Capstone project

GDES-425 spring 2017 · American University Design
Instructor: David Ramos ( · office hours )

The Smithsonian museums are extraordinary resources, gateways to the world from pole to pole, and home to both artifacts and research. They are uniquely capable of articulating and reexamining ideas about what it means to be an American. They reach the public mainly through exhibits, and through displays of artifacts, in particular—exhibits that reside mostly in D.C. This project asks how a part of one of these exhibits could go on the road, bringing new perspectives to communities around the country.

Choose an exhibit at one of the Smithsonian museums as a jumping-off point. Start with research, both on subject matter and on users. Analyze the themes that the exhibit discusses, and research those themes more, in outside literature. Learn about what visitors do at the exhibit, and at what potential visitors think about the show, partly through observation and through interviews.

Next, frame a concept for your traveling exhibit, then develop a design for the form that the traveling exhibit will take. Decide what ideas you want to examine, who you’ll want to reach, and how they should remember this mini-exhibit’s visit. How will the exhibit relate to the places it travels to?

Consider exhibiting artifacts from the museum. The exhibit should also include graphics, time-based media, screen-based interactive elements, staff-led activities and interpersonal exchanges, and analog or virtual experiences. (You might possibly convince us that you need not show original, physical artifacts.) The bulk of your exhibit might live on the web, but you’ll still need a physical component that goes from town to town. The exact composition of that physical component is up to you, though it should be plausibly portable, and able to exist in many spaces. It might exist outdoors, or it might fit into available rooms.

Explain and document your design with a mix of drawings, renderings, physical models, video prototypes, diagrams, working versions of the site, or and interactive mockups. Your final documentation package will need to include process. Bundle your documents into a book or presentation deck, deliverable as a PDF, perhaps with supporting media files.

We’ll visit the National Museum of American History, but other venues might hold interesting resources. Fine art exhibits are unlikely to work well for this project. You’ll need to propose two exhibits initially, and your choice is subject to instructor approval. If you have an extremely good reason, you might be able to convince the instructor to let you work from an exhibit at a non-Smithsonian museum.