I was reflecting back on my studio project Juteopolis and how I would approach it differently. My studio brief was to design an exhibition space, using sustainable materials, to create our response to the theme of Juteopolis. This was a term to describe Dundee at the height of its success in the Jute industry and also was the name of a ship that transported Jute from India. Our client was Verdant Works, but we were fortunate to work alongside Brain Kelly (Education and Community research officer for Dundee Heritage). This exhibition would be displayed in the visual research centre, which is part of the Dundee Contemporary Art Centre.
This was mainly a group project and I really enjoyed researching it. My source of information was from secondary sources - books and the library. I looked at different period photographs and compared them against the changing landscape. I found it interesting reading stories of the mill workers and weavers. This gave a real insight into the conditions at the time and adds flavour to the research. This helped me to gain a clearer insight into the jute industry and to the history and importance of Dundee. The 3 ‘J’s– Jute, Jam and Journalism - really made an impact on me. These were very much the industries of the time and helped shape Dundee, its history, its land, its position in the world and most importantly its people. I was very much looking at historical information and dates which was important to ensure that the content of the exhibition was correct and accurate. It might have been better if we, as a group, had taken different roles and responsibilities in the research.
On further reflection, given this is recent history within Dundee; I should have looked at some primary sources. It would have been useful to have met someone who had actually worked in the factories who was still alive. It would have been a great opportunity to have heard it first hand – their stories, their worries and concerns of the time as well as their hopes and aspirations. It would perhaps have been useful for them to have seen and reviewed some of the material that we were planning to display.
Presentation of the material was key. I would have spent some time interviewing locals and tourists to gain a better understanding of what they were hoping to see in the exhibition, their knowledge of Dundee’s history and to ensure that we were delivering an excellent client experience. It was important to try and pitch the exhibition at the correct level. This is important given the wide age range that attend exhibitions like this – how interactive do children or adults like it? Should we have had detailed story boards or old film footage or recordings of old stories from the weavers? Would this have been interesting? Do people expect highly technological displays? Do visitors expect the staff to be knowledgeable on the subject?
In addition to the presentation of the material, planning where it would be situated and how the exhibition would flow were key. I would have done a series of interviews as well as observing other exhibitions to ensure that we had the best lay out. I found that my observation exercise on the London Underground very powerful and has made me look a things in a different light.
Observing can add so much. This is ensures that the client experience is good that the exhibitions flow well and that the staff can ensure that it is easy to manage on a day to day basis. This is critical given the importance of disabled access and adherence to Health and Safety regulations. I was particularly drawn to thinking about how the disabled would consider in this exhibition. Can they enjoy the interactive parts of the exhibition? Are the models and signs at the correct levels for them to enjoy? Can they enjoy a similar experience to someone who is not disabled? Do they have particular needs and how do we fulfil them? Selwyn Goldsmith in his book ‘Designing for the Disabled: The New Paradigm’ gives an intelligent, clear-sighted view of how we should approach access in our environment effectively rather than emotionally. He talks about 'access for everyone' - it should not just be 'access for the disabled'. This is a very powerful statement for any designer.
It is critical to engage all interested parties as Campbell & Co – an Edinburgh based Design Company that specialises in museum design and has worked on the McManus Museum in Dundee noted
‘The Plan is developed through a series of workshops which bring together a wide range of interested parties, including project staff, subject matter specialists, educators, local tourism officials and community representatives.’ (Campbell and Co: Interpretive Exhibition Design)
On reflection of this activity, it has been interesting to open my eyes to new approaches in research. In the past, I have really been focused on looking at secondary sources and have found the interview techniques particularly insightful. I found that I have had to develop some project management skills, particularly in a group situation. You need to ensure good time management, have constant communication and be willing to face up to challenges and problems that you encounter. I have learnt some new skills in helping me to deal with these issues and ensure I successfully improve and maintain those relationships, in particular with clients.
I am confident these new skills and approaches will help me to take a much more holistic view of any project and tackle it in a new and innovative way with a sense of energy and excitement to ensure that my design reaches new heights. I think that this has given me the confidence to challenge, to listen and to gain clearer insights into any project. It has given me a greater understanding that we are often designing for others and not ourselves and we need to ensure that the needs and objectives of others are achieved and that they get they full benefit of the work.
I am sure this approach will improve the quality of my work and help me to serve my clients better.
1. Selwyn Goldsmith ‘Designing for the Disabled: The New Paradigm’
2. Campbell and Co: Interpretive Exhibition Design.