Too often, creativity and play are shunned from day-to-day work and life. Yet by incorporating inclusive opportunities to be creative, our perspectives can expand beyond measure. 

  • A space for discovery, play, and inspiration
  • A space to listen to diverse voices from the past and present
  • A space where everyone, of all learning styles and abilities, is welcome to be creative

As a museum professional now working in human-centred design, to me this describes museums as well as the spaces and places where we apply human-centred design every day.

Katherine joined the Overlap team with a background in museums and culture and a Masters in Museum Studies from the University of Toronto. Previously, Katherine worked as a Consultant at Lord Cultural Resources, where she contributed to exhibit development for museums and institutions across Canada and the United States. Katherine has also worked on collections and exhibit projects for the National Ballet of Canada, Canada’s National Ballet School, and the Stratford Perth Museum. 

What do museums and human-centred design have in common? How can we incorporate the ideas from museums and human-centred design to harness the potential of creativity and play?


Create space for listening and sharing stories

Many contemporary museums serve as a critical meeting point for voices that have been marginalized throughout history. During a recent Overlap trip to THEMUSEUM in Kitchener, we visited the exhibition, A Cause for Celebration? First Things First. Juxtaposed against Canada’s array of 150th-anniversary celebrations, the exhibit confronts a national history in which Indigenous people have not been considered equal and also presents the work of several contemporary Indigenous artists.

Similarly, human-centred design provides spaces and tools for groups or individuals who may have had their power taken away from them by being silenced.

Design’s philosophy is that all humans have value and that everyone deserves to be heard—especially those previously silenced by discrimination, fear, shame, or other reasons.

For example, a design tool like Empathy Maps can capture a full picture of an individual’s experience, from what they saw, heard, said, felt, and thought. We apply these insights to designing solutions with all stakeholders in mind.

💡 Learn How To Use An Empathy Map here.


Encourage multiple learning styles 

In a museum space, there are so many ways to learn. 

Hands-on displays encourage learning by playing. Images offer visual learners an entry point. Text panels and object labels dive deep into details. “Authentic” artifacts spark imagination about how the past might have looked. With these methods, museums open worlds of discovery to all kinds of learners of various ages and abilities.

Similarly, the cycle of design offers the chance to be creative to learners and thinkers of all types. “Starting solo” through ideation allows introverts to have their say before the group chimes in. Prototyping through sketching or building allows for hands-on and creative experimentation. Research methods like interviews and ethnographic observation can speak volumes with both words and nonverbal communication.

Design is an inclusive entryway into creative practice with no bias to particular learning styles.

💡 Here are 6 Reasons to Start Solo in Idea Generation.


Inspire discovery across disciplines

How many different types of museums have you been to?

Museums share knowledge across endless disciplines, from broad areas like art, history, or science—down to niche and unusual subjects like lunchboxes, dog collars, and Spam. Further, the spaces and scope of museums range from big, international institutions to the familiar community museum down the street.

Human-centred design is also not confined to one discipline or scope. Rather, any sector or organization, no matter how big or how small, or in the public or private sector, can use human-centred design.

At Overlap, we work with all kinds of people and organizations—from healthcare service providers to librarians, to municipal and provincial employees. We’ve even worked with museum professionals!


The Next Chapter: Democratize Design

While we work with many individuals and organizations who experience transformative change using human-centred design and we know that anyone can use it, it is not yet a practice that reaches as many groups as it could benefit.  

At Overlap, our mission is to democratize design. It’s a process to provoke individuals and groups to think differently than they ever have. We believe in it because we’ve seen the revolutionary positive effects that design has on people and systems.

Museums have also undergone a journey toward democratization. Historically, many museums have showcased spoils of war, artifacts taken without permission, or narrow interpretations of global cultures. As such, many were institutions representing power and elitism. Only recently have museums become more open, adopting inclusive and sensitive approaches to interpretation and representation, as well as more participatory visitor experiences. This transformation has opened a wealth of opportunities for creativity and discovery, for all members of the public.

Spreading the wealth of creativity—with real human needs at its core—is what design is all about. And since it’s for everyone, using human-centred design can be as accessible as heading down the street to visit a museum. 

💡 Start your creative practice today. Learn more about human-centred design, including helpful tools and resources to use when practicing design thinking.

📚 Check out our list of favourite design books to add to your reading list and learn about specific methods, like facilitating inclusive ideation.

💡 Get out there and visit your local museums.