Is it time to apply the ‘less is more’ theory to classroom displays?

Is it time to apply the ‘less is more’ theory to classroom displays?

When I get the opportunity to meet teachers and visit schools as part of our Library design service, on the vast majority of occasions, as I enter reception and walk down corridors my initial impression is not formed by the warm staff or busy atmosphere but what clings to the walls and occasionally ceilings. I find my eye naturally drawn to sprawling displays of bold colours and a jumble of work or images whilst rarely taking in what is actually being exhibited.

It could be argued that communal spaces, like reception areas, within a school offer a good chance to show students work to other pupils, teachers and visitors but how many of us really remember a wall display apart from the customary wavy borders and layers of coloured paper. Despite this, obviously these areas are used in a very different way to classrooms where these wall displays are just as common. Modern classrooms, more than ever before, are geared to achieve perfect environments for learning as we flood them with natural light and encourage children to drink water to remain hydrated. With this in mind as I am shown around schools I am puzzled as to why teachers seemingly go out of their way to distract pupils. When a student tries to distract a friend in class they are usually reprimanded!

Of course, I see that these displays have a purpose in offering reward to children whose work is chosen to adorn the walls, while sparing a thought for those left disheartened and disappointed by not making the cut. On top of this, and when well-orchestrated, there can be no doubting their ability to stoke interest in the topics on show but where does interest stop and distraction begin? Granted over time it is unlikely to attract as much attention but when the piece stops being so interesting has it passed its sell by date and become redundant? This highlights another potential drawback in that these temporary wall displays frequently look dated quickly meaning they can either be left to appear neglected or more precious time is spent creating its replacement.

Perhaps though this is a matter of taste and I simply prefer less clutter especially in a working situation, something which my tidy desk supports. Either way I would not suggest losing the idea of presenting topics and work in schools all together, in fact quite the opposite. I think we need a small shift in attitude. I believe the whole school environment will benefit if the numerous loud and confusing compositions which tend to run throughout are replaced by one or two more considered arrangements which have a wider appeal and involve the entire school. Displays provide are rare opportunity for year groups and classes to collaborate and produce meaningful work which everyone can be proud of. Instead of becoming tired and forgotten they should serve as tasteful reminders of good work on captivating subjects.

As a designer at BookSpace we work hard on making libraries inviting areas in which children can develop a relationship with reading. To do this we believe a balance has to be stuck between exciting furniture which entices children into the space but also provides a relaxed setting to get lost in a book, the Hideyhole is a good example of this. Obviously, achieving this on a wall or board is a different proposition but I think the message about reducing things which distract or confuse is the same. Displayboards offer part of the solution as effective way of reducing wall clutter and displaying work or books while encouraging children to interact with what’s on show. Our simple furniture done well represents our uncluttered approach, one which I believe should be employed throughout the school.