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About Beth Fileti
Process Book

History Wall

☕️ Get to Know Beth Better:

  1. I love, love, love new challenges. What a great excuse to read about best practices for a totally different discipline.
  2. One of my favorite things to do is break a complicated thing into manageable pieces.
  3. Thinking about a user literally walking and experiencing something has made me a better digital designer.

Project Overview

01. Task

Design a museum-style installation to showcase a company's history

02. Responsibilities

Design, Process, and Content Strategy

03. Tools

Adobe Illustrator, Paper Prototyping, OpenFrameworks

The Work

The Project Brief

A really good way to get my attention is to mention an 80-foot blank wall. When  Insmed, a Pharmaceutical company, was moving to a new office space, they approached Second Melody with a unique environmental challenge. They wanted to create an 80-foot long History Wall. The wall would be a museum-style timeline of important event and objects from throughout their company's history.

Challenge: Nobody on the design or curation team had done this before.


I started the discovery stage with two clear directives.

  1. Research like crazy.
  2. Start defining constraints.

After completing the first two, I was able to come up with a third directive for the discover stage: Define  One Big Idea and Three Reminders

Research Like Crazy

The first thing I did was purchase a book on exhibit design, Exhibit Labels: An Interpretive Approach by Beverly Serrell. This proved to be a worthwhile investment and helped me better understand the roles, considerations, responsibilities, and design strategies that go into crafting a museum-style exhibit. Specifically, the book emphasized identifying "one big idea" that you should ensure the exhibit reflects.

While the book was geared more towards the content curation side of exhibit design, it gave me enough strategy clues to help orient me to a brand new medium and set of constraints. Lucky for me, they felt familiar:

  1. Define one big idea. Regardless of how much or little someone engages with the exhibit, a viewer should walk away with one big idea clearly communicated to them.
  2. Put yourself in the viewer's shoes. Define, as specifically as possible, what their experience of the work should be. What information are they absorbing within a single moment? What clues do they have as to where to go next? What pathways are available to them? What do you want viewers to be reminded of as they engage with the material?

In the book, Ms. Serrell writes, “The Big Idea is the answer to the question, 'What is this exhibit about?' Visitors generally walk through exhibits quickly and incompletely, so the Big Idea can’t appear just once in the introduction—it has to be a thread that weaves its way through the whole thing, giving people momentum, and moving them in the right direction.”

"...it has to be a thread that weaves its way through the whole thing, giving people momentum, and moving them in the right direction."

Start Defining Constraints

The second thing that I did was to start working with the content development / curation team to understand the physical objects that needed to be included in the exhibit, the overall span of time that needed to be depicted, and an idea of what each individual entry would look like. I defined exactly what each item was and where it fit into the timeline. Additionally, I worked with the curation team to catalog the physical dimensions of items and discuss which objects might be presented together.

In conjunction with these steps, I started talking to the installation team and the building team to get as good an understanding of the space, the physical possibilities, and the literal constraints.


Challenge: The overall span of time needed to be flexible. This is a company with a growing number of accomplishments. We needed a way to design flexibility into the timeline and the design.

Challenge: The wall we were working on did not yet exist. Structural decisions would have to be made rather early in the process. Speaking with the building team, we learned that we could only go 4" into the wall or 4" off from the wall, to ensure we would meet fire code requirements.]

Architectural drawing, with the length of the wall highghted
Architectural Drawings Ensured a Strong Understanding of the Space

Define One Big Idea and Three Reminders

First, I defined the three "reminders" that the wall should convey. Since this wall was intended to capture the history of a company, I wanted to imagine how an employee would feel when they walked down the hallway. I brainstormed a number of the reactions that I wanted the wall to inspire, and then looked for similarities between the ideas to develop three reminders. As these ideas started to come together, I realized that they aligned rather neatly with the three-pronged content strategy which was developed for Insmed's website: an emphasis on culture, science, and patients.

The exhibit reminded me of...

  1. the journey that has brought all of these items, all of these people, all of these ideas together. (Culture)
  2. the work that lies ahead of us. (Science)
  3. the reasons we do all of these things. (Patients)

This shaped the exhibit's one big idea. Every viewer should feel a personal connection to  the people who have shaped Insmed; the science that has been born from their work; and the patient experience, which motivates it all.


