• Max Mollison

The Design of Dare To Be Wise exhibition 2019

Updated: Sep 12, 2019


The University of Otago’s 150th anniversary exhibition, Dare To Be Wise was the biggest project I have taken on at the Otago Museum and was my first time taking the lead design roll for a large scale exhibition. I cant thank the rest of the exhibition team enough for all their help with making it a success. The exhibition showcases the far-reaching benefits to both students and society of the University’s history. Articles, artefacts, stories and memorabilia from the first 150 years were carefully collected and presented in a wonderful display of University of Otago history. Curated into three overarching thematic strands, Dare To Be Wise illustrates the world-leading research, manaakitanga, and lifestyle opportunities that come about with life at Otago.

The development of the exhibitions identity went through a few stages but was pretty much signed off very early on in the exhibitions conception and dictated the direction for the rest of the design process. It starts with a single jagged line, this line represents a journey. A journey of a student navigating through university and life as they gain knowledge and experience. This motif is used throughout the entire exhibition design and guides you through three stages, from DARE to TO BE, then finally to WISE.

The exhibition starts and ends with this single line that takes you on a journey. It was both a good way-finding tool and design tool with metaphorical qualities.

Along with this ‘Journey’ line the universities signature colours distinguish the exhibitions three separate sections. "Dare", the show's first section which is coloured blue, focuses on bold ventures while "To Be" (yellow) focuses on the lived Otago experience, and "Wise" which is bright red is devoted to the knowledge and wisdom gained and shared at the university.


The gallery was painted grey with the plinth for each exhibit painted its corresponding sections colour. This was to make it easy for the viewer to understand. Essentially I am literally breaking it down into primary colours to follow with a white line to show you what to view in order to make it as easy as possible to digest. This leads the viewer to experience the narrative in a way that is logical.


The bulk of the content was displayed on hundreds of labels split into three sizes fixed to clear acrylic stands. These formed a physical barrier between the guest and the objects as well as acting as in information bank for guests that wanted to learn more. When the objects lending agreements required more protection they were fully enclosed in cases with the labels fixed onto the acrylic windows. Content ranged from the scandalous introduction of mixed flatting to life-changing facial reconstruction surgery, bottle rocket wars, campus childcare for students and staff, secret WW1 tunnels, and much more…


The posters were pasted up in pairs. On one side would have the title and colour of a section (blue, yellow or red) and the other poster would be an image encapsulating that sections content. Marketing was spread from A1 posters around the city to bus backs, magazine ads and social media channels.

Titles and introductions to each exhibit were printed on large scale banner canvas. The font used was Rodondo by Olly Wood.



An exhibit that I was particularly excited to design was the recreation of a 1960’s student flat. I always loved the physical bedroom recreations though the decades Toitu Museum created for their Dunedin study Exhibition. We had a lot of help in terms of research and sourcing the objects for this particular exhibit because 1, I wasn’t alive in the 1960’s and 2, photos of inside a Dunedin flat of that time was slim to none. The walls and floor are full vinyl prints of textures I made to fit the era.

Dare To Be Wise opened on Saturday 1 June in the Otago Museum’s beautiful 1877 gallery. It will run until Sunday 24 November.

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© MAX MOLLISON 2020
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