An eye for design

The development of the exhibition Iconic Australian Houses saw a collaboration between two of our in-house designers with freelance creative Tracy Lines

Good design is making something intelligible and memorable. Great design is making something memorable and meaningful.

Dieter Rams, Industrial Designer

Hi, I'm Tracy Lines and I am the Creative Director of Tracy Lines Creative (TLC).

I run a small graphic design studio focused on branding, editorial and book design. TLC brings to life interesting projects with beautiful, thoughtful and effective solutions. Storytelling in the most engaging and simple way possible is what I do best. My background as Long Term Creative Director of Inside Out and Lifestyle Publisher of Murdoch books illustrates my love of print. I developed the initial concept design for the exhibition Iconic Australian Houses. 

You can find out more about me at the following website:

Hi, I'm Kieran Larkin and I am a Senior Exhibition Designer with Museums of History NSW (MHNSW).

I originally graduated from the National College of Art Design, Dublin, Ireland with a degree in Industrial Design. Since then I have gained over 15 years international and Australian industry experience. My professional expertise includes Acting Head of The Special Projects and Exhibitions Unit for Museums of History NSW (MHNSW) and as Senior Exhibition Designer, and long-term employee of MHNSW. Currently I am responsible for the design, tendering and production management of major projects including the up coming exhibitions Towers of Tomorrow with LEGO® bricks and Harry Seidler: Painting Toward Architecture.

Hi, I'm Anne-Louise Falson and I am Project Designer with Museums of History NSW (MHNSW).

I have over 15 years industry experience working with a diverse range of clients and design disciplines in the public and private sectors in Australia and the UK. I studied Fine Art and Visual Communications and began my professional career as a photographer before shifting to print media.

I create exhibition graphics at MHNSW. This is a dream job for me. I work with truly inspiring content that fuels my life-long interest in art, heritage and the built environment. I am passionate about the creative process and the challenge of interpreting the stories to provide engaging and innovative designs that add value and meaning to the visitor experience. I am currently working on design concepts Towers of Tomorrow with LEGO® bricks.

How did you become involved in this project?

Tracy Lines: I was asked by guest curator Karen McCartney to design the exhibition with her.

Kieran Larkin: The Interpretation & Exhibitions team (I&E) at SLM always have a busy schedule. Along with our head of department, I allocate projects to my design colleagues. For this project I took on the 3D exhibition design.

Anne-Louise Falson: As project designer within the I&E team, I was asked to manage the design and production of exhibition graphics in collaboration with Kieran, Karen and Tracy.

What was your design role for this exhibition?

TL: I conceptualised and designed the visual panels for the exhibition. I worked closely with Karen in realising the creative vision of the exhibition based on the content of her books Iconic Australian Houses. Although I didn't design the books I am very familiar with them, as Karen and I were working together on Inside Out magazine when she wrote them.

KL: As the 3D designer for this exhibition, I was responsible for designing the physical space. This really means how the space will look and feel and working out where the themes, objects and panels would sit. I also manage the production of the panels and exhibition furniture.

A-L: Once Kieran had designed the layout and ensured the content would work as an exhibition at the Museum of Sydney and as a travelling exhibition, it was my job to work closely with Tracy Lines to help her realise her design. This included some adjustments for accessibility as we have exhibition guidelines such as font size that we need to adhere to, as well as budget and time constraints.

As a largely graphic exhibition, the layout of the images and text was crucial to the success of the exhibition design. Photo © Jamie North for Sydney Living Museums

TRACY, what was it like as a guest designer working with the Exhibitions Team and guest curator Karen McCartney?

TL: It was an immensely enjoyable and interesting project. The team was incredibly helpful and knowledgeable. As Karen and I have such a long history of working together, we instinctively know what is needed; we have a communication shorthand. There is no ego or stubbornness; we just keep working until its right. The collaborative way in which we approach anything we work together on is always effortless and enjoyable.

KIERAN and ANNE-LOUISE, how did you find working with a guest designer and a guest curator?

KL: Working with a guest designer and guest curator is something that we have done regularly in the past. Both Tracy and Karen were very organised. They were both a pleasure to work with and to talk through the concept. Tracy was able to turn her designs around in record time, which allowed us to move the initial part of the project forward quite quickly.

A-L: It was stimulating and rewarding to be a part of this project team. I had less responsibility as a designer and more responsibility to help the external curator and designer fulfill their vision. I’ve been a fan of Karen’s book series Iconic Australian Houses since Assistant Director of SLM, Caroline Butler-Bowdon, first introduced me to them. The combination of beautiful content and design, together with our experience at SLM, meant that this was guaranteed to be a highly successful and popular exhibition.

What main themes or ideas informed your design?

The content inspired my ideas. I just absorbed the images, and started building the design. It called for a simple and modernist approach; measured and beautiful in its simplicity and restraint.

Tracy Lines

KL: The main drive in the design was to showcase the fabulous photography from the book. When visitors come we want them to really enjoy and sink into those marvellous photos and be able to see the detail within the homes of these people and architects who are being represented. So for me, it was about trying to get those images as large as we could while still having a practical design that would be easy to install and de-install when it needs to travel.