The discovery stage, and especially the two challenges, was critical to helping me shape the next steps of the process. Due to timing, the first client deliverable needed to capture a great deal of strategy and planning. In addition to the big idea and client experience, we needed to present and get approval on a strategy for the construction of the wall, as well as a top-level of the wall's visual direction and ideas.

Content planning

I printed each of the timeline events, color-coded them to denote items vs milestones, and cut them into small moveable strips. I also created a taped-out scaled-down version of the wall in our office. This became my paper playground throughout the project.

Color-coded individually cut paper strips lined up along the side of a table.
Moveable Paper Strips to Map the Content

Working at Scale: Maintaining a clear understanding of scale and proportion was an interesting technical challenge for this project. I worked with the exact dimensions in illustrator but scaled down to 10% of the final size. This allowed me to easily test of check dimensions  at actual scale or working scale. As an extra bonus, not only were my dimensions easier to work with, but my typographic proportions were significantly more manageable as well.

A label from a working file showing the file name, dimensions, the concept number, and a note reading "Built at 10% scale"
File Slugs Helped Keep Things Clear and Organized

With a clearer understanding of the dimensions and the content, I was able to develop a rough content flow. Owing to a vast difference in the number of events per timespan, and the need for flexibility, one of the first decisions that was made was to allow the time/space relationship to be set by milestones, rather than having a predetermined amount of space for each period of time. This allowed us to better emphasize the overall narrative (one big idea!), rather than constraining the work with a more rigorous adherence to information design. Essentially, the milestones were more important than the timespans. With this approach, content was organized by it's stage of company development, without regard to how many years the company was within that stage.

Construction planning

Since we had to make decisions on the construction of the wall before we had a finalized design, I wanted to try to give myself enough constraints in the future to facilitate the work, without painting us into a corner. I also knew that despite it being one continuous hallway, I wanted to be able to create specific moments to guide a viewer through the content. This led to the development of sections of the wall that go in and out, to help create a sense of pacing to the exhibit. Without knowing the exact dimensions and locations of the pieces, planning for variations and permutations become ideal. Looking at our 4" inset/outset requirements, I realized that for larger items or cases, we needed to give ourselves the maximum available depth of 8". As we wireframed a content flow, we were able to plan for the larger display cases to sit on the shallowest partitions. Additionally, we could take advantage of the extruded parts of the wall, and plan for moments when the 8" depth might be necessary there, by introducing recessed niches into the more forwarded partitions.

Red wall with cut paper and tape to map out the scale of the wall, and simple paper constructions to show levels of the wall extruding and recessing.
Paper Model to Explore Wall Construction
Paper Model for Content Planning

Visual planning


At the time, the company had recently redesigned their website. An effort which was supported with the brilliant work of Alicja Colon, a paper artist. Working with Alicja (and taking her "Paper, Light, Action, Yay!" workshop) helped inspire, inform, and identify key visual concepts for the Insmed brand. Among those visual ideas was the concept of bouncing color within a photograph, as a visual metaphor for the influence that our coworkers and environment can have upon us. I wanted to see if there was a way to carry this subtle visual element into the physical experience of the History Wall, both as an homage to the paper illustrations and as a continuous visual metaphor that could be referenced throughout the Insmed identity.

Held up against a wall, a shoebox lined with bright orange paper, shows orange shadows on the interior of the box.
Making Orange Shadows Inside a Shoebox


The design challenge of wanting something to feel "full" but also be able to have a level of flexibility for growth was particularly interesting. While web design and digital content handles constraints like these particularly well, this project needed to literally and conceptually establish a sense of permanence. As the company's history grows and evolves, it's historic milestones may greatly change in their significance. To solve for this, we worked with the production team to find an option for hanging boards. This helped us create three ways to modify the content of the wall, with varying levels of permanence/disruption to other milestone areas. First, you can print an updated hanging board. These are attached using simple z-clips, and is an easy way to quickly re-structure the content. The final wall has 4 places for these boards. Secondly, you can print a board and have it placed directly on top of the flat wall. This is a bit more of a permanent solution, and if not done strategically, could end up overpowering the overall effect. However, it is a useful bit of flexibility that can be achieved within the design. Lastly, you can re-print the entire section of vinyl. Since the wall was segmented into larger sections, it is also possible to replace an entire section of the wall without changing the entire design. All of this was also supported by the production team's approach to the glass display cases. The cases were installed and held in place with extremely strong magnets. This meant that if need be, the contents within the cases can be accessed and replaced.

