Responses by Gallagher & Associates
Background: The International Spy Museum expands on its mission to provide a rare glimpse into the world of intelligence collecting, analyzing and the impact that has on everyday lives and events around the world. The experience design lifts the veil on a secretive trade as old as the first civilizations and explores controversial subject matter such as cyber threats, terrorism and enhanced interrogation. The International Spy Museum seeks to find a balance between creating a highly engaging and family friendly experience for tourists, and also authentically representing the world of intelligence for the most nuanced critics.
Reasoning: We designed an immersive theatrical experience for the new museum using rich textural elements and powerful graphic language to pull visitors into the hidden world of espionage. We also curated a journey that invites the audience to see if they have what it takes to be a spy. Layered installations highlight key human intelligence figures along with their intriguing spy gadgets, creating spy stories that illuminate a different perspective on history. CIA analysts’ works are brought to life through interactive role-playing, guided by real-life experts.
Challenges: How do you design a world that’s hidden from sight? Exploring complex topics and invisible tradecraft required a lot of creative thinking. We needed to tackle concepts, like the balance between privacy and security, and create a meaningful learning experience. The most challenging concept to portray was Osama bin Laden’s hunt and raid. So, we created experiences where we placed visitors in a groundbreaking game to learn the deduction strategies behind the hunt and see how they would do as an analyst.
Favorite details: There are Easter eggs hidden throughout the museum. Lenticulars and special lighting reveal new imagery as you walk by. We created a lot of opportunities to surprise people through the design of the space. We tried to push for provocative and visually arresting large-scale graphics to set the mood for discovery, engagement and fun—the responses have been great so far!
Visual influences: We used theatrical vignettes similar to a Broadway set for our Spy Masters Gallery. We were inspired by “gadget labs,” imagining what Q’s lab might look like in 2025. We played off the tension between reality and pop culture with a James Bond-like “hang time” exhibit where you are challenged to hold-on as you are lifted up in the air. Finally, we were able to reference the Cold-War aesthetics, researching the high-end hotels in East Germany and Stasi headquarters and even an interrogation room.
Specific demands: Our directive was to represent the broadest story over the course of history and to be inclusive in our storytelling, to show that women and people from different cultures, religions and ethnicities had a significant role in intelligence throughout history. We used that initiative to challenge our design aesthetic and graphic language to invite audiences to view the world through the lens of others.