Museums are spaces to show off all aspects of design

Has there ever been a better time to be involved in exhibition design?

The shift in the UK economy from manufacturing to service industries brought a boost to tourism. This has been fuelled by the decision of many Brits post-9/11 to holiday at home at a time when the country – and London in particular – has become a key destination for visitors from abroad.

The development of Far Eastern package tours, notably from China, can only add to this drive. And then there are special events like the Millennium and the 2012 London Olympics that open up official coffers and Lottery funds to give visitors insight into our culture through museums, galleries and installations.

The latest bequest of £4m funding for museums and galleries from the Department of Culture, Media and Sport and the Wolfson Foundation as part of the Galleries Improvement Fund (see News, page 4) does not guarantee great design, but at least the opportunity is there for consultancies to make their case.

However, the new Natural History Museum roster is awash with exhibition design stars, which bodes well for the institution’s role as a strong design champion (see News, page 3). Its near neighbour, the Science Museum, meanwhile continues to blaze a trail through design with the recent formation of the Science & Media venture to export exhibitions.

One of the great things about work in the museums and galleries sector is that it brings together all aspects of design. It’s not just a case of architects and interior designers arranging exhibits in space. Branding is vital, product design often plays a part and digital media is a growing component in visitor experience.

At the Victoria & Albert Museum’s 150th anniversary bash a few years back Vittorio Radice, then Selfridges’ visionary head, spoke of retail being the new outlet for cultural expression. With high street stores depressed as they are now, the V&A and its peers have reclaimed that position – at least in terms of design.

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