Exhibition and interpretation of manufacturing is rare in Australia, and the Mint’s Factory Viewing Gallery is a unique draw-card for schools, domestic and international visitors. It has been the primary attractor to the Mint as a tourism destination since it opened in 1965.
The new exhibition for this space aims to communicate the coin making processes in a clear and engaging manner to maximise the appeal and impact of the factory views. Interpreting the facility presented certain challenges: the factory does not function on weekends, complex technical processes must be explained; the process sequence is not evident in the factory layout; and many machines are enclosed offering visitors no immediate cues as to their function.
My strategy for the interpretation was to distil the coin making process into a simple colour coded diagram of stages and steps within each stage. The process had never been documented in this way before.Lengthy text descriptions and technical manuals existed for some processes, but there was no complete schematic of the process from design through to the finished product. Although the diagram makes the process seem simpler than it actually is, regular consultation with all levels of staff throughout the development process ensured accuracy of content. Thus the content was shaped to create a meaningful and coherent visitor story, whilst remaining true to the fundamental principles and processes.
The colour coded diagram serves as both a physical and conceptual navigation aid. This overarching schema drives the whole design and enables visitors to make sense of each of the views into the different areas of the factory. Each viewing area has a distinctive colour that represents the relevant stage of production. This colour coding is reinforced through repetition in the wall graphics, touch screen housing, touch screen graphics and floor treatment. This means that as visitors learn about the detail of a process, this new knowledge fits into a structured schema reinforced by cognitive, sensory and spatial cues.
Each touchscreen displays an image of the factory area (Tool Room, Circulating Coin Hall, Proof coin room) taken from the visitor’s location. The visitor selects from items in their view (or items in the diagram menu) to see inside the equipment and observe the process, accompanied by explanatory text. The touch screen content includes videos that make otherwise hidden processes visible by close-up filming of machinery in action. In one case, a tiny camera was securely fixed inside dangerous equipment suspended over vats of acid to record the treatment of coin ‘blanks’ which few people would ever see first-hand. Touchscreens are accessible in five languages and the housing is designed for access by children and those in wheelchairs. Slave screens above successfully encourage group/family interaction. These also attract visitors to the touchscreens and generally enliven the space.
The colours in the diagram were drawn from the colour coded drums of coins and pre-coining blanks which are visible from the gallery. These colours and the circular graphic elements of the process diagram extend to tourism advertising materials and an FAQ wall at the gallery entry to increase visitor recognition and provide a comprehensive visitor experience.
As well as catering to general public interests, a driving consideration in the interpretation is connecting with students across curriculum areas and inspiring interest in technology and manufacturing. The gallery aims to demonstrate the connection between design and production and to introduce some scientific and engineering topics such as CNC machining, metrology, and metallurgy. The action footage from the factory seeks to spark interest in learning more about these professions.
The exhibition has an element of fun which engages and enhances the story of the exhibition. Children hop along the floor diagram, and all ages enjoy posing on the stacks of coins for a photo.
I would like to thank the Mint staff for their consistent and valuable contribution to development of the interpretation, from management to production staff, and in particular the gallery guides, who were an essential source of information about visitors’ needs and interests.
Hatchling Studio role: Interpretation planning and research; process diagram design; text for graphics and touch screens; touch screen storyboarding and project management.
Exhibition design: Whitecube
Touch screen development: Icelab
Graphics: Fig design
More about the project in Hatchling news here and here.