What was the design process?

TL: My first question was ‘what is possible’? I feel the most important skills when working in a team are asking questions, listening, and everyone working to their strengths. The team at SLM have such experience in this area, and they helped Karen and I scope out the project. Once we had a sense of the possibilities and limitations we got to work. At the beginning it's like a map, placing images and text in an informative and interesting way. As we are both experienced in working with editorial content for magazines, books and online, working on an exhibition at such large scale was interesting. It was so funny, at first we couldn't even comprehend the size [of the space and panels].

We went all ‘old school’, measuring out a panel on a massive piece of paper and sticking it to the floor! It's only when I tangibly ‘see’ what I’m working to that I really ‘get’ it. I think it’s the way for most visual people.

KL: The very beginning of the design process was, of course, to meet with the in-house exhibition team and with Tracy and Karen to go through their ideas for the exhibition. It was particularly important to sit with Karen and have her explain a little bit about how she had organised her books and why she had produced them in the first place. Then we worked through the initial themed layout, which did change through the development phase, and establishing how best to fit the themes in a logical order in the limited gallery space. This meant we had to consider how people would navigate around the physical space. We also wanted to make the gallery dynamic, giving it a little bit of life rather than just a pure graphic display.

Once we have the exhibition theme layout approved then as the 3D designer I develop the production design from the initial concept design. This includes designing the details of the panels such as their size and hanging system, developing detail plans and layouts for the space, producing drawings for the graphic designers so they know exactly what size they have to work with for laying out of the text and the graphics, and sending off drawings to be quoted for production.

A-L: Once Tracy had provided the magnificent ‘bones’ of the design, I began putting the layout to the test – enlarging various sections to actual size and pinning them up on walls to assess the visitor experience. Tracy’s design was like a beautiful book layout for walls and sometimes when you enlarge a design for exhibition display some of the proportions need to be reviewed. In most cases, text and images appear to ‘shrink’ when you place them on walls, especially type which often needs to be much larger than you initially think. There also needs to be more differentiation between sizes of text so that there is no question in regards to the hierarchy of information for the reader.

Due to the generous amount of content we did not have the luxury of large amounts of clear space; there needed to be adjustments to the grid so that the visitor would know by visual prompts that one theme had ended and another had begun. Also, each theme needed to work as a stand-alone set of panels so they could easily be displayed in a variety of gallery spaces when the exhibition begins its regional tour later in the year. Once the design layout was approved by the team I began the testing process to see how images and colours were working at actual size on the materials specified. Finally I created the logotype, introduction graphic panels, film titles and iPad material, adhering to the design style set by Tracy.

What Design challenges did you experience and how did you overcome them?

TL: Working on an exhibition requires a different way of dealing with content but ultimately it is still storytelling, just the same as magazines or books. Although the size and organisation of information was initially challenging, once I got my head around what the needs were it came together quite instinctively.

KL: As a travelling exhibition I am always thinking about who is going to be installing the panels at the different venues. I have to consider a variety of unknown quantities such as which staff will install the exhibition, what level of competency they may have, and what resources will be available at the smaller institutions. The installation needs to be as easy and safe as possible, ensuring all risks to people and the exhibition are reduced to a minimum. Each venue also has set parameters. These may include certain hanging system requirements to ensure the panels are flat against a wall, and the physical amount of wall space available. The panels also have to be lightweight for easy travelling. One of the main challenges was finding the right material for the panels. We went through several materials until we settled on a product called Dibond which is a laminated aluminium and plastic composite. It is both lightweight and very rigid, allowing for a graphic substrate to be fixed to it.

A-L: As Tracy has mentioned, working on an exhibition requires a different way of dealing with content so it meant that I inevitably had to edit Tracy’s design. Although this could have been a challenge, Tracy was very flexible and once she trusted me to adhere to the integrity of her design it was an easy, enjoyable and successful collaboration. The other potential challenge was working with photographs that were originally shot for publication quality. The files needed to be enlarged and retouched in order for the images to really 'sing' so that visitors could immerse themselves in the detail within the houses.

I am very happy with the outcome, it’s ended up a beautiful show, the photographs sing, and I was very impressed with Karen’s contacts into the architectural world. Through her we were loaned some wonderful furniture for the space including a very nice German designed table, some foldable stools and some gorgeous pendant lights which really added to the atmosphere of the gallery.

Kieran Larkin

Past exhibition

The dining table is positioned on a raised area with the kitchen adjacent, accessed to the right of the table behind the bank of cabinets. The wall hanging is a piece of carpet.
Past Exhibition
Past exhibition

Iconic Australian Houses

A behind-the-scenes exploration of 30 of the most important Australian homes of the past 60 years

Published on 
Veronica Kooyman

Veronica Kooyman

Former Assistant Curator

Veronica has worked in museums since 2009 and has been fortunate to work at the Australian National Maritime Museum in Darling Harbour and the National Motor Museum in the Adelaide Hills where she had far too much fun riding around in vintage cars. Between 2014 and 2018 Veronica worked as part of the exhibitions team, learning and sharing new and fascinating stories from her home city.