Co-production and the role(s) of the designer…
Both the examples here had/have really talented designers as a part of the core team. The designer is needed more than ever but they tend not to sit at a desk in a studio (I'm exaggerating on purpose!) and work from lists and documents and in tightly defined formats (I'm thinking of your research on graphic hierarchies here Jona), but instead are working with collaborators in space and using all sorts of different methods and skills. I could see the hand of the designer everywhere at Ferrowhite, but would then also discover that a number of physical aspects of the museum arose through particular projects or encounters. These traces of past projects were everywhere and made the visit so much more meaningful - even for an international visitor. I spent a bit of time with the team there and couldn't distinguish between neighbours (unpaid) and the staff because the museum is a shared space and everyone's perspective matters (there is no front and back of house). The spaces are less formal as a result - at Ferrowhite's sister museum down the road, the main museum space is actually a kitchen where neighbours spend time and devise projects together. So, yes, to my eyes the designers seemed to have a more vital/acknowledged role in these museums. Facilitator is a good word, but is maybe too formal for what was happening at Ferrowhite. On the day I was there, the designer was working with a group of neighbours (ex workers who have lots of practical skill) on a seating area near the water. They (the designer and one of the neighbours) also took me out on one of the rafts (much to the amusement of my colleague) and explained the politics of the coastline and the kind of space and opportunities for experience they were trying to create together. I didn't have any other encounter quite like it during the research! Thanks Jona - Suzanne
Designers are definitely needed! And so are curators that can talk with designers. I see it as a collaboration. Without you the narrative cannot unfold in space. First Peoples is an exhibition that shows why design is/needs to be so much more than making things look pretty. Design in this exhibition is key to communicating meaning. The slowness that Kayte mentioned in her comment - that is first and foremost a product of designers - they slow visitors down with space, with colour, with slow dissolves. Together with filmmakers they create light and shade, adding dramatic qualities to the settings into which objects are inserted and Indigenous voices prioritised. But these things are only important because of how they help to carry the import of the story curators and in this case the Yulendj group wanted to tell. I am not sure I would use the word facilitator - there is something of that. But i also think that somewhat erases your agency and your role. Facilitator makes it sound like you are a medium for the voices of others - I tend to think of it in more structural terms - you bring something to the process and that something enlarges it and indeed holds the thing together - much like the bass section of an orchestra holds the piece together too. The important thing here is the quality of the dialogue between the different voices in the orchestra - they all need to listen to one another and create something that is more than the sum of the individual parts. Designers are essential to that amplification process.
@suzanne @awitcomb Suzanne, Andrea, thank you so much for your thoughts on this!
I agree regarding the value of designers (of course, I should say that!), and it's interesting that you both point to processes of a dialogue and exchange as crucial part of the designer's involvement, which would suggest a much earlier and much more continuous involvement of the designer than current procurement processes perhaps allow for. And perhaps also a much more specific expression of 'designer' in response to the needs and aims of a respective project? I agree 'facilitator' only captures it in part…
Given the nature of Ferrowhite (which I would love to visit -- there we are, a carbon-neutral conference that prompts so much Fernweh…), this is perhaps again a slightly different matter, as, from your discussion, it appears to be much more of an open, on-going text being written and rewritten continuously, meaning that those involved in its writing are not bound by project schedules in the same way. But to me it comes back to the question of in-house and externals: even if the reality of institutional politics cannot be underestimated either, but listening to Kate Guy's presentation on Margaret Hall, but also having been to the magic world of the AMNH in-house exhibitions department, what a contrast to hearing 'we don't need to appoint a graphic designer now, do we, that can come in detail design, there will be plenty of time then'!
Do visit Ferrowhite if you can Jona - lots to learn from their approach with huge potential to inform design practice.
I think designers should be there as close as possible to the beginning. With First Peoples they were in house which helps in terms of building the team from the beginning and ensuring design is absolutely part of the interpretation strategy. Working together is possible, however, even when they are not internal designers if the design brief is done early enough and with enough time to work through the finishing of the conceptual development phase with them. But you know this of course. Just think the more we think of design as interpretation and develop a close collaboration between designers, curators and the rest of the team, the better.