Over the past few months, I have been doing my graduation project from the master Strategic Product design (TU Delft) on the topic of inclusivity within the museum sector. I found it truly fascinating to explore this complex societal topic and dive straight into the context of museums whilst being supported by DEUS and The Rijksmuseum.
Early on in this journey, I learned that museums have a huge social and societal responsibility to speak and belong to everyone. However, while concerns around inclusion and equality are rapidly growing in all its forms, museums entered a time of fundamental change. Real action needs to be taken to live up to renewed inclusive standards: go beyond the current efforts, really fulfil inclusive policies and promises, and truly listen to visitors’ needs.
In this article, I will be giving a brief overview of the findings and results of my project.
📕 You can find the full thesis report here.
There are many interpretations of the word ‘inclusion’, but little guidance on what this word exactly means. So I decided to come up with my own definition of inclusion: “Inclusion is the practice or policy of including everyone in an interaction or experience, by embracing diversity and recognising universality.” So, it is really about making everyone feel welcome, recognised and heard.
‘Society is changing. We are all part of that society and therefore the museum is changing too.’ — Taco Dibbits, Chief Director at The Rijksmuseum
From diving deeper into the museum sector, I found that numerous inclusive initiatives and clear commitments from museum leaders show that the will to become more inclusive is there. However, from interviewing museum experts and practitioners, I also defined three key challenges that limit museums to become more inclusive. Nonetheless, to overcome these challenges three key opportunities were defined in relation to these challenges. See the image below.
In parallel to the in-depth investigation of the museum landscape, it was also important to empathize with museum visitors. So, through numerous in-depth generative interviews, I explored visitors’ needs concerning inclusive experiences within the museum atmosphere.
During this part of the research, I deliberately choose to move beyond the will to divide people and instead focus on fundamental needs. That way, I centralized the connection and similarities between people, opposed to their differences — which is one of the core principles when designing for inclusivity. As a result, I was able to define three key universal needs that came up strongest (Autonomy, Purpose and Stimulation). And, for each of these key needs, I defined three contextual needs that translate that need to the context of museum experiences specifically. See the image below.
From synthesizing these insights, I found that improving the relationship between museums and their visitors was the most relevant opportunity to focus on in my design. Because what you see now is that the current relationship is very hierarchical, much like one-way traffic. For visitors, it now often feels like they have to be an art expert to understand what art is about, and to be able to have an opinion or idea about it. For many people, this feels elitist and like art is difficult to access. And this is (of course) not what we want if we want to be inclusive.
So that sparked my vision for the project: ‘to improve on inclusivity, by improving the relationship between museums and visitors.’ With my final design, I wanted to help move away from that one-way traffic relationship, towards a mutual symbiotic relationship where both parties are able to benefit — kind of like the mutually beneficial relation between fish and coral reefs for example.
The final design that came out of this vision was a museum app called Habitat. Habitat guides visitors’ curiosity by giving small pieces of context and sparking questions, together with augmented sticky notes with comments left by other visitors.
So, the idea is that visitors are being asked a question on which they can respond, instead of being given a description, explanation, or factual knowledge, in a piece of traditional text. A very universal question, for which you don’t need to be an art expert to understand it or answer it and phrased in such a way that it supports your own line of thinking and your personal curiosity.
In the development towards this concept, several idea generation and conceptualization activities were performed in an iterative way — from brainstorming and observations, to experimentation and prototyping.
First, Imagine you are standing in front of this painting with these two sisters. You want to engage with it, but don’t know where to start. You downloaded Habitat, created a profile, and scanned this painting with with the app (using image recognition).
Now, you can wander free — dive deeper into the trigger question, access detailed information, explore other visitors’ comments on (augmented) sticky notes, or leave your own impression on the wall. It is all up to you!
Note: no particular museum was used in this demo, it is just a general example of how the use of Habitat could look like.
In short: Habitat encompasses the current mismatch between visitors and the museums. The service aims to improve the interplay between them. Moving from sending information to visitors, using hierarchical interactions, towards a mutual symbiotic relationship, that encompasses collaborative, adaptive, positive, innovative, and assertive interactions.
Please reach out if you are curious to know more about me or the project. ✏️