Q&A with Gabrielle Underwood

Geraldine Kendall, 18.02.2015
The V&A Museum of Design Dundee's first touring exhibition
The V&A Museum of Design Dundee will not open until 2017, but last week it launched its first ever exhibition, Design in Motion, which is on display in a specially converted bus that will be visiting 78 venues across Scotland this spring, from the inner cities to the Highlands. Museums Journal spoke to the exhibition's designer, Gabrielle Underwood, about the thinking behind her design.

What did you want to achieve in your design of the exhibition?

The aim of the exhibition design is first and foremost to inspire visitors: not only with the range of intriguing design projects on display, but about the prospect of having a new world class museum on their doorstep. This has been translated through to the exhibition in the way we have sought to create a 'taster' of the experience a visitor can expect when the new museum opens.

Was it a challenge to design an exhibition inside a bus? Could this be a practical option for other museum exhibitions?

We approached the design in the same way we would any other project: assessing the gallery’s physical opportunities and challenges in relation to the exhibition narrative so that we could craft a spatial experience that maximised the potential of the space and displayed the objects to their best advantage. In this instance we developed a design that works with the scale of the gallery, focusing on creating intimate encounters between visitors and objects. The bus exterior presented us with a great opportunity to create what is in effect a giant billboard to communicate what the exhibition, and the new museum, will be all about.
The great thing about the bus concept is that it offers museums the chance to go and engage directly with new audiences while giving visitors in remote locations the opportunity to experience world-class curation on their doorsteps. I am sure this way of exhibiting is one that would not only work for but also benefit other museums.

How will the exhibition design cater for the diverse range of communities that it will reach? How does it reflect the broad range of Scottish design?

The design has to cater to a broad range of people in its access and interpretation. However, beyond these technical aspects, one of the strengths of the show is that there is something for everyone in it. Each piece offers a different perspective on what might be familiar design subjects, from fashion and jewellery to games and product design. 

Many of the objects look familiar on first glance but once you understand the process behind them and how they work, a new dimension of understanding is opened up. Together with the realisation that they have all been developed on peoples' doorsteps, that makes for a pretty powerful message, wherever audiences are in Scotland.

On a similar note the variety of disciplines demonstrated by the projects on display – brought together under the overarching theme of the exploitation of digital technologies in design – showcase the breath of design practice in Scotland. Beyond the exhibition itself, a new app has been developed to accompany the show that allows everybody to explore and locate their own and other people's stories of design on an interactive map of Scotland.

The exhibition was put together with the help of Pinterest. How useful is digital and social media as a tool for creating exhibitions?

The curatorial team used Pinterest to conceive and formulate the theme of the exhibitions. This reflects a growing trend in creative practice where remote, multi-disciplinary teams use online tools to collaborate and share ideas – it helps provide a filter for the abundance of information available today. It's logical that this practice migrates to the way that museum teams develop exhibitions and I'm sure it will continue.