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Rachel Hellgren

Inverting Perspectives: Realizing the Role of Design in Museum Management


Degree | MFA, Visual Communication Design, 2011
School | Kent State University, Kent, Ohio



Artist's Statement

Since the 1980’s, relevancy for art museums has been a struggle. As some close and others continue to fight for funding, it is not uncommon to find an overly internalized mindset and an internally divided staff. Unfortunately, many museums also do not consider the visitor as a deep source of value. As changes in philanthropic patterns are intensifying with the rising millennial generation, traditional management is perpetuating static innovation. It is this mindset that downplays creative thinking, flattens workplace culture, and hinders collaboration. A change is needed and the answer lies in design. When an organization is designful it gives way to an innovative spirit that involves sustaining agility, prioritizing user-centeredness, imaginative thinking, sharing ideas, establishing quality relationships, and taking risks. These qualities are invaluable to generating interest, creating newness, and maintaining a bond with an audience. By integrating design as a process and a mindset, museums can finally leverage themselves as leaders of change, instead of mere reactors to crisis. Inverting Perspectives delves deep into what this change looks like by exploring current issues within museums and defining designfulness. Substantial secondary research is presented, along with several revealing personal interviews which run vertically, side-by-side, for easy comparison. Written originally for the fulfillment of an MFA Degree from Kent State University’s Visual Communication Design graduate program, this book is a visual exploration into integrating the opposing mindsets. The concept came from an overwhelming observation of the purely oppositional differences between museums and design. Inverted and reversed relationships were explored visually throughout the design of this book. Oppositional typefaces and colors were paired, but used in ways that show mutual, compatible relationships. The breaking of strong lines, rotated copy and rule lines, separations in space, and inverted quotes all speak to changing a traditional and expected perspective to one of more play, flexibility, and risk. There was also an intention to design a book that enabled a “quick read.” Given that my original thesis was over 22,000 words, I wanted to humanize the level of content and highlight key points so a reader could simply flip through and still get a good idea of the questions, problems, and call to action. . . . Overall I view this book as a living document—it will continue to change and expand. In August, 2015, I will begin a Ph.D. program in Design and Innovation at Case Western Reserve University. Building on this research, I plan to explore these themes in greater depth: Why is there such a strong resistance to change? Why is there a lack of collaborative teamwork, openness to possibility, and nurturance of creativity in museums? How might the ignorance surrounding user needs become enlightened? Why has ego overgrown the ‘heart’ of leadership and care for a meaningful culture been ignored? I am eager to discover how factors of emotion correlate with innovation, how leadership and workplace culture impact progressive initiatives, and ways in which to soften dysfunctional trends through the development of designed frameworks, potentially adaptable to any size and type of museum. Hinting at the study of the ‘emotional’ design of objects, I seek to expand that concept into the ‘emotional’ design of management, interaction, and space, with the goal of generating a stronger, more innovative organization.

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