Making Exhibitions, Brokering Meaning: Designing new connections across communities of practice

KOCSIS, Anita and BARNES, Carolyn (2009). Making Exhibitions, Brokering Meaning: Designing new connections across communities of practice. In: Undisciplined! Design Research Society Conference 2008, Sheffield Hallam University, Sheffield, UK, 16-19 July 2008.


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New media museum exhibits often see designers representing the research of expert content providers. Despite perceptions that such exhibits provide museum visitors with a greater depth and range of experience, differences in knowledge and practice between designers and content providers can see content development become an unruly, competitive process in which audience experience, digital mediation, visualisation techniques and meaning become contested territory.

Drawing on Etienne Wenger’s theory of “communities of practice”, this paper argues that designers’ advocacy for audiences and distance from exhibition content well positions them to broker interdisciplinary goal setting so that exhibitions observe the representational objectives of content providers and meet the needs and preferences of museum visitors. A wide range of design literature already discusses the pragmatic benefits and ethical importance of user-centered design, while the literature on co-design suggests that designed outcomes are more successful if the design process considers the interests of all stakeholders.

These discussions can be compelling, but the inherent challenges in engaging others’ perspectives and knowledge in the design process are less acknowledged, Wenger’s ideas on the social dynamics of group enterprise offering designers valuable insights into the actuality of negotiating designed outcomes with non-designer stakeholders.

The paper has two main aspects. The first outlines the theory of communities of practice, focusing on the brokering of knowledge and practice between disciplines. This discussion frames an analysis of the design process for two museum exhibitions. Representing an original application of Wenger’s ideas, the discussion recognises the unique role of the designed artifact in brokering information visualization processes, transcending the actions and intentions of individual stakeholders. While accepting there are successful examples of interdisciplinary exchange in various areas of design, the interpretation of examples via Wenger contributes useful principles to the theorisation of co-design with non-designer stakeholders.

Information visualization; New media museum exhibits; Multidisciplinary projects; Communities of Practice; Brokering; User-centered design; Co-Design; Etienne Wenger

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (-)
Depositing User: Ann Betterton
Date Deposited: 10 Aug 2009
Last Modified: 18 Mar 2021 14:04

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