Designing in the Digitally Mature Museum: Refocusing Design From Technology To Human Practice

Lead Research Organisation: Northumbria University
Department Name: Fac of Arts, Design and Social Sciences


My research project aims to advance our understanding of human-centred design practices within museums that are moving toward a digitally mature condition, in which an increasing proportion of the sector is transforming, due to the tendency of museums to embed digital activity, media, and thinking within museums' practices and organisational structures, strategies and mission. Digital media, activity, and thinking are impacting rapidly on the nature of collections, learning, and services; on audience behaviour and expectations; and on the ways in which museums can fulfil their (new) missions. Museums are not just adopting new technology, but rather they are embedding digital in their vision and strategy, organisational working practices and skills sets, and ways of thinking and decision making.

Significantly, museums have started to embrace a significant trend that sees human-centered design practices booming in those innovative industries where digital transformation requires new competences and capabilities, and novel ways of thinking, experimenting, and making to design for effective user (human) experiences and services, and envisioning new organisational strategies.

Why is fostering design practices so crucial in the digitally mature museum? And why is studying those emerging practices important?

Design practices are both shaping and shaped by the integration of the digital within museum practices and, therefore, inevitably results in and emerges out of the organisational change that ensues (Mason and Vavoula 2020 "Digital Cultural Heritage Design Practice: A Conceptual Framework"). Design is a driving force within a wider landscape of the transformative museum. Design brings into the organisational practices new mindsets, capabilities, and practices that help museums to embrace and deliver change, and pursue (digital) transformation.

Human-Centered Design promotes a creative and explorative culture and collaborative working practices, where museum professionals are called upon to actively participate in design activities in collaboration with digital specialists, design consultancies, and stakeholders (including visitors and communities). This is changing internal working practices and design activity, where knowledge is created and shared in new ways, in which new tools are introduced, and workplaces re-configured.

Through the first systematic study of design practices in the digitally mature museums I aim to understand these changes, how and why they are affecting and changing museum design practices.

This project is driven by a social science approach based on qualitative research and ethnographic observations to conduct a study in/for UK museums. It is an interdisciplinary research project at the intersection of design, digital cultural heritage and organisational studies to (1) overview the landscape of emerging design practices in UK museums and (2) understand how these emerging design practices work, towards (3) establishing theoretical foundations of emerging design practice in the digitally mature museum. This project considers innovation for museums, not only resulting from the adoption of cutting-edge technology, but about creative and explorative culture, and collaborative working practices that are enacted by design.


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Description Derby Museums Trust 
Organisation Derby Museums
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution Our analysis of their activities is helping them to reflect on their design practices (and improving them)
Collaborator Contribution Possibility to collect qualitative data
Impact Qualitative data gained from the ethnographic observation of design activites
Start Year 2022
Description Tyne Wear Archives Museums 
Organisation Tyne and Wear Archives and Museums
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution TWAM is a Sector Support Organisation in which I will run the training activity for the sector (leadership impact activity)
Collaborator Contribution TWAM is one of the case studies in which I and the research fellow conduct participatory action research. TWAM will offer us their time to make the in-the-field research activity as much effective as possible. Also, TWAM guest one of the workshop in Phase 1 of the proejct.
Impact NA. The impact activity will take place in 2023
Start Year 2022