Case Study: The Bowes Museum

The Bowes Museum is a must visit for anyone interested in the decorative arts.  Located in the heart of the County Durham countryside, the museum and grounds are purpose built and modeled on a French chateau. It was commissioned during the mid 19th Century by John and Josephine Bowes to house their art collection of over 15,000 pieces.  Their vision was to introduce and share art with the local population.  The museum took 23 years to build and opened in 1892, attracting 63,000 visitors during the first year.


Project background

Significant redevelopment and upgrading has taken place over recent years, including visitor facilities and the development of new galleries.  Working with Colin Williams at Inscape Design, Picto have undertaken two projects to date — branding, information and display systems in the entrance foyer and the design and presentation of interpretation material for a new gallery English Interiors 1500 -1900.

Projects with Colin are always technically challenging and extremely well designed.  He is known for his love of historic buildings, contemporary design and an unstinting attention to detail and we work well together. This is typical of the collaborative relationship we enjoy with many of our clients, be they specifiers or end users.

The historic setting at Bowes called for a subtle blend of traditional sign making, while interpretation panels required the imaginative application of the very latest direct to surface print technology and substrates.

left image: reception graphics in bronze finish; right image: glass funders board


English Interiors Gallery

English Interiors 1500-1900, the new gallery designed by Inscape Design, houses an amazing collection of paneling, furniture, sculpture, paintings and other interior objects through seven defined periods — starting with Tudor and Early Stuart, Restoration and Baroque, Palladian, Rococo, Chinoiserie, Neo Classical and Regency through to Victorian.  Interpretation material for each period is classified into themes — the paneling, colours, social context, and style.  Each theme is given a slightly different treatment using modern materials, which sit along side the works of art without competing with them.

Our first task was to find ways to display the various images of paintings, illustrations, photographs and copy supplied by the Museum curators.  We needed to achieve a very high print quality, whilst providing permanent fixtures and in all cases opted for direct to surface digital print.  Graphics for the paneling and colours are digitally printed onto fabric which is held in tension within a minimal aluminium frame, in wall and free standing formats.  Social context are rigid panels with a textured laminate surface flush mounted within bronze finish lecturns.  Style are reverse printed onto 10mm thick acrylic with an etched background and polished edges.  Each image is printed twice (double density) for added depth, the accuracy of registration which can be achieved with the latest printers enables us to do this.

English Interiors Gallery — interpretation signs for Tudor & Early Stuart


The typeface used throughout the project is Garamond.  We were always mindful of the need to meet with best practice guidelines (DDA) for signs and information graphics but historical context does allow for the use of a sans serif face and we felt that was appropriate for Bowes.

A scheme of primary and secondary colours were selected for each historical period to co-ordinate with the heritage paint colours used for each room set and provide sufficient contrast whilst allowing for modern production techniques.

left: The Paneling — free standing sign with stretched fabric panels;right: Social Context — rigid panel within bronze finish lecturn


Jane Whittaker, Head of Collections at The Bowes Museum comments:

The interpretive panels that Picto have produced for us are stylish and innovative. We know from visitor research that the design, in order to guide people through the four centuries of style in our new gallery, has been successful.

Dealing with interpretation graphics has been a slight departure from our bread and butter work, but applying design principles and using our knowledge of materials and processes remain.  A special thank you to Colin for his belief in our ability to deliver on this project.

  • Jus Hobbs

    Reply September 7th, 2011 6:11 pm

    As a graphic designer, I can really appreciate the content of this blog. Love the topics (especially the Loo!) and the info and pics are pure quality! Will be a regular visitor! 🙂

  • Steve Waggett

    Reply September 17th, 2011 8:20 am

    This project is great, the signage at Bowes Museum is excellent really fits the space well having seen it on location.

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