Read Time: 10 minutes
SEGD Director of Education, Hilary Jay, summarizes the origins and events of the month-long series of virtual gatherings of the experience and exhibition design community, entitled "E+E: How Soon is Now? Designing Change."
How Soon is Now? Designing Change
August was a mighty month at SEGD. We created something no other design association has: four solid weeks of virtual museum exhibition tours, project presentations, moderated panel discussions, audience workshops, design challenges, and networking—all focused on creating experiences that reflect our most pressing concerns.
The Exhibition + Experience series of events entitled “How Soon is Now? Designing Change” began taking shape through a June brainstorming session with “a group of interdisciplinary misfits” as our CEO and co-chair, Cybelle Jones, likes to say. They included Joel Krieger, Chief Creative Officer of Second Story, a SEGD Global Design Award winner; Harold Green III, spoken word artist; Destiny Brady, an architecture student at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee; Ralston Smith, SEGD’s documentarian and videographer; Lucy Holmes, principal at Holmes Studio, who designed the graphic identity for E+E; Cybelle Jones, and myself.
What grew out of that ideation session became four weeks of shared stories addressing how our design community acknowledges racial, economic, and educational disparities, and environmental breakdown. And, how we ultimately lead the way to shifting societal mores and behaviors.
Co-chair Joel Krieger who leads interdisciplinary teams in a collaborative, lab-based approach to design helped center the month-long event. “We live in an increasingly polarized world,” he notes. “Sometimes it feels like we are drowning in an ‘Us versus Them’ paradigm which has totally monopolized every aspect of our world-view. As designers, we’re in an interesting position. We actually have the skills, and a seat at the table, to work towards positive change. But, to be honest, it’s pretty overwhelming. Where do we even begin?”
He suggests that you begin with what philosopher and educator Charles Eisenstein calls “a universal formula” stemming from the question: "What is it like to be you?” And so, we began. We drafted four essential questions that would be the guide stars for each week.
Week 1: How Do We Break Our Unconscious Biases?
We opened week one with a short participatory primer on empathy led by Ayse Birsel, principal of human-centered design firm Birsel + Seck, author of "Design the Life You Love,” and one of Fast Company’s Most Creative People. She was followed by Pavani Yalla, Experience Design Director at Second Story who shared her work creating an immersive workshop, “Make Some Room-Unconscious Bias Workshop,” that tackles ways to unravel unconscious biases and helped her co-workers transcend them. Barry Pousman, head of Cinema for Social Change and former Chief Digital Strategist at the United Nations, spoke on transforming audiences through immersive storytelling and VR cinematography.
That first week, we toured the newly opened US Olympic & Paralympic Museum, selected by the New York Times as one of the places to go in 2020. And go we did – virtually with a guided tour by Paralympian Mike Tagliapietra, Olympian Hunter Kemper, Project Director Hayley Walsh of Centre Screen, Exhibition Design Director Carl Rhodes of Gallagher and Associates, and President of exhibits, Al Salm from CREO. In the afternoon, they spoke on creating spaces for differently abled persons. Later that day we heard from Global Design Award winner Marko Rasic of Croatian-based Rasic + Vrabec, as well as architect Monica Coghlan of Studio Joseph and Cooper Hewitt Curator Andrea Lipps, all of whom considered how we take in our world through senses beyond sight. These presentations were sponsored by DE Powder Coated Graphics.
Week 2: How Do We Design Experiences That Tell Whole Truths?
In week two, as we wondered how we can be facilitators of work and design that tell whole truths, Poet Harold Green III led a short audience exercise in manifesting positive change in our personal lives. We then moved onto the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama, this years’ SEGD Global Design Awards Best of Show winner. (Due to the sensitivity of the project, the session was not recorded.) Designer and educator Joe Marianek, founding partner of Small Stuff, shared the journey of developing this memorial with the Equal Justice Initiative and architects MASS Design Group, discussing the transformational impact this work has had on the design team, the BIPOC community, at large, and visitors, in general. Colloquially known as the Lynching Museum and Memorial, this project is a model of how we as a design community can facilitate the most challenging conversations through the context of spatial experiences. Senior project manager L’Rai Arthur-Mensah with Local Projects and Ben Millstein, the firm’s communications and marketing, later discussed Truth-Telling and Reconciliation Experiences and shared the team’s exhibition design work at The Legacy Museum in Montgomery, Alabama and The Greenwood Rising Museum in Tulsa, Oklahoma, a presentation sponsored Solomon Group.
“This moment requires direct action,” said Marquise Stillwell, founder of the film company Opendox and executive producer of Shield + Spear, the film we screened in week two, sponsored by Rainier Industries. “Just as design has been the protagonist in the social construct of race, design is required to undo these ideologies.”
We asked our presenters and the audience to share thoughts on how we tell those whole stories in the light of long-standing racial negation, and an equally long-standing attitude of white privilege. We asked: How do we heal community division by design? Keith Helmetag, a partner with C&G Partners discussed the healing exhibition design work for the Junipero Serra Museum. He was followed by Isometric partners Andy Chen and Waqas Jawaid, who provided their insights on Equity and Justice in the COVID Age, and spoke to the ways technology, educational and cultural institutions are using exhibition and experience design to redress racism and authenticate the experiences of people of color. We closed the day with a moderated discussion between Marquise Stillwell, South African musician Xander Ferriera, and Cybelle Jones who talked about South Africa as a lens for examining the current state of race relations in the United States, as well as the power that art and design have to affect change.
