A look back at the Think Feel Do symposium at Derby Museums

In April 2016, Derby Museums held a Think Feel Do symposium on human-centred design in museums at Derby Silk Mill and Derby Museum and Art Gallery. I was excited to spend the day listening to talks, exhanging stories, speaking about my previous work  – and yes, tweeting about human-centred design and museums!

I met some of the Derby staff for the first time in late 2015, after seeing an interview with Hannah Fox on the Design Thinking for Museums website. We had just finished the redevelopment at Coventry Transport Museum when I learned about the fantastic co-production work Hannah and the team had been doing at Derby Silk Mill and the Notice Nature, Feel Joy gallery. Of course, I had to go and see what they had been working on for myself…

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Attendees take a look around the co-produced Notice Nature, Feel Joy gallery at Derby Museum and Art Gallery.

Think Feel Do was a delightful return to those spaces (and faces!), and it was great to see some of the new additions to Derby Silk Mill. The furniture and fittings inside have all been made on site with volunteers in the Silk Mill workshop – the perfect touch for somewhere so community-centred.

The symposium opened with speeches from Tony Butler, Executive Director of Derby Museums, and Hannah Fox, Project Director at Derby Silk Mill. Hannah wore a very apt t-shirt saying “Everything will be fine”, which raised a chuckle from attendees.

Next up, Graham Black from Derby University shared a witty yet frank assessment of the status of audience engagement in museums in recent years. He was also clear about the challenges facing museums if they don’t make the necessary adaptations to meet the needs of audiences today. His words about the importance of organisations adapting to survive were particularly poignant with the closure of British high street giant, BHS, having been announced just that week.

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Curator Daniel takes some of the attendees on a tour of Derby Silk Mill.

There was, of course, time for a guided tour of Derby Silk Mill, with chance for everyone to check out the displays, including the Maker Bar, the workshop, and the bespoke made-on-site display cases. Curator of Making, Daniel, and Senior Audiences and Communities Manager, Andrea M, led the tours around the Mill, which holds the unique honour of being the site of the world’s first factory.

Andrea H-J spoke about the process of co-creating the Notice Nature, Feel Joy gallery, and shared a selection of the co-produced features. It was great to get more of an insight into how different aspects developed, and Andrea’s talk gave me a deeper appreciation of the gallery. Volunteer and now Learning Facilitator, Tricia Howlett also shared her experience of being part of the development. She spoke passionately about the joy of learning a range of museum skills such as research, taxidermy and engagement. Her experience as volunteer led her to working in museums, a similar story to that of Coventry Transport Museum’s Farah Shahabuddin.

Attendees later got the chance to test out some techniques from Derby Museum’s Human Centred Design Handbook, with tips and guidance from Derby staff. Each person also got to take home a digital copy of the handbook in their event goodie bag. My favourite features were the cut out mini Derby Silk Mill (which now lives on my desk) and the Think Feel Do/Derby Museums branded USB stick, which contained a copy of the HCD Handbook. Both items were made on site at the Silk Mill itself.

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A selection of items from the event goodie bag

I was only able to attend Day 1 of the symposium, unfortunately, but it looks like Day 2 was equally exciting! You can see what everyone got up to by checking out the #ThinkFeelDo hashtag on Twitter.

Derby Museums have also made the latest version of their Human-Centred Design Handbook freely available for download – highly recommended reading for anyone working in museums, or engagement and participation. 

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Hannah explains one of the tools from the Derby Museums’ Human-Centred Design Handbook.
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