How Human-Centered Design Fails Museums
Friday, November 8, 2019 11:30 AM - 12:00 PM
Venue: Hilton San Diego Resort & Spa
Room: Las Palmas/Marseilles
Human-centered design, service design, and design thinking represent the current zeitgeist, deeply embedded in how we think of our practice. Potentially a reductionist, jargonistic approach, these terms are at times used interchangeably. Yet the origins and use of each signify a distinct, specific approach to relationships between staff and visitors. We declare that museums are not neutral, and while well-intentioned and sincere, we as a field are actively choosing frameworks that are built on “othering”.

In this provocative session, I argue that human-centered design and related ideologies are important critical steps towards more inclusive institutions, yet they are ultimately hampered by their capitalist corporate roots. In adopting such an approach, museums can improve the visitor experience for the better while still neglecting larger community and mission-driven goals.

Our current practice values inclusivity, visitor input, and evidence-based practice. Yet through the choice of specific frameworks such as human-centered design for the development of our tools, programs, exhibits, and evaluation strategies we ultimately risk perpetuating a culturally dominant paradigm. By striving for empathy rather than sharing authority, we miss our mark. Seeking input on specific individual needs and motivations for use of a product feeds the tragedy of the commons.

Session Type
30-Minute Session (Presentation or Case Study)
Chatham House Rule
Key Outcomes
Participants will be armed with deeper knowledge regarding choice of frameworks, and the implications on how inclusive and authentic our work truly is. Rather than choosing design frameworks that intentionally or unintentionally maintain inequity, participants will gain a broader set of frames to question, and then address, the underlying structures and processes related to how we develop technology and other museum content.
Session Leader : Kate Haley Goldman, Principal, HG&Co