Monday, August 2, 2010

Designing For Change

Scott Moulton, Designer, Gyroscope, Inc. 

One of our key sustainable strategies is to design for change. Change can happen on different scales - over years as museums refresh exhibits or change their themes, but also seasonally, and even within the course of a day. Different degrees of change need different strategies. And the infrastructure of a gallery ultimately has to be supported by furniture, finishes on the walls and floors, and the staffing plan. To be at its most robust the "platform" model has to be comprehensive. In this post I'll look at how furniture design can address the need for museums to accommodate different rates of change. 

Why Furniture? A table can be adjustable in height to respond to different age visitors.  If designed as units, they can be ganged together for groups or used alone as individual learning stations. Sliding panels or screens can be moved to define spaces or open the gallery up. And lots of furniture can be designed as kits-of-parts that support reinvention as needs change.

The images I've chosen to illustrate these ideas are starting points and inspiration. They are not all museum ready examples although some are pieces we built over 10 years ago and are still being used in museums today.


We often describe furniture as a platform in which the table, shelving or wall is primarily there to support the program or activity. This rate of change is immediate - the design has to support whatever the visitor or staff are doing right at that moment. And in museums where staff are empowered to change programs often, or the museum wants to coordinate with local celebrations, or support new partnerships in the galleries, furniture that has been designed to support this change is a valuable asset. The design of platforms does not have to be neutral but it does need to be versatile enough to support a very wide range of uses and highlight the activities that it supports. Making this variability expressed in the design can give the furniture character and the visitor will see that their experience is able to change at a moment's notice. design Gyroscope Inc. for The Leonardo.  These standard bases have unique tops designed for different specific activities.  Staff can change tops to create a project surface, or use glass for display.  They can make their own, new, tops as new needs Ronan and Irwin Bouroullec.  Another kit-of-parts.  This minimal table is the platform for a set of components that can be plugged in to support activities and define spaces on the table top.
design ALU This wall system provides a playful way of attaching a wide variety of things to a wall including clip-on lights.  Even when not filled up the track itself is appealing and creates interest.


Another way to design for change is to create pieces that can be adapted by staff and/or visitors over the course of the day. Staffing levels, audience age and attendance shifts dramatically depending on the day of the week, or time of day, and we believe galleries should be flexible enough to respond.  One key to supporting this type of variability lies in giving the staff a sense of ownership over the gallery so they can make changes in response to what they see happening. design Ronan and Irwin Bouroullec. This design reference show how textiles are be a great material to create reconfigurable spaces. Think of the way forts made from sheets and sofa cushions can totally transform a living room. design Ronan and Irwin Bouroullec. This textile made up of reconfigurable tiles suggests a scenario in which visitors take an active role in actually making the furniture that is reconfigurable. design Joshua Sailing. This bench supports very different social situations depending on how it is arranged. design John Randolph and Bruce Tomb. An adjustable table can serve several different audiences over the course of the day. design Union Studio. Carts can be stowed away when not in use.  This nesting design offers many configurations.


The third scale of change is at the rate of months or years as furniture and exhibits evolve and adapt over time. This can be accommodated by separating the content or theming of an exhibit from it's structure so with a minor investment a new topic can be introduced. These images below are of staff desks where the base desk is the same but it can be used in different ways:

design Gyroscope Inc. for Exploration Place, Inc. This example shows two staff stations that use magnetic graphics, display systems, collections drawers, and a flexible pole system. The design allows identical stations to be easily themed for different zones in the Museum. This adaptability gives the piece a much longer useful life since they can also be rethemed later as the museum's needs change.

design: Gyroscope Inc. These cart-based exhibits for the Rancho Cucamonga Library were designed to bring museum experiences into a library. The basic structure is the same across 3 exhibits but the graphics and theming are flexible using magnetic vinyl and props that can be changed. This encourages staff to experiment and make adjustments to meet the needs of the audience. They are also reconfigurable and can be moved to a nearby courtyard or off-site program.
design: Gyroscope Inc. We have developed this modular casework system for the Tempe Historical Museum to allow them to reconfigure their collection around different themes. This modular display system accommodates artifacts, graphics and flip books and allows the museum to present their collection in different ways depending on the story they want to tell. 
design: Gyroscope Inc. This graphic system allows for 3 rates of change: visitors can write on a chalkboard, community stories are compiled into flip books and more traditional museum graphics are mounted to the signs.  

This "platform" strategy of designing furniture for change requires a holistic approach and may need to include several disciplines, including Architecture, graphic design, exhibit development, staff planning, and exhibit design, in order to be successful. 

In future blog posts I'll look at the architectural infrastructure required to support change as well as some implications for material choices.


scott davidson said...

Some pretty designs alright. Doing the painting yourselves is more fun but a good place for ideas for more design is this site of, that I use to help with my wall decorations.
You can browse for a painting like this The tree, by 20th century Czech artist, Frantisek Kupka, for example, , that can be ordered on line and delivered to you.

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