How do you map a museum?

We compare how 3 London museums map their site.

Amina Adewusi
4 min readJan 18, 2019

Let’s take a look at how three of London’s most popular museums map their site.

Natural History Museum

The Natural History Museum has chosen a colour zoning system to define their museum mapping. They have four zones; blue, green, red and orange each with its own theme. The themes are broad and not so easy to define, for example the blue zone is about “life on Earth”, whilst the red zone is about the “Earth’s sculpture” and the green zone is about the “Earth’s evolution”.

The NHM has four themed zones, named by colours

Each zone offers various galleries, which all have separate pages on the website where you can see an image of them, learn more about them and find another link to the map.

Each gallery has its own dedicated page listing its zone

As well as this, the PDF map has its own separate page on the website, which is accessible from the Visit page after a bit of scrolling. You can also find a link in the website’s footer. Overall it feels as if they’ve chosen to make their map less prominent, but you’re likely to find it if you need it eg from a link on the Visit Page or when looking at the details of a gallery.

The NHM has a separate web page for their maps with highlights of each floor as well as the PDF

The PDF map is a landscape one pager, which is refreshing. You very quickly get a sense of the scale of the museum, being able to take a step back and look at it all in one image. They’ve used colour and icons really well to delineate different floors and features. They’ve kept wording to a minimum and used a key system instead.

Each NHM gallery has a separate page which states its zone and offers a link to the map

Interestingly, the key is quite complex! Perhaps, it makes up for the simplicity of the map itself. The font is minuscule on desktop making it difficult to read without zooming in. Given the use of images on the map, it might be possible not to use the key at all.

Key to the NHM’s PDF map

The PDF does not give you a sense of the richness of the exhibitions available, but rather a sense of scale and direction.

Science museum

The Science Museum has a straightforward floor plan, with each floor having the same rectangular shape which is really easy to digest visually. Their PDF is 7 pages long and gives luscious imagery highlighting the exhibitions on offer and most importantly, food and drink options!

The PDF map is featured prominently on the Science Museum’s Visit Page

The PDF floor plan is prominently highlighted on the “Visit” page, but it’s not signposted on the Homepage, so you’ll only find it if you’re serious about planning your visit.

The Science museum offers a Dropdown menu highlighting key exhibitions on each floor.

If you’re not interested in downloading the PDF (or can’t), you can scroll down to their dropdown list of floors where you can access the same information about the exhibitions on each floor, without the floorplan.

Overall it’s a really easy site to understand given the floor structures and the way it has been mapped is helpful with pinpoints for accessible toilets and stairs, along with beautiful imagery that whet the appetite of those planning a visit!

The Science Museum’s PDF map highlights key galleries, events and food/drink on each floor. (They’ve definitely got their priorities right with that last category!)

The British Museum

The PDF map is a three page portrait document, which is very detailed and difficult to look at, at first glance. There’s a lot of activity on the page. It’s overwhelming and un-encouraging.

Each page shows a different floor. They all have different shapes with the ground floor being the largest and the others less intimidating. I personally would open up this map and quickly close it again!

The British Museum’s floor plan is complex

On the left hand side, they have helpfully listed key objects. There are no images, so it doesn’t give the visitor a sense of excitement, but rather one of foreboding.

Helpfully, at the bottom of the page, the rooms are listed and numbered. This gives a good sense of what is on offer geographically. It is the room numbers that serve as the key for the map itself.

The facilities icons are tiny and the user must zoom-in if viewing to make them out clearly.

The British Museum offers lists of galleries, facilities and access info which is helpful.

Along with the floor plans, they offer a list of galleries on their own webpage, which is very straightforward and helpful for those who are keen to note down room numbers of interest pre-visit. They also have a dedicated facilities and access information page, which will be helpful to users planning a visit.