What is curatorial experience design?

"I take the curatorial to designate not just a way of arranging objects, but a field and field-of-action that is conceptual, cultural, social, pedagogical, and epistemological ... If you think about the curatorial as doing epistemological work, you’re asking how it is that the curator produces knowledge – say, about an object or about a person, or about a space. Or you might be asking, more precisely, how is it that the curator produces knowledge effects, something that “counts” as knowledge, an experience that feels like knowing" 

- Bill Brown, Curatorial Things, 2019, p.91


Curatorial Experience Design

Charting New Trajectories

Principal Investigator


The heritage sector has always offered experiences that are somehow 'out of the ordinary'. From visiting a stately home to carefully orchestrated tourist excursions, heritage is to a certain extent built around the idea that the past can be experienced as something separate from everyday life. Various techniques have emerged over the past two centuries to make these experiences more compelling, from costumed interpreters and dioramas to interactives and augmented reality. The importance of experience design to the field is however poorly understood. Drawing together historical perspectives and the latest approaches to designing experiences in heritage and beyond, this project aims to highlight the critical and creative potential of the experiential to the sector, linking together questions of affect, embodiment, narrative, performance, and co-curation to push forward experimental forms of heritage interpretation.

The notion of ‘curatorial experience design’ points in two directions at once in this project. In the first instance, it aims to capture the significant shifts currently underway in the curation of experiences within and beyond the heritage sector. This includes immersive installations, theatrical productions, critical guided tours and arts-led interventions. In the second it highlights the rapid uptake of co-curated and co-produced methods across the sector – participatory programmes that aim to broaden the ‘experience’ of curating to non-experts and disenfranchised groups. How might these two trends contradict or reinforce each other as part of the experience economy? To what extent is the curatorial a useful lens through which to understand these developments? The notion of curatorial experience design seeks to highlight issues of agency, collaboration and criticality in the production of heritage experiences, which are increasingly driven by diverse socio-economic factors. 

Pop-up installations, augmented realities, immersive theatres, curated destinations: the experience economy intersects with the work of heritage in multiple ways and to diverse ends. New Trajectories in Curatorial Experience Design will explore the emergence and impact of such initiatives through in-depth collaborative research with project partners in the arts and cultural sector, including the National Trust, the V&A, Barker Langham and exhibition designers MET Studio and Nissen Richards. Through interviews, workshops, and participatory research, the project asks how critical heritage scholarship might engage productively with the processes and ideas of experiential and immersive design. A pop-up experience in October 2020 will put these ideas into action. 

Colin Sterling is the Principal Investigator on the project. Colin's research crosses photography, critical heritage, posthumanism and the Anthropocene. His first book, Heritage, Photography and the Affective Past, will be published by Routledge in September 2019. You can read more on his personal website

This project is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council as part of their Leadership Fellows scheme (Early Career Route). The project responds to a highlight notice in this scheme for RCUK/UKRI Innovation Fellowships. You can read more about the project at Gateway to Research

Grant reference: AH/S00436X/1