Wentworth Institute of Technology
Retail: Retell. Recycle. Rethink
Design Museum Boston
Retail: Retell. Recycle. Rethink
This student-fueled exhibit realized in collaboration with the Design Museum Boston has succeeded in translating a historically complex message into one that is accessible, compelling, educational and memorable. Our jury found that the topic and presentation strategy of the exhibition is especially relevant in the context of our contemporary consumer culture; the exhibit helps the general public understand the multi-faceted layers of the decisions they make when they shop. The approach the exhibit team took of analyzing four product categories (sneakers, cell phones, water bottles and cleaning products) was a great starting point and we can imagine how this exhibit concept can grow into a more immersive and expansive experience going forward.
Retail: Retell. Recycle. Rethink
Retail: Retell. Recycle. Rethink. is a student fueled exhibit in collaboration with Design Museum Boston. The exhibit was designed, built, and funded in three months by twelve students at Wentworth Institute of Technology. The exhibition highlights life-cycles of consumer goods across four categories; sneakers, cell phones, water bottles, and cleaning products. Retail leaves consumers understanding that they’re buying more than just the product, they’re buying the process behind these products and accepting their responsibility within the product life-cycle. Retail was exhibited for two weeks at Boston’s Prudential Center in August 2011 and will be moving to a new location soon.2. The Brief: Summarize the problem you set out to solve. What was the context for the project, and what was the challenge posed to you?
Design Museum Boston challenged us with designing a pop-up exhibition for the general public. The goal was to educate the public about the design process and how it impacts their lives. We were tasked with not only developing the topic for the exhibition, but designing, funding, fabricating, and installation as well.3. The Intent: What point of view did you bring to the project, and were there additional criteria that you added to the brief?
As socially conscious industrial design students we saw the exhibit as an opportunity to educate the public and use design as a tool to transform how consumers think in a retail environment. Many consumers are faced with the choice of buying sustainable or buying affordable — we set out to show that these two concepts are not mutually exclusive. Our intent was to create a new understanding of products and provide a skill set for consumers to make educated decisions on future purchases.4. The Process: Describe the rigor that informed your project. (Research, ethnography, subject matter experts, materials exploration, technology, iteration, testing, etc., as applicable.) What stakeholder interests did you consider? (Audience, business, organization, labor, manufacturing, distribution, etc., as applicable)
After focusing on educating the consumer about a shift to conscious design, we split the class up into a series of task-driven teams: research, fundraising, content development, branding, site scouting, graphic design, and fabrication. With Kickstarter as our main fundraising platform, we were able to secure enough capital to launch Retail in Boston’s Prudential Center for two weeks. Upon finalizing the location we defined the design opportunities within the space and gained a better understanding of our audience’s needs through site visits. Once our content was developed for the featured products, we divided up the exhibit space into three distinct areas, each catering to a different type of consumer. Large images, statistics, dissected models, and prototypes were clearly on display for shoppers who were just passing through, while consumers who were interested in the content of the exhibit were able to dive deeper and learn about design and manufacturing processes, supply chains, and alternative methods of disposal.5. The Value: How does your project earn its keep in the world? What is its value? What is its impact? (Social, educational, economic, paradigm-shifting, sustainable, environmental, cultural, gladdening, etc.)
With over 420,000 visitors per week, Retail has educated a wide audience about the shift to sustainable design and will continue to as the exhibit pops up in future locations. After experiencing the exhibit, many of the spectators have invested in sustainable alternatives and have adapted their role to be better stewards in the product’s lifecycle. They continue to share how Retail has influenced them, spreading the message to their friends and family. In addition to the value to consumers, designing and executing Retail was truly an unparalleled experience in hands-on learning for the class.6. Describe the overall philosophy that drove the design brief, research methodologies, tools and outcomes (e.g. self-defined or client-defined briefs, participatory briefs, process outcomes or artifacts outcomes, etc.).
Design Museum Boston was founded on the platform of educating the public about design, so when introduced to the criteria for Design Museum Boston’s program, the constraints were clear. The project was to be an entirely student-developed exhibit. From start to finish, we were expected to explore and decide upon what message we were passionate about communicating. Combining our dynamic interests, skills, and resources, we collaborated in class twice a week, met regularly outside of class, and utilized tools such as Google Docs and Facebook to stay connected and organized. We regularly updated Design Museum Boston’s blog to share our progress and build anticipation for the exhibit.
We were driven to make an impact knowing that our exhibit was to launch in the Prudential Center, one of Boston’s capital landmarks, and would be representing Design Museum Boston, Wentworth Institute of Technology, and the exhibit sponsors. After weeks of hard work engaging with industry professionals, developing exhibition concepts, and fundraising, we produced a series of panels illustrating the most important information regarding the four chosen products. Once the panels were graphically designed and printed, we built custom fixtures designed with the intent that our exhibit will continue to educate consumers in various locations beyond the Prudential Center.7. How did the project, program or curriculum improve the students’ learning objectives, the institution’s overall learning and teaching and/or beneficial impact to outside community or industry partner?
The collaboration between Design Museum Boston and Wentworth’s Industrial Design program created a new, lasting relationship between the students, their community and a cultural institution. It broadened the students’ exposure to new areas within the design industry and provided a real world professional design experience.
This program required the students to develop skill sets far outside their comfort zone, all of which will aid them in their professional development. Education in areas like fundraising, program management, and marketing deepened this program’s value for the students leaving an indelible mark on their school career.
The end result of this class highlighted Wentworth’s commitment to design education and placed a spotlight on the high calibre work done by its students. With coverage in the Boston Globe, the Weekly Dig and a number of on-line outlets, Retail exemplifies how broad of a subject design can be and how wide of an audience it resonates with. This is at the very core of Design Museum Boston’s mission and this exhibition will serve as a center-piece for their efforts moving forward.