By the summer of 2019, a clear picture was starting to form for me about how different pockets of the museum saw the role of design. Even though these projects spanned different workflows and stakeholders across the museum, I had not yet touched the area that more-or-less dominates most of our other designers’ time and energy: exhibitions. The Art Institute’s exhibition rotation is incredibly ambitious. Besides the normal rotation of our permanent collection objects, we put on around 25 special exhibitions a year, creating a constant demand for bespoke exhibition architecture, branded identities, marketing campaigns, printed catalogues, artwork labels, and interpretive visuals and text.

As if this amount of work was not already daunting for a small design team, the exhibition process itself was unpredictable and inconsistent. Leadership was working on building design collaboration earlier into the process, giving designers agency in the concept of the exhibition and putting them in a more proactive creative position on the project team.   

The opportunity was offered to me to join an exhibition team to advocate for a collaborative design process from within, allowing me first-hand insight to how design thinking in our exhibition process could be realistically implemented and scaled.

I was lucky to find a team eager to collaborate for the Weaving Beyond the Bauhaus exhibition. This exhibition became a model for how the graphic designers could build a collaborative vision with exhibition designers, and how graphic designers could have an agile content strategy with curatorial and interpretive teams. Other best practices were established—including worksessions between design deliverables and the use of post-mortems—that were disseminated to other exhibition teams for consideration.

As of writing this, I am in the process of working with the same exhibitions team for a second textile exhibition, Bisa Butler—Represent, to further test the collaborative processes we established in the Bauhaus exhibit.