If you were about to build a home would you go to a contractor and say “I want a 3,000 square foot house. How much will that cost?” We occasionally get asked that question. “What does a 3,000 square foot exhibit cost?” We often educate with examples of square foot prices. Yet, there are many questions and considerations that must be addressed before you can make an informed decision on an exhibit design and fabrication partner.
- What is your budget?
- What type of exhibit do you want, e.g. interactive, immersive, static, object driven, etc.?
- Does the type of exhibit you want match the budget you have?
- What’s your goal?
- What story do you want to tell?
- Who are your visitors?
When you pick an exhibit partner what’s important to you?
- Quality – do you want economical off-the-shelf furniture or custom-made furniture?
- Process – proven ability to listen, work closely with you, be responsive, on time and in budget.
- Cost – Remember the old saying quality, service or cost pick two.
- Creativity – do you want something unique or generic?
People tend to know the difference between a Lexus and a Prius. You can recognize that a custom-designed Timber Frame home is going to cost more than a modular home. Can you tell the difference when you are buying an exhibit?
Which costs more?
Hopefully, it’s obvious that a realistic looking diorama will cost more than graphic flats or taxidermy mounts on a green platform.
Each component in an exhibit can have different quality levels.
- Scientifically accurate models vs. cheaply made knock offs
- Realistic natural environments vs. abstract environments
- Off-the-shelf AV components vs. custom programmable components
- Materials used can make a difference in reader rails, casework, graphics, flooring, lighting, etc.
- Ability of craftsmen also makes a big difference in quality construction
Have you ever been to a new exhibit and seen graphics peeling, interactives not working or broken components? What is the cost of this? Do you consider that upfront when you hire an exhibit design firm? Do you consider that when choosing an exhibit fabricator?
Why pay for a better process? Just like poor craftsmanship, a firm that doesn’t offer you process as part of the package will end up costing more in the long run. The project can be emotionally draining, time consuming and frustrating. If the firm doesn’t communicate in an organized manner throughout the course of the project you may not get what you envisioned, you may be changed-ordered frequently, and what they deliver (on time, if you’re lucky) may be a surprise. If they don’t have fine-tuned internal processes how do you know they are accountable to any sort of quality control? Are they capable of providing you with a manual to clean and maintain the upkeep of your exhibits? The experience could be as different as going to Disneyland vs. the town carnival.
Are your expectations realistic? Do you expect a Lexus for a Prius price? Do you expect a home builder to come fix your broken refrigerator eleven years after they installed it? Do you expect your car to run without changing the oil? Do your research on the quality that you are purchasing. Realize that manufactured components will break down over time. Plan for normal maintenance of your exhibits.
Most people make buying decisions based on emotion and current pain. They justify the purchase with logic afterwards. Be self-aware and make sure you consider future maintenance. Will the quality that you purchase hold up? Be sure you are comparing apples to apples when hiring a partner. One may be using completely different methods and materials than the other. Be careful what you pay for.