Game Plan – V&A Museum of Childhood

V&A Museum of Childhood

October 2016

Exhibition design

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The V&A Museum of Childhood commissioned Thomas.Matthews to design its major autumn 2016 exhibition – Game Plan: Board Games Rediscovered, and create an exhibition that explores board games from social, physical and historical perspectives.

Board games are not just games – they can be works of art and design, tools for education, or a mirror to the world and are played by everyone, young and old. They have a universal appeal that transcends cultural and language barriers, and can both teach and entertain us. The playing of board games is embedded into our culture, not just the games themselves but the act of playing, the interaction with family and friends, the lessons to be learned and the fun to be had.

Inspired by the many race games featured in the exhibition, the Thomas.Matthews team initially conceived a giant exhibition sized game board for visitors to ‘play’ when moving through the space. This chronological nature helps define distinct areas of the exhibition creating a simple timeline for younger visitors and also specific points for those looking for deeper interaction and learning. The designers spent time absorbing the content and getting to know the exhibition artefacts to ensure a real understanding of the nature of the gaming, including a couple of rounds of Totopoly, Chess and Go in the studio.

The visual language of the exhibition reinterprets the fun of board games by using bold colours, simple geometric shapes, over-sized numeral markers and clear and legible typography. The underlying ‘game grid’ sets a structure for the exhibition, this is translated into a pattern that morphs from 2D & 3D to define, and wrap, the exhibition space. The over-sized grids are ‘extruded’ into the space creating colourful cubes that act as both plinths for game artefacts as well as playful space defining forms.

Exhibitions manager Stephen Nicholls said “The team at Thomas.Matthews really brought the exhibition to life. Their response to the brief was inspired – creating a series of complementary yet very distinct environments adding a sense of fun in bringing the story of board games alive. They engaged thoughtfully and creatively throughout the design process, with strong attention to detail and commitment from concept through to production and installation. They were a pleasure to work with and the finished design is a credit to them.”

The exhibition will tour to a further four venues after the V&A Museum of Childhood and it was essential from the very beginning of the design process to plan for variability of space available at future destinations. The solution was inspired by game boards themselves – which are an exemplar of folding and packing away. The game exhibition components, such as the large format canvas frames, are lightweight and can be easily installed, packed and transported. Thomas.Matthews and the V&A Museum of Childhood worked closely to identify key pieces that can tour easily to future venues and minimise the need to construct walls.

From a sustainability perspective, temporary exhibitions often struggle to manage production waste and maintain a balance between quality, robustness and recyclability. To ensure the least amount of waste possible the design team worked closely with both LTD and Qwerk production houses. An example of this sustainable design thinking is found in the canvas panels where the waste from cutting the frame is used to create the text panels throughout the exhibition. In instances where the use of MDF is the most appropriate, it is Zero Formaldehyde and all the PVC vinyl used will be recycled once the exhibition has finished touring.

The exhibition is open to the public at the V&A Museum of Childhood in Bethnal Green 8th October 2016 – 23rd April 2017.

Lighting design: Graham Festenstein
Photography: Alys Tomlinson