Figure 4: Schema Integrating Overall Concepts of this Research Paper The schema above illustrates the central and key role design plays in museum exhibitions. The red line representing the conveyance of culture indicates various key elements involved in museum exhibitions. The order, which is not hierarchical, suggests the museums’ transmission process between the cultural subject on one end and their audiences on the other end. The design enables communication by bridging between the narrative (a form of cultural interpretation/message) and the exhibition (a representative model). Between each key element, issues contributing to the complexity of museum exhibitions are identified. This paper thus far has focused on the issues concerning the complexity in museum exhibition development and communication: representation and its limitations, technology integration, authenticity, authority, entrance narrative, and interdisciplinary team of exhibition creators. These issues underlying the complexity of museum exhibitions can be classified into three levels, where design plays a crucial part within each level: 1) The complexity of interpretation, 2) The complexity of representation, 3) The complexity of learning in museums. The complexity of interpretation is often mitigated by the use of narrative. Museum exhibitions convey their interpretation/message with the aid of design components/techniques. Objects cannot stand alone in an exhibition; in fact, their meanings come from ‘linked objects, texts, and images that focus the direction of signification’ (Hooper-Greenhill, 2006, p. 236). Though the exhibitions and their design elements are changing, design will continue to be the mediatory agent that enables, facilitates, and materializes (whether physically or virtually) the complex signifying process of museum exhibitions. The complexity of representation in museum exhibitions is where design is often assumed to play the most prominent role. Design, as a means of construction/communication in representing aspects of culture, has become more than merely a tool for mimicry. Freud recognized early on that in order to represent historical account in spatial terms, it can only be done through juxtaposition in space (Forrester, 1994). Hence, design principles, such as order, arrangement, eurhythmy, and symmetry (Vitruvius & Morgan, 1960), are indispensable in the system of representation. The current sensory approach using various new and emerging design techniques and technologies further adds to the complexity. While technology advancement may change the way museums archive and exhibit, design will continue to be our first and primal interface and mediator.
With such entrusted authority and as a place of ideologies (Foucault, 2004), it is absolutely critical to examine how museums exhibit and communicate culture through design. The complexity of learning in museums primarily concerns the audiences and their interpretation. Despite the issue of entrance narrative, a study and inclusion of potential audiences during the design development process will allow the final exhibition to convey more comprehensible and compelling message (Hooper-Greenhill, 2004). Front-end, formative, and summative evaluations can to help define target audiences and predict their responses. The key to museum exhibition success may then be ‘[the ability] to determine what meanings visitors make from their experiences, and then to shape the experience to the extent possible the manipulation of the environment’ (Alexander & Alexander, 2008, p. 277). Above all, the complexity in museum exhibitions lies in the institution’s purpose. Museum experience naturally becomes convoluted under the devised combination of architecture, constructed narrative, displays of artefacts, deliberately designed space, and technology integration. It is important to keep in mind that museums are human inventions conceived from our own aspirations and ideologies (Alpers, 1991); ‘they exist for the things we put in them, and they change as each generation chooses how to see and use those things’ (Alexander & Alexander, 2008, p. 12). Museum exhibitions can thus be more or less complex in design and through the means of design. Conclusion The changes in museum exhibitions and their design suggest a shift in such cultural/social institutions from being a temple to a forum, where discussions and interactions among visitors strive (Alexander & Alexander, 2008; Weil, 2000). In museums becoming more democratic and taking their audiences more into consideration, there arise the issues of narrative and voice as well as the issues of interpretation and meaning construction (Hooper-Greenhill, 2004). This can be considered as a new level of complexity added to the existing complex phenomena of museum exhibitions and their responsive approach via design. Research is the key in addressing levels of complexity in museum exhibitions and the changes they undergo. It can help exhibition creators to select concepts, develop compelling narratives, and design appropriate sensory experiences during in various stages of the process. More importantly, research allows exhibition creators to better understand the expectations and learning of their audiences (Alexander & Alexander, 2008). One remaining challenge in designing museum exhibitions is the difficulty in testing the concept and its outcome. With each exhibition’s scale and demands for resources, it has been difficult to assess and modify the design during its development or to subject it to a holistic scrutiny the way product designers do in mocking and studying the usability of their product’s features. With the advance of technology, it is foreseeable that this can be resolved without being another added complication in exhibition design. In fact, a detailed analysis of both theories and current practices likely reduces certain levels of complexity in museum exhibitions. Finally, this paper asserts that the complexity in museum exhibition design is in the way of seeing: A visit to museums such as the Pitti Palace in Florence or the Musée de l’Homme in Paris, which retain outdated modes of exhibition, suggests less that they were wrong and we can get it right than that the museum – as a way of seeing – itself keeps changing and that installation has a major effect on what one sees. A constant, however, is the issue of seeing. (Alpers, 1991, p. 31) References Alexander, E. P., & Alexander, M. (2008). Museums in motion: An introduction to the history and functions of museums. American Association for State and Local History book series. Lanham: AltaMira Press. Alpers, S. (1991). A way of seeing. In I. Karp & S. D. Lavine (Eds.), Exhibiting cultures: The poetics and politics of museum display (pp. 25–32). Washington: Smithsonian Institution Press.