This blog is an archive for my research, interviews with designers and museum staff, and travel experiences as I explore multilingual design practices in Taiwan.
Fulbright research abroad in Taipei, Taiwan began in March 2021.   




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“The Rise of the Designer Diplomat”

Language: English
Date: July 18, 2021
Listening to: Ginkgo Biloba episode of The Anthropocene Reviewed Podcast

Last month I was honored to be able to present the latest publication from the Gateway Project, “The Rise of the Designer Diplomat,” at the Society for Experiential Graphic Design’s Academic Summit 2021. I presented alongside many other talented designers and really enjoyed the panel discussion after the presentations. This is a short post to share my finished paper and explore the panel discussion questions in more depth.

My full Academic Summit talk can be seen HERE

If you would like to read my finished paper, you can access it through a public Google Drive HERE. 

Because of time constraints on the panel discussion after my presentation, we weren’t able to respond to all of the questions. Since I think they are all great questions, I wanted to still answer them here for you all. 

1. The presentations address audience accessibility, clear communication, and language. Can you tell us more about the role of the exhibition developer/designer in advocating for this clarity when this can sometimes be at odds with the quantity and complexity of the content from the curator/expert?

There’s nothing for it but to communicate with your curators. As exhibit/experience designers we should take an interest in the content creation stages as much as possible. For multilingual design in specific, the designer needs to be a part of plan from step one because putting up bilingual wall signage can literally double the amount of space and work. This can put pressure on designers if it’s not a language they’re fluent in, or the timeline that is set by administration doesn’t account for extra typesetting challenges that bilingual design can pose. This is why exhibit designers should start challenging themselves to produce multilingual exhibits now, so that the whole team can get in the habit of working with translators before there is an exhibition on a sensitive topic that needs multilingual signage but your team is unfamiliar with the process. 

2. How do you see the design of technologies advancing inclusive approaches and accessibility of exhibition content in the future?

Neural Machine Translation technology promises to be a big deal in the next few years. It is a much more reliable translation service being developed by Google that learns to look at phrases instead of individual words, thus creating much smoother translations. The reason I’m excited about NMT is that small businesses and museums who cannot afford full-fledged translation services for the entire exhibition, publication, and website could use NMT to speed up the design process and cut costs. I have a blog post about it here

3. What is the role of design to address politics, conflicting viewpoints, and identity in the museum/exhibit context?

We must leave room for visitors to address these topics with us, especially in contemporary art museums. Over-explaining or being worried about if the “right point is getting across” disrespects your audience, in my opinion. Trusting the visitors to ask and answer complex questions maturely will breathe life into your exhibition and leave people with a sense of satisfaction that they really learned something about the topic, not just “saw” an exhibit on it. Trust me, I was a tour guide for two years at the ICA in Richmond, which hosted numerous challenging exhibits on racial justice, Richmond’s history, and environmental issues. It is amazing what the average museum visitor will glean from exhibits if someone is next to them encouraging them to dig deeper. 

This is where we, once again, reach the point that museum design should not just be the print on the walls. We should all consider much more deeply the roles of tour guides and gallery docents in the living, reactionary exhibit. The role of design is to make clear our position on these issues, and make life easier for the humans who dedicate their time inside the galleries to talking to visitors. If we train our docents well to ask visitors questions and deeply understand the exhibit content, then our design work will shine brighter in their expertise. 

4. Several of the presenters have investigated and/or have cross-cultural experiences related to the exhibition/museum context. Can you reflect on these experiences and share some insights and learning that has informed your design/research practice?

This is a difficult question, because my entire project is wrapped up in a cross-cultural experience making it hard to untangle specific insights! But I want to share that I learned the most about Taiwan’s museums by talking to Taiwanese people. Specifically, that Taiwanese people don’t necessarily feel represented by the National Palace Museum or even the grand Taipei Biennial. Taiwan is a country with an identity crisis that spans half a century, and the people here feel that pressure. When I arrived here, I knew the general story of Taiwan’s history but I didn’t realize the weight of history on Taiwanese identity. Many Taiwanese people I’ve talked to were unimpressed with their museums who (in their opinion) prefered to show Western art over Taiwanese or indigenous art. Although there are similar criticisms of how American museums do not represent the people (instead just the values of the artistic elite), it is impossible to view Taiwanese identity politics throught my American lenses. So I had to learn to put them away sometimes, and start building an understanding of Taiwanese identity. The more I looked around, the more I saw the pride of the island that is blocked by China from participating in international art competitions (or even more vital organizations like World Health Organization or the United Nations.)I noticed that Taiwan built it’s own film festivals and awards. It rewards it’s own artists and encourages free speech. There is more and more talk about identifying as “Taiwanese” not “Chinese.” All of this endeared me to Taiwan even more, and turned my research project away from strictly design work towards a more holistic look at museums role in culture and international politics. 


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