Special Forces: In the Shadows

Secrecy and security through the lens of the Special Forces.

Special Forces: In The Shadows at the National Army Museum, London, covers the history of the five regiments of the UK Special Forces (UKSF) including the SAS (Special Air Service) and SBS (Special Boat Service); how they recruit and train their officers, operations undertaken and their public image.

Collaborating closely with the National Army Museum team, MET centred on the notion of secrecy; peeling back the curtain on the UKSF. Communicating a dual view of the UKSF’s influence, a large two-way Mirror Box – the ‘Operations Core’ – sits at the centre of the exhibition containing the secret and covert world of UKSF. Visitors inside the mirror box can look out, whilst those outside, cannot see in. It’s a simple visual trick that acts as a metaphor for the influence of the UKSF on our lives: there for us, but not seen.

Peter Karn, Creative Director at MET said: “The exhibition experience is not just about having an interesting collection of objects, it’s about giving visitors through design, an added layer of interpretation to secrecy. With this exhibition, you feel like you’re going into an inner sanctum and seeing things for the first time. This is the whole idea behind the core mirror box exhibit. All is public record but it offers a covert and playful element ‘I can see you but you can’t see me’.

Dominique Bouchard Head of Learning and Participation at National Army Museum said on the collaboration with MET: “MET’s creative team worked closely with the project curators to develop an exhibition that would surpass expectations. MET’s design was the foundation that allowed the exhibition to communicate all the nuance that makes British Special Forces operators different from typical soldiers. From their use of typography to the textures to the materiality of the setworks, every component of the exhibition was chosen to communicate the opportunity provided by the exhibition for the public to get a rare window into the secret world of Special Forces.”

On entrance visitors are confronted with large sculptural clusters. Bold graphics in striking colours, drive home hard-hitting facts about the many threats, such as terrorism, cybercrime and disease, currently facing Britain and how the Special Forces exist to prevent such threats. At this introductory stage, visitors witness the Special Forces from a known perspective; the facts about UKSF, historical relevance, what’s seen in the media and so on. But, navigating through the exhibition, there’s a moment when the lid is lifted and surprise hits them.

Throughout, MET has used clever visual design and interaction to play on the sense of secrecy. The story of “the Originals” the SF team formed in WWII to sabotage the Nazi’s, feature their image with doors covering the eyes to protect their identity. Interactive games on backlit screens depict a series of landscapes asking you to ‘spot the sniper’. Touch screens feature a tough Kim’s Game memory test. Filmed interviews with UKSF experts debunk the myths around being ‘super human’ and give insights into what it takes to make the cut. All engaging the visitor to give a deeper understanding about what it takes to be a UKSF soldier and their covert role.

“What I think is really successful about the design is that the whole team, MET and National Army Museum, understood from the outset that everything we set out to do together, was to give an emotional connection to the visitors.” Karn concluded.



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