a different impact when included for its cultural origin or for a specific historical period.

The way we experience an exhibit is another key consideration. We can take it in as an individual or as a part of a group that is observing. In other instances, the audience is an integral part of the exhibit, participating, collaborating and even interacting.

It’s clear that before any type of audience can live the experience, there is a lot of effort involved in the curating of the exhibit and its spaces. Museographers consider the interaction of rooms or installations, the order of displays, the type of information provided and its location, and even lighting, use of video or other multi-sensory elements.

So, if your brand were an exhibit, what would it be like? If you are a small brand with a specific audience, a smaller gallery would be perfect. An international brand, on the other hand, may need a large, diversified museum, full of rooms and themes. In a similar way, a brand that focuses on new technologies and innovation will need to communicate differently than one rooted in history or some official capacity. That said, your exhibit might need to straddle time and media, promoting a dialogue between past, present and future. Your brand may need to act like a Rosetta Stone, unlocking relevance the way an interactive museum display can do. There is no reason why a museum dedicated to archaeology must itself seem archaic.

You also need to think about how your audiences experience your brand. Do they come to spaces that you control? Do they talk to you? Or is it more likely that people will encounter you through a website or an app? And even when there are locations involved, as in the case of a restaurant or a bank, you need to consider the universe of contact points that may separate you from others. You need to define the narrative of each experience. In cases where an audience encounters an object unknown to them, informative texts take on far more importance than is the case experiencing virtual reality. Similarly, the typography of an exclusive jewellery store doesn’t need to communicate the same information as a mechanic’s shop by the side of a road. Those working in a park probably don’t put as much stock in their business cards as a plumber might. In each case a need for an identity programme is clear, but not everyone needs the same.  

Take time to reflect before designing or planning a communication and implementation strategy. Imagine your clients exploring the unique space that your business offers them. Be aware of how they see you, touch you, feel you. Consider how they discover and understand you, in the same way designers of museum exhibits do. It’s clear that people will come to experience you in so many more ways than just through your signs or letterhead.

If we remember that museums host the work of our muses – our inspiration – then we mustn’t forget a final lesson they offer our brands. They too can surprise you and evoke sound, light and awe. We can amaze our audiences, so let companies invite in their own muses and seek to unlock inspiration equally worthy of being exhibited.  

Juan Carlos Fernández

Founding partner and creative director

Accomplished conjuror of symbols and metaphors, tireless creator of ideas. He created Ideograma in 1999, today he is in Montreal inspiring, directing and motivating our creativity. Author of the book Crealogo (

More from Juan Carlos Fernández's journal