Canadian Museum for Human Rights

Merit Award 2016
Sylvia Harris Award 2016

The new Canadian Museum for Human Rights in Winnipeg was designed as a national hub for human rights learning and discovery and a catalyst for a new era of global human rights leadership. Interactive experience firm Gagarin (Reykjavík) was given a complex challenge: communicate, in a highly accessible and engaging way, stories about struggles and triumphant movements for change in the realization of human rights around the world. The installations should leave visitors with an appreciation of the impact of rights in people's everyday lives and emphasize that fights to protect human rights are ongoing.

CMHR describes itself as an “idea museum,” in that its focus was not going to be based on a museum collection. It also considers itself a “dialogue” museum in its mandate as well as its approach to experience design: Its goal is to create a reciprocal relationship wherein the museum and the visitor inform each other. From CMHR’s perspective, interactivity should be more complex than simply pushing buttons on an interface. It should involve situations like system response to user action, provocation of interaction between visitors and between visitor types, cause-and-effect scenarios, soliciting, using and managing user-contributed content and blending the distinctions between the common pre/during/post digital museum scenario and more.

Gagarin received specific treatments developed by exhibition designers and curators (Ralph Appelbaum Associations and CMHR experts) on the three exhibitions they were commissioned to design and implement.

Gagarin’s three exhibits contribute to the museum’s aim of creating an engaging experience with human rights that will inspire and leave a lasting impression on visitors. Developed using Universal Design principles, the exhibits aim to set new world standards for universal accessibility. They provide a near-equitable experience for visitors regardless of language or physical limitations (vision, hearing or mobility).

User testing was conducted on various levels for all three installations, both for interaction and usability and also understanding of content and narrative.

1. Collective Actions - Diptychs

The exhibit features diverse and compelling stories of ground-level activism in a wide variety of human rights fields. Visitors use hand gestures to access the content. As videos are displayed on 55-in. HD screens, face-to-face encounters between the narrator and visitor create an intimate and first-hand sensation.

2. Living Tree

This large video projection represents the legal traditions of Canada. It initially sprouts from the ground and grows into a tree formed by text from documents, declarations and court rulings.

This exhibit aims to not only provoke wonder and quiet contemplation, but also to leave visitors with the impression that by addressing current and future social needs and realities, Canadian law can grow and change.

3. Human Rights Defenders

This exhibit highlights the remarkable achievements of eight Canadian personalities who are actively fighting against human rights abuses. Visitors are taken on a journey to learn about each defender’s childhood, influences and beliefs, which continue to drive them to be highly active in such diverse fields as child labor, women’s rights and environmental justice.

The stories are accessed by touchscreen or a Universal keypad. All videos and audio have closed-captioning and/or descriptive audio and text is read out using Text-To-Speech. Gagarin also delivered a system that allows the museum to add new stories, growing the exhibit as human rights evolve.

Jury Comments: 

"We applaud the efforts of this firm for its acknowledgement and dedication to challenging our responsibility to make our museums and institutions open and accessible to all. The methodologies practiced in this project should illustrate that it is not enough to simply adhere to government accessibility guidelines by rote. We must see access to information as a core value of our culture and continue to challenge ourselves to expand the opportunity of information and experience."

Design Firm: 



Canadian Museum for Human Rights

Project Area: 


Open Date: 

September 2014

Project Budget: 


Photo Credits: 

©The Canadian Museum for Human Rights and Ian McCausland

Design Team: 

Kristin Eva Ólafsdóttir (graphic design and art director); Magnus Elvar Jónsson (graphic design and illustrations); Michael Tran (graphic design and content creation); Heimir Freyr Hlöðversson (film, audio and storytelling); Nils Wiberg (interaction design); Samúel H. Jónasson, Pétur Guðbergsson (programmers); Asta Olga Magnusdottir (project manager)


SH Acoustics (acoustic, audio design)

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