Museum exhibit design

Design students develop new exhibit for Fort Walla Walla Museum

Design students from Walla Walla University partnered with Fort Walla Walla Museum during spring quarter to create a new museum exhibit. The collaboration provided students with practical experience in exhibit concept development, design, budget management, and fabrication and installation, as well as experience working with a client and meeting client expectations.

The students developed a space in the museum’s Exhibit Hall 4 that was in use as functional storage for large and small items including the Jo-So Sheep Wagon, a doctor’s buggy, an ox-shoeing chute, and several display cases filled with dozens of unlabeled tools. Over the course of the quarter they worked in teams to come up with solutions for an exhibit within the existing environment. They drew up designs, created cost estimates, and pitched their ideas to the museum’s collections manager, Shannon Buchal.

“When I gave them the project, I basically just took them into the space and asked them how they felt about it and what they thought needed to change,” said Buchal. “Then I directed them to the cases with the tools. I asked them to help turn it into an exhibit that would be informative and teach people who didn’t know quite as much about the tools and the industries to which they belonged.” The results were beyond anything the museum expected.

The new exhibit incorporates a clean, finished look with warm, rustic qualities that relate well to the museum sensibilities and to the items and industries on display. A double-sided wall focuses the viewer on a few particular tools and signs identify and describe them. Tools of various trades are featured in four sections labeled woodwork, livestock, leatherwork, and industrial. The different methods used to display the tools lend visual interest to the installment, while the addition of photos add even greater context.

The wall deliberately moves the viewer around the installment, and on one side a bench with a built-in display allows young children to peek in at an array of metal tools. On the wall are two interactive elements that invite children to solve visual puzzles. The design team also incorporated a new wooden viewing platform into the Jo-So Sheep Wagon for shorter visitors.

While the team was only tasked with reimaging the tool case display, they also produced several hanging signs that identify other items in the exhibit hall. The overall effect is transformative.

“I think that it looks like a whole new building,” said Buchal. “They were able to breathe new life into the space and make it something fun and informative that all ages can enjoy.”

“All of their work looks so polished and professional, from the shape of the wall to the section lettering and the built-in artifact cubbies,” said Jennifer Pecora, museum communications manager. “It’s great to see new creative energies make positive changes.”

WWU design students involved with the project were Richard Collins IV, Carlye Smedley, Kristina Bergeron, Richard Wilcox, Ross Nelson, Connor Hubin, Ryan Pierce, Ashley H. Saturné, Rohan Creighton II, Caleb Brown, Ian Milledge, Andrew Beardsley, Janette Wagness, Michael Wang, and Pablo Wenceslao, professor of product design.

Learn more about the WWU product design and graphic design programs at

Posted July 22, 2019

Student uses a screwdriver to install a sign on the new exhibit while another student holds the sign.
Carlye Smedley and project lead Richard Collins install a sign with the names of each student who contributed to the project.
Students work in the museum on final installation of the new display.
From left: Students Connor Hubin, Ashley Henry-Saturné, Carlye Smedley, Janette Wagness, and Rohan Creighton work in the museum on final installation of the new display.
A display of large puzzle pieces of a picture of sheep hangs on the wall.
The design team incorporated interactive elements that young children might enjoy, such as this puzzle feature.
Completed display with dark wood wall, display table, and display boxes.
The completed display features a river-inspired undulating display wall and a new table with boxes for displaying tools. The wall features tools in four categories: agriculture, woodwork, leatherwork, and industrial.
New colorful signs hanging from the ceiling of the museum above large vehicles.
New hanging signs for other areas of the museum were designed by student Janette Wagness.