Challenges of Tomorrow’s Museum Design

The first session I attended at the 2015 American Alliance of Museums was TrendsWatch 2015 with Elizabeth Merritt, Founding Director of the Center for the Future of Museums. Ms. Merritt provided some great thoughts on future trends and challenges of tomorrow’s museum design.


Today, people desire personalized experiences. Group tours are a common practice in museums, however, millennials prefer a tailored visit. According to Ms. Merritt, research shows that interaction such as a simple conversation pointing the visitor to the exhibit of greatest interest; providing an interactive, pre-programed experience; or offering other personal touches can increase the satisfaction of the educational response by roughly 5%. But this brings up challenges in staffing, programming and membership types. For designers, I think this means closer coordination with the museum staff to help create and integrate their personal touch plan.

Wearable Technology and Slow Culture

Google Glass, HoloLens, or Oculus Rift are current technologies in virtual reality. When implementing these features in exhibits, we must make sure they enhance, not inhibit, the experience. Providing exhibits online have raised the question of whether or not it will lead to a decrease in museum attendance, but Ms. Merritt thinks the opposite will happen. Online tours will inspire people who are able to go to the museum to see the exhibits in person. For those that can’t get there, the online tours provide access to the experience. This technology push can be very stressful. As designers, our challenge is to help take the stress out of the technology and find interesting, creative ways to incorporate the different technologies into the exhibits. We also need to suggest methods of balancing the craving for more technology and faster information with the desire to slow down, disconnect, and enjoy a museum.

TrendsWatch 2015 Gulf Coast Map

Location of museums and related organizations along the Gulf Coast from the Center for the Future of Museum’s TrendsWatch 2015

Rising Sea Levels

Ms. Merritt provided chilling data showing rising sea levels on a map overlaid with the locations of museums. She reported that 1/3rd of all museums in the United States are within 1 mile of the coast and 1/4th are in areas susceptible to coastal water impacts. Combining this information and the changing flood insurance landscape, it is crucial to consider the location of new and old facilities. Should we be building or renovating in places that could be so costly to repair or replace? Could water damage precious artifacts? This information provides opportunities for museums to start discussions about the assumptions of location and lead conversations about the impact of the changing environment on our communities. No designer wants to see their vision washed away by storms. It is our responsibility to raise these concerns to the owners and the design team.

Find More

The future of museums poses challenges to museum staff as well as those of us designing the museum facilities. To stay up to date and be prepared for the challenges of tomorrow’s museum designs, check out the Center for the Future of Museums blog.


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