Exhibition designers need to be involved early on

Neal Potter raises a fundamental issue (DW 2 October). Exhibition design is not generally recognised as a discipline. Why is this? I would suggest there is a widespread misunderstanding of what exhibition designers are concerned with when they design.

Exhibition designers are integrationists when it comes to solving the problems generated by museums, businesses and public bodies in trying to communicate with their audiences. When it is crucial that an environment is created to communicate a message, every aspect of that environment must play its part. It is insufficient to treat graphics, audiovisuals, three-dimensional displays or performance spaces as add-ons to a preconceived interior or structure.

An integrated conceptual and practical approach to media, space, structure and human interaction is required. This is what exhibition designers are expert at: they understand the multimedia spatial environment and its communicative potential (Chartered Society of Designers, please note).

The Dome is handicapped in the same way the British pavilion at Expo 92 was: a building was commissioned and designed independently of any understanding of what communicative purpose was to be served. The designer must be involved in the planning and briefing process of such projects. Braver, better informed and more competent clients would improve the situation. But it is the design community which must facilitate an increase in client confidence, competence and knowledge.

A properly representative central body is part of the solution, I agree (DW 2 October). However, just as important is the potential role of the individual practitioner in making the discipline visible, comprehensible and respectable. I suggest that a majority should be active in publishing and reflecting on their work. I know that sounds tough, but really, we all have to get serious – we can’t just leave it to a few leading lights.

When exhibition projects and the design knowledge they represent are broadcast more widely in the press, on TV, in design exhibitions and books, the discipline will directly command attention and recognition. (I need a few more research students as well!)

I long for the day when exhibition design is the subject of a sit-com on TV. Then we will know we are been taken seriously.

Geoff Matthews

Hull School of Architecture

Hull HU8 8LZ

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