Unleashing the Power of Exhibition Design at 2024 SEGD Exhibition + Experience

Last week, the SEGD community converged in Washington, DC for 2024 SEGD Exhibition + Experience. The event was filled with energy, stimulating conversations, and a profound sense of camaraderie among new attendees and longstanding members. Together, we explored the transformational impact of exhibition design, focusing on critical global issues such as social polarization, racial injustice, the climate emergency, and techno-ethics. This event was made possible by our Presenting Sponsor Color-Ad Signs and Exhibits, as well as our sponsors DE Powder Coated Graphics, Peregrine OKB and iZone Imaging.

Day One Highlights

Cybelle Jones, CEO of SEGD, opened the event by introducing her co-chairs, Tricia Austin, PhD Supervisor at Central Saint Martins, University of the Arts London, and Timothy McNeil, Professor of Design at the University of California Davis and a longstanding member of the SEGD Academic Advisory Committee. They emphasized the event’s theme, “Transformational Impact of Exhibition and Experience Design.”

The inspiration for this event came from a series of workshops led by Tim and Tricia over the past several months. These online forums gathered small groups of design practitioners from around the world to share projects and critically examine how exhibition design can serve as an agent of change in our rapidly evolving world. Four pressing topics emerged from these discussions: the Climate Emergency, Social Polarization, Racial Injustice, and Techno Ethics. These conversations highlighted a gap in opportunities for designers to discuss these issues in commercial contexts and underscored the need to recognize the skill and impact of the exhibition and experience design field.

To kick the day off, Tricia and Tim led attendees through an interactive exercise to lay the groundwork for the next day’s design challenges, encouraging everyone to jot down ideas on cards representing the four themes and to select a venue, object and audience for the next day’s creative workshops.

Morning Sessions

Dr. Lesley-Ann Noel kicked off the day with an inspiring keynote on applying social change strategies to experience design, igniting a series of thought-provoking discussions. Dr. Noel highlighted the works of Paulo Freire, Elizabeth (Dori) Tunstall, Linda Tuhiwai Smith, Basu Mbembe and Arturo Escobar that she incorporates into her guidebook for designing social change.

Cathy Frankel, Daniel Meyers, and Traci Sym presented the “Building Stories” exhibition at the National Building Museum, showcasing the innovative power of storytelling through design.

Ricardo Rubiales captivated the audience with his insights on using museography as a catalyst for social change, highlighting the profound impact exhibitions can have on society tracing transformational museum exhibition projects across Latin America and Mexico.

Afternoon Sessions

After a networking break filled with lively exchanges, Brenda Cowan introduced the afternoon sessions:

  • Andy Chen and Waqas Jawaid from Isometric Studio shared their experiences with design activism, illustrating how design can drive social change.
  • Jona Piehl and Michael Denison explored the power of graphics to communicate contested histories, challenging and educating audiences through thoughtful design.
  • Femke Bijlsma from Kossmanndejong underscored the urgency of addressing climate change with sustainable design practices.
  • Moderated session with the speakers led by Brenda Cowan, Professor and former Chairperson of Graduate Exhibition & Experience Design at the SUNY/Fashion Institute of Technology.

The momentum continued after another networking break:

  • Coleman A. Jordan discussed African diaspora solidarity, emphasizing the role of design in fostering global connections and his with students from Morgan State University to create a pavilion entitled “ReCall and Response” which will be featured at the 2025 Venice Architecture Biennale.
  • Rosie Wanek spoke about the impact of design on society, urging designers to consider the broader implications of their work.
  • Bosco Hernández highlighted the importance of flexibility in exhibition design, showcasing how adaptive approaches can meet evolving audience needs.

Evening Social

The day concluded with an engaging tour of Planet Word, followed by a vibrant happy hour at Wild Days at Eaton DC. Attendees, both new and seasoned, mingled and shared insights, further strengthening the sense of community.

Day Two: Interactive Creative Workshops

The second day attendees participated in hands-on workshops at Gensler Architects and SmithGroup Architects. The workshops continued to focus on the themes presented on Day one’s talks, fostering a collaborative atmosphere where diverse perspectives converged to address these critical issues.

Workshop Structure

Participants were divided into small groups and tasked with developing design solutions based on a randomly assigned place, audience, and object. The day was structured into four breakout sessions, each brimming with innovative ideas and collaborative spirit.

  • Social Polarization: Groups explored how design can bridge social divides and promote inclusivity.
  • Racial Injustice: Teams examined how exhibitions can confront racial inequalities and historical injustices.
  • Climate Emergency: Participants focused on sustainable design practices to address climate change.
  • Techno Ethics: Discussions revolved around the ethical implications of emerging technologies in exhibitions.

Creative Output

The workshops were a testament to the collaborative energy and ingenuity of the participants. The day culminated in 42 inventive bespoke models and design briefs, each showcasing a unique solution to the assigned challenges. These creations were presented at a final reception at Gensler, celebrating the incredible work and fostering further connections among attendees.

Looking Ahead

We plan to document and share the exceptional outcomes from these workshops, highlighting the creativity and collaboration that defined the event. Stay tuned for detailed insights into the projects developed during this inspiring event.

Thank you to everyone who attended and contributed to the success of 2024 SEGD Exhibition + Experience. Your passion and expertise are driving the future of exhibition design. We look forward to continuing these important conversations and witnessing the impact of your work on the world.

Join us at our next SEGD event!

About SEGD

We are designers of experiences connecting people to place. SEGD is a multidisciplinary community collectively shaping the future of experience design. We are a thought leader and an amplifier in the practice of experience design. Learn more at segd.org.