...this project needed to literally and conceptually establish a sense of permanence.


With all of the content and design parameters mapped out, we realized that the wall still needed some dramatic or engaging moments, to help carry viewers through the narrative. As I struggled with this, I received the helpful advice to "try to imagine what you want to do with this wall to achieve the same goals, if the  content of the timeline didn't exist." With that approach in mind, I looked to the visual language that had already been established throughout the Insmed brand, and specifically their physical location. Throughout their building, Insmed has custom Jenga blocks printed with the companies core values. Using these as the content for a visual metaphor, I used the language of the blocks to visually embody each value, while creating a dynamic and engaging experience. So for example, the block for integrity is depicted as a strong vertical pillar, while the block for collaboration leans against a wall. To accentuate the personal experience of the wall, and celebrate the individual perspectives of the Insmed team, we integrated the concept of anamorphic geometry. This pushed elements of the blocks off of the wall, spilling onto the floor. In order to achieve the full trompe l'oeil effect, a viewer needed to align the shapes to their own perspective.

A black screen with a wall rotating towards a viewer, showing off the bottom part of a block which has been skewed on to the floor.
3-D Depiction of Anamorphic Geometry, coded in OpenFrameworks
A paper mock up of the anamorphic geometry on the ground.
Demoing the Anamorphic Geometry with Print Mockups
The anamorphic geometry drawn with tape on a brick wall and onto the floor.
Anamorphic Geometry Mocked Up with Tape


Defining the typographic scale was one of the first things that needed to be solidly designed. So, this happened fairly early in the process. I established the body copy size by printing a wide variety of type scales and placing them at the appropriate height. Then, using the hallway depth, I would test for legibility, both as an interested viewer, and as a casual observer. While this process was a bit more in-depth and time-consuming than I originally anticipated, the work of nailing this down early paid off as a incredibly helpful design investment.

At eye level, several pieces of paper are taped to a wall with type at different sizes.
Perfecting the Typographic Hierarchy


Working with a baseline grid, at the scale I was working at would be have unwieldy, especially considering the majority of the typesetting needed to be executed in Adobe Illustrator, rather than InDesign. To set myself up for successful typesetting, I took the predetermined typographic scales, and set up a comprehensive typographic style set in InDesign, at scale, using a baseline grid. Once this was established, I not only had an easy to use typographic palette with lovely internal cohesion, I had a range of grids that I could easily turn on and off in illustrator that I could confidently use to work with baseline alignment.


With so many details and parameters in place, the actual design process went relatively smoothly. Working closely with the content/curation team, we got more granular about the information and experience that was available to each user, at the specific moments in time. We were also working closely with the production team, to ensure feasibility, clear execution, and of course, keeping the project moving on schedule. By this stage, almost all of the work could be confidently executed digitally, since the parameters had already been established in the physical world. I was working in a file that was almost entirely production-ready, at 10% scale, with a separate layers for the elements that would be produced in a variety of ways.

Artwork and Document Layers, Before the Design Stage

We also began working closer with the curation team to identify when we needed to assist with the reproduction of documents vs using original documents (and also helping their team manage internal references and locations for original documents and objects). Establishing the design file as a supportive source of truth helped the curation team stay aligned, and especially helped set us up for the execution stage.

Artwork and Document Layers, After the Design Stage


Installation and execution was a multi-day, highly-coordinated undertaking. Being onsite with the plans, objects, printed reproductions, and captions was critical to ensure that all of our efforts came together appropriately. There were additional hiccups along the way, but having clear documentation of both design and process was critical to helping us find simple resolutions that ensured a strong final product.As an additional challenge, we had to wait until the installation day to arrange and assemble the display cases since they were a custom fabrication. The glass cases limited us to solutions that were effectively invisible from 3 sides. The materials also needed to be secure enough to withstand the force of the case magnetically setting into place. Using carefully shaped wedges to keep brochures open and invisible glue dots, we were able to create small scenes for these museum-style display cases.

Prep and Installation for the Display Case Materials
In-Progress Installation of the History Wall

Final Result

This is Me! Standing in Front of the Finished Wall


  1. During each stage of the design process, plan for the step that comes after it.
  2. Complicated projects sometimes require a flexible use of design tools. Don't be afraid to try something different, if it helps you better imagine the user's experience.