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Build Boston: three workshops and a pechakucha

17 Jan 2011

Last week A month and a half ago!?!* I attended a few workshops at the Build Boston conference. Presented by the Boston Society of Architects, Build Boston is primarily targeted to architects and those who work with architects; it is “the Northeast’s largest tradeshow and conference for the design and construction industry” so I was surprised and happy to find a few programs on this year’s schedule more of interest to the museum exhibit designers.

First, there were the tours. Options included a tour of Boston’s boutique hotels, tours of the MIT Media Lab, and a tour of the new Art of the Americas wing at the MFA Boston. I didn’t go on any of these. A few of my coworkers got the behind-the-scenes sneak peak of the MFA (read Katelyn’s description); I instead attended a symposium called Cultural Catalysts to Inclusive/ Socially Sustainable Design. The MFA did feature in my conference experience later when it was discussed at length during another symposium I attended, Museums in the Digital Age. I also stopped by the PechaKucha, and—to round out my conference experience with some practical knowledge—I went to the workshop, Sustainability in Environmental Graphic Design. Click through for my recaps of each.

*Apologies for the tardy post. Time these days…somehow seems to just slip away from me. I think maybe because I am entirely wrapped up in organizing the AIGA BoNE Show but who can say for certain. :[  

PechaKucha

PechaKucha Nights are events for designers to meet, network, and show their work. Presenters are given 20 seconds to show each of 20 images. The slides automatically advance after 20 seconds, forcing presenters to stay on topic and talk fast. Usually presentations are really interesting. If one’s not…well, it’s over in 400 seconds.

Highlights:

Artforming showed examples of their site-specific public art and architecture installations. Their work centers around environment, emerging technologies, and the synthesis of art and science.

• Two Northeastern University students shared their experiences with Freedom by Design. Freedom by Design is the AIAS (American Institute of Architecture Students)’s community service program that teaches students how to resolve accessibility issues in the homes of low-income people with disabilities. The students work to “radically impact the lives of people in their community through modest design and construction solutions.” The program is looking for supporters and mentors if you’d like to get involved.

• Saeed Arida and Saba Ghole explained the studio environment of NuVu in Kendall Square, Cambridge. NuVu is “a place of innovation where middle and high school students join together with experts from MIT and Harvard to create new views of the world.” It sounded like an incredible program. If I could go back to high school…sign me up, please?!

Cultural Catalysts to Inclusive/Socially Sustainable Design

This symposium was sponsored by the Institute for Human Centered Design, an international education and design non-profit based in Boston that is “dedicated to enhancing the experience of people of all ages and abilities through excellence in design.” The symposium was moderated by Valerie Fletcher, the Institute’s executive director.

Dr. Shigeki Inoue spoke first. He is executive manager at Hakuhodo Universal Design, a consulting and creative boutique in Tokyo that seeks to improve the lives and satisfaction of sei-katsu-sha (“living persons”) of differing needs and abilities. Dr. Inoue is researching “science in design” to create a method of design that reaches and includes the greatest number of people. His research focuses on print media; specifically, creating a highly legible Japanese typeface. Dr. Inoue asked the question, “why do designers make designs that are difficult to read?” and spoke to how graphic design remains largely inaccessible for people who have low vision.

His presentation made me wonder: graphic designers, if you can create a design that is more legible for more people—by increasing the text size, by using a different typeface, by increasing contrast between the background and text color—why wouldn’t you? Is it that you think it is readable or that you don’t realize that it’s not? Do you not care? The balance of aesthetic and accessibility is something that all graphic designers should aim for, not just those creating with museum environments.

Karin Bendixen is director of the consultancy Bexcom and founder and president of the Danish Design for All network. She writes about “Design for All” concepts, targeting architects, planners, designers, and politicians. She asked that we change our mindsets from designing for disabled individuals as a distinct segment of society to designing for society as though everyone has a disability (everything is accessible for everyone); and from “what design is” to “what design can do.” Bendixen encouraged us all to be better at promoting the messages of Universal Design: holistic design, sustainability, and design for all.

Rachna Khare is Professor and Doctoral Research Coordinator at the School of Planning and Architecture in Bhopal, India. She lectures and writes about universal design in India. There are 70 million people with disabilities in India (5–6% of the population), and the majority live in rural areas. Most of the current accessibility efforts in India are “too Western” in their approach, according to Khare. Her goal is to make universal design an entrenched part of Indian culture.

