Design museums need to be more coherent

I fear Paul Villeneuve didn’t quite hit the nail on the head (DW 5 April) in claiming curators need to redefine design. What curators mean by design and what he alludes to are not that far apart. Both focus on the designed object; the only difference is one of interpretation. Designed objects make poor art. We need the socio-cultural dimension to make sense of them.

However, design museums still fail unless they also pay attention to other aspects of design. Yes, objects are design, but so are documents, drawings and models, and so is the activity of designing and communicating design. Design is an archive. Design is a process. Design is an attitude, a rationale, a philosophy.

Janice Kirkpatrick misled us by quoting dictionary definitions of a museum (DW 15 March). Displaying artefacts is not enough to constitute a museum. A definition from the Museums Association 1984 explains where museums have come from and where they are now: “A museum is an institution that collects, documents, preserves, exhibits and interprets material evidence and associated information for public benefit.”

Design museums should only acquire artefacts that have supporting documentary material to provide details. We need to know how, when, where and why they were designed and by whom.

Design museums should make exhibitions that reveal design as product, programme, process and philosophy. That way we will be able to see how design and architecture do touch all our lives.

Geoff Matthews

Lecturer in museum and exhibition design

University of Humberside

Hull HU8 8LZ

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