The exhibit design refers to the Victorian context of Darwin's work, with dark wood and brass cases, while incorporating a contemporary perspective. It moves back and forth from an ordered rectilinear world with decorous Victorian detail, for the sections focusing on Darwin's life, to curving organic shapes in the areas where discovery and science prevail. The section on the Beagle voyage is organized into little islands of content, and the pathway through the exhibit is evocative of the circuitous voyage itself. In contrast, the sections on his life in England are ordered into traditional rooms. The final section, on modern science, is defined by curved railings and graphic banners.
The graphic design focuses on the idea of looking closely, inspired by Darwin's own magnifying glass, the first artifact of the exhibition. Graphics play with shifting scales, moving back and forth from macro to micro views. Large images are created of many smaller images: an orchid is composed of thousands of tiny birds, insects, reptiles, and other animals; a wallpaper pattern is derived from beetles and terriers.
On the macro level, images are enlarged to the point of abstraction for case panels and wall banners. Because the photo budget was limited, these images were generated by simply putting objects on a scanner.
Typography refers to 19th-century woodtype posters as well as elements of Victorian book design, with centered and curved elements and graphic flourishes. The London wallpaper literally disintegrates, evoking the corrosive effect of Darwin's theories on the previously established order.
"This exhibit stands out technically and esthetically, with an excellent balance between media. The interpretive graphics complement the exhibit wonderfully; they have a distinct visual hierarchy, are very legible, and communicate the information well. A strong Victorian influence doesn't come across as gimmicky but as a contemporary reinterpretation of the Victorian esthetic. Overall, a very intelligent design."
David Harvey (Creative Director), Tim Nissen, Dempsey Collins (exhibit design), Stephanie Reyer, Iris Jan, Rick Onorato, Dan Ownbey, Ellen Sitkin, Caroline Seitz, Catharine Weese (graphic design), Lauri Halderman, Margaret Dornfeld, JoAnn Gutin, Martin Schwabacher, John Whitney (interpretation), Mike Cosaboom, Mindy Weisberger (media)
AMNH, Exhibitus, Smallcorp, Color Edge Visuals