MOD. Lesson #1: How to build a museum

Anika Johnstone
Jul 20, 2017 · 3 min read
One of these was waiting on our desk on day one.

On the 23rd of January, 2017, our team gathered for the first time in what we have now called the MOD. POD. The four of us (Leanne, Daniel, Simon and I) had never met before but had been brought together on that day by MOD. Director, Dr Kristin Alford. Our room, the ‘pod’, was a disused tutorial room in University of South Australia’s city west campus. We had no computers or phones (they were to arrive a couple of weeks later). On each of our desks was a plant and a card that read: “You need a little insanity to do great things”.

Our task? To build a museum.

We were 15 months from launch.

Putting the rule book to one side

The vision for MOD. had been something that Kristin had been pursuing for 12-months before our arrival as a team. She had nurtured it into being and was now holding it out to us to make it into a reality. Along the way, MOD. had been through a couple of iterations to finally solidify into bold typographic form shortly after we started.

[MOD. A futuristic museum of discovery. A place to be and be inspired.]

So we began our work to build this thing called MOD. A museum of discovery (of self, things, ideas, experiences, future possibilities and just about anything else you can think of) to inspire young adults to connect culturally and professionally with science at the intersection of art, technology and innovation.

Our first lesson was that there isn’t a rule book for building a museum. There especially isn’t one for a museum like MOD. — we are determined to be unlike anything you have seen before.

And so, we are feeling our way through this process; intuitively, willing to make mistakes, leaning on each other and asking for help where we need it.

Getting started

We are not museum or gallery people, we are not trained in curation, conservation or collection management. This decision to build a team without baggage was a deliberate one. Instead we carry with us, and into this project, specialist expertise in futures thinking, robotics, film production, programming, human centered and experience design, project management, scenario planning, facilitation, science communication, neuroscience, youth engagement and marketing.

Some of the tools we are applying to the process include:

  • Future frameworks and scenario planning to think about the sort of ideas and themes we should explore in MOD.
  • Design Thinking to define exhibition themes, prototype exhibits and test ideas.
  • Co-design and participatory engagement with young adults (our core audience) to ensure we are creating an experience that they will love.
  • User-centered design tools like personas, journey maps and testing to make sure we are on the right track.
  • Design principles to guide our decision making and help us achieve our vision.
  • Asana, Evernote, SharePoint and Slack to catalogue ideas and manage our projects.
  • SketchUp, storyboards and good old pen and paper to explore and prototype our ideas.
  • Lots of meetings, coffee chats and idea sessions with artists, scientists, researchers, creative technologists, programmers, curators, exhibition designers, futurists, thinkers and our friends to find talent and sense-check our ideas.

Mistakes (lessons!) happen daily but we see them as a necessary part of this process. Sometimes we doubt ourselves but more often than not, when we talk to others, we find out we know as much as anyone else.

We’re the first to admit that we have no idea how to build a museum. We are committed though to giving it a damn good try.

We hope you will join us on this ride.

This post was first published on the MOD. website.

If you would like to know more about please comment below, sign-up to our newsletters on our website or email us at

MOD. at UniSA


Anika Johnstone

Written by

Human centered strategy, experience design, digital. Adelaidean in Cambridge, UK [Views my own]. Contact me at

MOD. at UniSA

MOD. at the University of South Australia will be Australia’s leading future-focussed museum, provoking new ideas at the intersection of science, art and innovation. These are our stories as we design and build it.

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