Thursday night, we were excited to check out the Design Museum Boston's follow-up exhibit to "Creative Capital." On display at the Prudential Center's Huntington Arcade, this summer's exhibit entitled "Retail: Retell. Recycle. Rethink." was a collaboration between the Design Museum and a Wentworth Institute of Technology (WIT) industrial design class. "Retail" focuses on the increasingly important paradigm shift towards sustainable consumer goods through redesigned "production, distribution and disposal," highlighting the life-cycles of shoes, cellphones, cleaning products, and water bottles. The partnership maintained a blog detailing the creation of the museum exhibit.
The wonderful exhibit was perfectly situated amongst crowds of consumers in one of Boston's most popular shopping locations. Instead of designating a single point of entry, visitors can enter the exhibit any way they choose without interrupting the flow of the presentation dialogue. The Design Museum's identity D logo (recently honored at the 2011 AIGA New England Awards) was emblazoned across the floor in the center, tying the two halves of the exhibit together.
The general response to "Retail" was astonishment at the fact that a group of ID students, with only guidance from the Design Museum, were able to design and execute such a professional exhibit in a matter of mere months. The presentation boards were sophisticated, yet not overly saturated with information, and the cross-section displays of products were carefully crafted.
We got a chance to speak with Design Museum Boston founders Sam Aquilliano and Derek Casio about the process for designing exhibits and where the Museum is headed.
Core77: Why did you choose "Retail" as your second exhibit?
Derek: Technically this is our third exhibit. A little known fact, but our first exhibit was a one day exhibition at Reebok for the "Design Means Business" event. The purpose behind this particular exhibit was the product of a course that Sam and I taught at Wentworth Institute of Technology with industrial design students there. The idea is that through our studio program we go in as Design Museum Boston and we get the kids to develop everything from the content to the subject matter, to the research, to securing sponsorship to give them a real world experience of what it's like to actually do something that's going to be out in the public.
Sam: The museum ends up being like the client for the project. Everything you see from the initial idea to the fabrication was all done by students.
Why did you choose to work with students?
Derek: Sam and I both have pretty strong ties to education, especially Boston education. I graduated from MassArt and Sam has taught at Wentworth for about four years now.
Sam: At Wentworth we teach a variety of courses. We have a great relationship with the school, they've been supporting the Museum. They let us store things there, they let us meet there. Sam Montague, the head of the program, was actually one of the first people we met about the Museum. He's definitely been an advisor to both of us. He was like, what can we do with both Wentworth and the Museum? What if you and Derek taught an exhibit design class? Instead of doing a traditional exhibit design class where each student designs an exhibit, then does a rendering of the exhibit, but it never actually gets made, we'll do a huge group project and we'll run it like a real studio. This is the result.
Why is the exhibit mobile - why not use a permanent location?
Derek: We get that question a lot. At the time when we first started thinking up Design Museum Boston, the original idea was, yeah, we're going to have the Cooper Hewitt and marble floors everywhere. We started looking into that and realized it's a lot of money to do that. We don't have any money!
Sam: Derek and I are do-ers and we were like, what model can we do because we're going to do this museum. We started seeing a lot of pop-up retail around. Well, design is everywhere. Literally. So the design museum should also be everywhere. We turned the museum inside out. Now our exhibits are all around where people already are. They're already in the mall interacting with design in a retail environment. So we get to capture them... sneakily...
Derek: And teach them. I think that ties back in to why we wanted to do something with the school, the entire organization is about design education.
What else do you have going on in the background?
Sam: Derek has been working on a program called "Designing a Difference." When we first started designing the exhibits, we found it was tough for companies to give us their process work. Well, we're designers. So we can actually do design to demonstrate the transformative power of design to the public. Our first project is with a non-profit called Smallbean. They create solar-powered computer labs in Africa. Derek is leading the charge to redesign their entire solar system. We gather a team of experts - designers, engineers, and people who've been on the ground in Tanzania - and we have workshops to design this thing. We'll travel to Africa to hand it off and at the very end we'll have an exhibit that shows the entire process from this small nonprofit trying to make this happen to the design process to 'man, what an impact!'
Big picture - where do you want to see the museum in five years? Ten years?
Derek: I think the most permanent space we're going to have is an office, a home base.
Sam: A launching point for all of these other programs. But I think we always need to have this distributed model to get the public engaged. We were here at 4 am last night finishing up. This space is open 24/7 and there are people—drunk people—walking through, but they were stopping and reading the stuff and being like, what is this? That's amazing to me. If we had to get a building, we would have to drag people inside. People who don't know what design is aren't going to go to a design museum. So it's as simple as that.
Derek: We also have intentions of being able to take Design Museum Boston beyond Boston and integrate it into greater Massachusetts. We're going to start pushing those boundaries now a little more. Just because it says "Boston" in the name doesn't mean that's it.