Exhibition Planning and Design

Code: AHVS488K
Apply this course towards: Cultural Resource Management, Collections Management, Visitor and Community Engagement

Course description

Exhibitions are the public face of your museum or gallery. They should inspire powerful visitor experiences. This immersive course examines the entire exhibition development sequence. It explores the principles that lie behind creating successful exhibitions that engage visitors' minds and emotions. It will address the following topics:

  • the foundation of planning
  • the planning process
  • storytelling and interpretive planning
  • exhibition design
  • design of graphics and signage
  • interactive exhibit design
  • fabrication and installation

Fieldwork, teamwork and presentation of an exhibition design concept provide you with opportunities to build exhibition planning and design skills. The course is designed for anyone who is, or might be, involved in planning an exhibition in a museum, gallery, science centre, and heritage site or tourist destination. 

View information on accommodations in Victoria.

Learning objectives

You will consider:

  • the evolution and roles of exhibitions
  • visitor needs and characteristics
  • managing the exhibition process: the creative brief, the critical path of the project, team roles and responsibilities
  • critiquing exhibitions and determining success
  • Interpretive planning: writing for exhibitions, storytelling, effective communication
  • evaluation: before, during and after the completion of the exhibition
  • design tools: communicating the concept, controlling traffic flow, the importance of sightlines, rhythm, color, texture and lighting
  • the power of graphics: interpretive text, illustrations and images
  • effective interactive presentation
  • choosing media: current trends vs. traditional values


  • All participants should have university-level research, writing and critical thinking skills.
  • Though not required, prior experience in a cultural organization would be an asset for success in this course.

Please contact the Program Office if you have any questions or concerns.


“I believe that museums can change peoples’ lives.”

Tim Willis is one of Canada’s most experienced museum professionals. During his 25 year career, he has led the creation of more than one hundred exhibitions, helped museums to shape their long-term visitor experience strategies, and been a strong advocate for the power of museums to change and enrich peoples’ lives.

After moving to Canada, Tim worked in private practice to plan several of Alberta’s heritage interpretive centers including Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump. In the late 1980s, Tim joined the Royal Alberta Museum as head of Exhibitions and Marketing. Under Tim’s leadership, the Royal Alberta Museum developed one of the most active exhibition programs in Canada. From 2001 to 2006, Tim led the development of a new visitor experience - part of the Royal Alberta Museum’s $180 million renewal project.

Joining the Royal BC Museum in September 2006, Tim’s focus was to create a long-term vision the entire visitor experience. He also headed some of the Museum’s most intriguing and successful exhibition projects.

In 2013, Tim decided to work independently sharing his knowledge and experience with students and advising museums and other clients.

What participants are saying

“Tim is an incredible resource, a brilliant lecturer and his presentation infused with humour, humility and personal insight from experience/expertise. He was top notch!“

“I feel I have a clearer idea of my career path, where I want to go and the skills I will need.”

“Tim Willis has been one of the finest instructors I have had in the past 25 years. His experiences and insight has taken a course of important content and made it accessible and very enjoyable.”

“Course readings and assignments tied in very effectively with the work done in the classroom. The preparatory assignments were very helpful and I appreciated the opportunity to be challenged before starting – it helped me get into the right mindset. Group project was very fulfilling—I had an excellent group—and helped to solidify the theoretical principles.”

“Tim was a fantastic and engaging instructor. He has a wealth of personal experience and knowledge, and it was an amazing asset to share in that.”

“Tim was incredibly helpful and his presentations were excellently delivered. It was a pleasure being his student. His breadth of knowledge and experience were amazing, yet he was very approachable and easy going.”

“I wanted to update and strengthen my exhibit design skills. Definitely accomplished!”

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