Why Design is Important to Your Museum

Cody Nailor - PR Associate

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In a recent Tech Crunch article, Steve Vassallo, author of the book The Way to Design, writes about the importance of design for Silicon Valley tech companies.

Vassalo defines design as something far greater than simply pleasing aesthetics. In an era when the technology to design and manufacture your product is so readily accessible, the problem a company solves with its tech is just as important as how the product looks. Vassallo notes that many of the products on the market today allow nearly any creator to make a slick product, which makes the functionality of the device, product, or service of utmost importance.

Vassallo offers:

“Design is about searching out a product’s or an organization’s purpose—the problem it solves—and then painstakingly making sure every facet of the solution supports this purpose.

In the age of the Internet, museums can benefit from applying this principle of design to their spaces, as well as the services they offer. What makes museums unique is no longer the information they contain, but rather the context they offer to the objects within their collections.

It’s nearly impossible to understand the magnitude of a sculpture like Michelangelo’s David or a painting like George Washington Crossing the Delaware by Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze on a computer screen. It’s an amazing thing to stand next to a suit of armor, imagining what it must feel like to climb inside of one or what the original wearer might have experienced before heading out to battle.

Through experiencing a piece of art in person, and being exposed to its magnitude, your audience can gain a new appreciation for the context of the piece, and its relevance to their lives – a perspective they couldn’t gain from the internet alone.

On the Internet, your audience doesn’t get to view an artifact alongside artifacts from the same time period or region. Lacking that important contextualization, your audience can miss out on a better understanding of what people from a particular place and time may have felt or thought or how they lived their lives.

Keeping contextualization in mind, museums have to shift from being merely collectors of information to becoming curators of experiences. What a museum possesses within its four walls is still vastly unique from any historical record is available on the internet.

Here at Museum Hack, we take curating experiences extremely seriously. Our renegade tour model is all about designing unique encounters. By focusing on the wild stories or little-known facts behind the objects in a museum, the tour guide introduces an entirely new context and meaning to the pieces his or her audience is experiencing.

By providing dynamic, engaging tours for your audience, you’re radically changing the way your audience views your collection and the larger museum space that houses it. Through the contextualization of a tour, the art is given the power to transform your audience’s lives: to add value, significance, and context to their place in history. Such powerful experiences will encourage your audience to return to your museum time and time again, and give them a desire to share the space with others.

True design is about asking the questions that solve a problem.In the 21st century, the problem museums are facing is that the information about the objects within their collection that used to be known by a choice few is now nearly common knowledge. In the face of this paradigm shift, museum directors, docents, and curators must ask themselves questions like: 

  • What makes our space unique?
  • How do the objects in our collection relate to a 21st Century human being?
  • What are the stories behind the art that most resonates with me?

The answer to these questions, and the tours, programs, and workshops that result from them, must avoid being flashy or trendy for the sake of being flashy or trendy, but instead must be authentic, exciting, and unique.

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