In case you haven’t heard it enough already, the recently renovated Museum of Making Music represents a pretty significant shift. Beyond new galleries, new displays, new interactive instruments, and more, we’ve completely reimagined our storylines. We wanted to step back and focus on our mission to explore the accomplishments and impact of the music and sound products industry. It doesn’t take an industry insider to know that there are many accomplishments with far-ranging impact. In short, there were a dizzying number of stories for us to choose from!

But a museum is far more than a collection of stories (and artifacts, of course). It’s also an experience of moving through space and processing content. People move and process differently, which means that we couldn’t just design for one experience. We worked to structure content in a way that would allow any visitor to find what they were looking for, and to tailor their experience based on their needs. There’s a term that’s stuck with me from my previous life in software that seems to sum up this approach: information architecture. This can mean different things depending on who you ask, but I like this definition from Peter Morville: “the structural design of shared information environments…the art and science of shaping information products and experiences to support usability and findability.” In other words, how can we organize the wealth of information included in the renovation to make it approachable, digestible, and navigable for as many audiences as possible?

To start, we developed a hierarchy—often used in museums—of primary, secondary, and tertiary information. Primary information gives a broad sense of a presentation; ideally, someone could visit the Museum, consume only primary information, and still have a good sense of what we’re all about and the stories we’re telling. Visitors to the Museum will see primary information panels located at the entrance to each gallery.

Secondary information clarifies and describes, letting audiences know about specific parts of a presentation. This corresponds to the text panels introducing each of the displays within the galleries. Tertiary information drills down to specific, in-depth details. This had previously been located on physical labels placed inside rails around each display, but we’ve now shifted tertiary information entirely to our new interactive touchscreen kiosks (which we call “digital rails”).

As an example, let’s say I walk into the Museum’s first gallery, “Making the Instruments.” I’m immediately presented with primary information in the form of a large, floor-to-ceiling panel. This semi-permanent panel tells me what the gallery is about. If I look at nothing else, I at least know that this part of the Museum presents stories about how instruments change and why. But if I head over to a display, I might see a smaller wall-mounted panel with secondary information headed by a title like “Being Heard.” This panel tells me specifically about how guitars changed so that, as ensembles and venues grew, musicians could be heard. If one of the guitars on display catches my eye, or if I want to learn more details about the changes that luthiers made to their guitars, I can dive into the digital rail to explore tertiary information.

With this structure in place, visitors can effectively craft their own experience of the Museum. They can choose where and when to dig in, whether that’s learning more about a favorite topic, exploring something new, or—a visitor after my own heart—reading every single word they can.