Public Participation in Museums – Design Research
by on January 7, 2018 in Design

After the initial commission to remotely undertake design research into sanitation and design, I was offered a residency on site at the Cube Design Museum in Kerkrade, Netherlands. Here I was asked to engange in design research with the public: the actual visitors in Cube Design museum, to discover what they would like to see in an exhibition about design for sanitation and how they would like to interact and participate in the design process of sanitation projects.

Other forms of research and public input included forms, posters, presentations, and role-play / persona exercises:

The most important results came from a series of interviews with visitors. These videos were more for my own process and research and should not be considered a final result. So they are only roughly edited so I can quickly find the various discussion points.

The most interesting discussion points for my process in this video compilation of some of the more interesting interviews are at time points:

3:58 – a woman discusses how here habits are not rational and she herself does not why her sanitation habits are as they are.

6:50 – where the same lady says she doesn’t feel an urgency to change her (unconscious) habits.

13:41 – an exceptional German woman discusses why she has Arabic sanitation habits: squatting and water cleanse.

19:55 – how initially reading medical research into the benefits of squatting and water cleansing led her to experiment and then the direct experience convinced her to change her habits.

28:00 – how social pressure (positive and negative shame ) is as important for maintaining and holding bad habits in place, and conversely, also breaking bad habits.

32:37 – Slow Poo vs. Fast Poo.

34:30 – A group of sit-toilet users discuss converting to squatting habits and the need to be convinced.

I then compiled the most important points that the public brought up in the interviews and categorized them. In general they were either of Material or Social significance: having to do with logistics, and real physical realities of sanitation, or, having to do with the cultural and social values around sanitation. Secondly they were either Speculative or Practical in nature: having to do with scenarios where there is an unlimited budget and civilization can be completely re-created, or, having to do with adapting the sanitation that actually exists and money and funding available for the different communities and their specific sanitation concerns:


Using the interviews and several additional forms of feedback including paper forms and online discussions I could get a feel that the public was not homogenous in its attitude to sanitation, nor in their willingness to participate or interact in the design-process or design-thinking applied to santiation.


So this gave me the first Y-axis: the intensity of the public’s willingness to participate in terms of time, privacy, and cost to themselves. The X-axis was the Cube Design Process which was already pre-determined by Cube Design Museum as being made up of three distinct phases: Ask, Imagine, Create. I then plotted along this graph different forms of participation according to the intensity of participation required from the public ( Y-axis) and at which phase of the Cube Design Process they were best applied to.

The final conclusion of plotting the various of participation on this graph was three generalized groupings or clusters of forms of participation that seemed to fall, more or less, into each of the Cube Design Museum’s distinct design-process phases. These clusters of forms of participation were then the basis for designing further design intervention to stimulate public engagement and participation in the within Cube and Toilet Exhibition.

I further defined and transformed the three clusters of forms of participation into there seperate projects, and then based on that developed a project schedule and work agenda. The first project was an interactive exhibition where the public could participate in a low-intensity way with post-its. The second project was to design, test, and realize a series of design-thinking workshops for the public. The third project was to design, test, and realize a “choice-shop”: where the public could learn about alternative habits, and gain the necessary information to make an informed choice, and further were directly presented the choice in the form of buying or not buying new products to facilitate new habits.

My design research and the Cube Design Museum’s toilet exhibition was featured on a local television broadcast. I come on about 7:30.