Week 3: How Do We Steward A Sustainable Future?
In the third week, our conversations took a wider scope as we picked up the call to steward a sustainable future. A quote from Jane Goodall reminded us that everything we do has an impact—for better or for worse: “You cannot get through a single day without having an impact on the world around you. What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make.” Joel Krieger additionally set the tone for the week, conjuring difficult environmental truths: “There’s 7.6 Billion of us here today, and we'll add another billion every 15 years or so. At the same time, we lose plant and animal species every single day, to the point that scientists now say we’re in a sixth mass extinction. And unlike past mass extinctions, caused by cosmic forces like asteroid strikes and volcanic eruptions, this one is entirely caused by us.”
Our speakers this week offered provocations and reflections on co-creating and nurturing a healthy environment. “They each gave us a glimpse into this new model, this new way of being where we are all acutely aware that the boundaries of ‘myself’ does not end at the threshold of my skin,” Joel noted. “My ‘self’ actually includes everything in my environment—the water, the trees, the soil, the air, and every other part of our world that makes our being alive, possible.” UK-based Jason Bruges, founder and director of Jason Bruges Studio, presented the topic of Sustainability as a Narrative Experience, pondering how poetic is the force of nature? He was followed by paleontologist and Founding Dean of Rowan University’s School of Earth and Environment, Dr. Kenneth Lacovara, whose book “Why Dinosaurs Matter” should be required reading for us all. Sponsored by kubik maltbie, Ken stressed how nearly unfathomable it is for us humans to grasp just how small and insignificant we are, how fragile are our connections, how endless the contingencies are that bring us to this moment in time. “We are all freaks of nature,” Ken reminded us, “precipitating the sixth mass extinction of this planet. There is no Planet B.”
Fortunately for us, the United Nations is hard at work advancing their platform for recovery and restoration. In 2012, they created the Sustainable Development Goals, a set of universal goals that meet the urgent environmental, political, and economic challenges facing our world. The 17 SDGs are an urgent call to shift the world onto a more sustainable path. And, they are the backbone of a newly evolving effort, the Museum of the United Nations—UN Live, presented by Copenhagen-based Danielle Wellings, a member of their programming and communications team. Simon Widmer, design network and creative lead in the Circular Design Program of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, then shared his vision for designers to shape products, services, and systems with intention and for the long-term. He led the development of the “Circular Design Guide” in collaboration with IDEO, a project that has supported tens of thousands of designers in over 150 countries. Wrapping up the day, installation and light artist Annie Mitchell presented her works, inspired by the poetics of nature.
Week 4: How Do We Give the Past Context and Redirect the Future?
In the final week of Experience + Exhibition month, Harold Green III returned to guide us into manifesting our design ideas for a better future, and to reflect on our responsibilities as a collective. Aki Carpenter, creative director at Ralph Applebaum Associates took us on a virtual tour of the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C., and shared project plans for the Obama Presidential Center in Chicago, Illinois. She spoke about her design approach to elevate untold narratives especially those of vulnerable populations. Artists Shane Allbritton and Norman Lee of Re:Site presented their insights on commemorating the contributions of enslaved people in St. Marys County, Md., where they have combined divergent aesthetics and interpretive design to respond to ethos of place and memory. Drawing on a site’s cultural landscape, they brought meaning to history for present and future audiences through collaborative viewership and dialogue.
We virtually toured the new London’s Science Museum: Medicine Exhibition, from the Henry Wellcome and the Science Museum Group Collection with designer Lucy Holmes, and then explored the Louisiana Children’s Museum with Kristine Matthews of Studio Matthews, a project that integrates children’s artwork into permanent exhibitions. Last on the agenda was Josh Goldblum, a technological transformer and founder of Bluecadet, who landed us squarely in the future of exhibition and experience design with his talk on Envisioning Future Space. To paraphrase Josh, designers must advocate for the spaces we want to inherit—a perfect segue into the delivery of SEGD’s design manifesto, entitled Grand Design, performed by Harold Green III.
The manifesto is a rally cry and the heart of SEGD’s work as we continue to explore our role as a design community in facing the historic and global crises currently underway. The final stanza from the manifesto reads:
"If this is all by grand design,
then we must lead with our heart,
create change with our art,
be more inclusive with our intention,
and provoke conversation with composition."
We will be sharing the manifesto in the weeks to come.
We want to thank our amazing speakers for sharing their insights, time and talent. Another special thank you to our chapter chairs in San Francisco, Washington, Denver and New York who led Design Improv each week, a design challenge that asked small teams to quickly conceive of a traveling exhibition based on the week’s theme.
Additionally, we are grateful to students and emerging designers Destiny Brady, Cecilia Moscardo, Mustafa Ecer, Caitlin Giambroni, Bhawika Mishra, for leading several moderated Q+A’s. And, we would not be able to provide such thought provoking and essential programming without the support of industry sponsors CRĒO Industrial Arts and Color Ad.
Hope to see you at Wayfinding + Placemaking!
Hilary Jay, Director of Education
P.S. If you missed “Experience + Exhibition Month—How Soon is Now? Designing Change,” recordings will be posted for purchase in the SEGD.org store soon.