Thought Piece

11 April 2022

Are Aesthetics and Access Mutually Exclusive?


Written by Esther Dugdale, Creative Director

Are aesthetics and access mutually exclusive? Is it possible to design beautiful fine and decorative arts museum displays that provide close and meaningful engagement with iconic objects at the same time as integrating accessible content targeted at diverse audiences?

Our brief for the Burrell Collection was to both respond to the seamless craftsmanship of the building and to invite new audiences into an appreciation of this wonderful collection. Our first step was to find and present different lenses to appreciate the collections with appeal to different interests – through history, through creativity and through the eyes of the collector.

We developed a display system that echoes the simple, elemental palette of the building that facilitates uninterrupted visual appreciation of the objects. But we also introduced a sweep of subtle but evocative media to whisper the context; beautiful graphics that highlight details, evoke settings, backdrop colour, and illustrate these objects in use or being made – for adults and children; tactile panels that invite everyone to appreciate the details – while enhancing the experience for those who cannot see the detail. Interactives are simple and stylish. There is time to wonder, time to engage and opportunities to contemplate.

Is it time to stop assuming there is a clash between the purist approach to object display and accessibility for all? Hopefully the Burrell goes some way to supporting those who think it is time to blur those boundaries when the occasion is there…