• The symposium was wrapped up by Jason Schupbach, the new design director for the National Endowment for the Arts’s Visual Arts Division. The NEA is an independent government agency that funds arts in the United States: performances, exhibitions, festivals, artist residencies, and other projects in different disciplines and fields from arts education to the visual arts, in all fifty states and in rural and inner city areas and military bases. The NEA had a budget of $167.5 million for fiscal year 2010, making it the largest national funder of the arts, and according to its website, its grants “have a powerful multiplying effect, with each grant dollar typically generating up to seven times more in matching resources.” The National Endowment for the Arts is also a partner in Blue Star Museums, the program that offers free museum admission to military personnel and their families from Memorial Day through Labor Day.

Schupbach talked about some of the NEA’s goals and initiatives. He first spoke about the NEA’s focus on communities and “creative placemaking,” and on investment in planning, design, and arts engagement; he then talked about the NEA’s funding activities across design disciplines. The NEA is currently collecting datasets from all design disciplines, and is interested in strategic investment in design and connecting designers with those businesses and federal organizations that are interested in design thinking. There are many funding opportunities in design and—little-known fact?—non-profit organizations that are 3+ years old can apply for grants to hire designers.

Museums in the Digital Age

Moderated by Aisha Densmore-Bey of the BSA’s Museum and Exhibit Design Committee, this symposium featured Susan Leidy, Deputy Director of the Currier Museum of Art in Manchester, NH; Peter Kuttner, President of Cambridge Seven Associates in Cambridge, MA; and Ann Beha of Ann Beha Architects in Boston, MA. The symposium description: “…even as daily life is reconfigured constantly by technology, museums retain their esteem as bastions of culture. In the face of an increasingly interactive world online, is a physical space still necessary to experience art?”

Susan Leidy’s talk focused on these questions: What are museums currently thinking about and doing with media? Where does media fit in? Does original artwork still matter? According to her, media and technology should only be used to further museums’ missions and museums should take care to stay true to those missions, whatever they might be—education, conservation, collecting, or something else. Original artwork does still matter. (And projecting this onto other types of museums; historical documents, artifacts, live animals, sight, sound, smell, touch…still matters.) The Currier Museum attempts to provide stimulating encounters with artwork. More than anything else, visitors want authenticity in a museum experience. They go to see real physical objects. Take home message: compromise authenticity for digital media at our peril.

Peter Kuttner drew connections between two very different seeming types of museum/themed experiences: the art museum and the zoo. Both are, again, primarily about authenticity and seeing the real thing. The tendency in these types of environments is to separate the media from the art/animals so as not to detract from the art/animals. Kuttner gave a few case studies of projects by C7 Associates to illustrate what media can do when used thoughtfully in an exhibit. Media technology allows you to quickly respond to current events if there’s a reason to do so. It’s also possible to “hide” the technology by integrating it into the experience of the exhibit space (or, to put it another way: allow technology to inform but not dominate a space). Technology can encourage group activity and indepth learning, but has to be taken to a level beyond sitting at a monitor.

Ann Beha spoke at length about the Museum of Fine Arts’s new Art of the Americas wing. (A project, she pointed out, that she did not work on but admires.) One of the MFA’s media highlights is its new website, which features a homepage that continually updates and changes as it rotates through photos of its exhibitions, and introduces “Buzz,” their foray into social media. Buzz brings together the MFA’s Twitter, flickr, YouTube, and Facebook accounts and is an intentional attempt to engage in a dialogue with its visitors and gather real time feedback on people’s experiences at the museum. Ann mentioned that the MFA was the first museum to post its entire collection online, in 1995, and has in many ways been an internet leader in the museum industry.

Ann stated, “You have to explore all types of media to be effective” and strive for meaningfulness in the ways you use technology. All technology within the MFA helps to support the museum’s missions of collecting, stewardship, scholarship, engagement, enlightenment. There are study stations incorporated into the wayfinding in the corridors; easy-to-use multimedia guides that provide many options for self-directed learning; touch screen stations that teach and engage visitors on a deeper level than provided by the exhibition labeling alone; touch tables. Everything is integrated into the environment of the museum in a seamless way with “intense design sensibilities.” The physical architecture of the museum building becomes a blank canvas for media, and an opportunity to create public spaces that are full of life and possibilities.

Sustainability in Environmental Graphic Design

Discussed were some strategies for EGD sustainability including material selection, resource and waste management, energy and lighting efficiency, air and water quality, public education, and costs. I’ve been working on a list of websites and blogs that focus on sustainability, and you can explore them in this website’s sidebar to the right.

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