Museums as Living Labs Challenge, Fad or Opportunity?

  • Mariana Salgado Laurea University of Applied Sciences
Keywords: interaction design, living labs, user community, museum community


On the basis of case studies in Finland, this paper describes and analyzes how the museum community has designed, integrated and implemented ICT in its organizations. The museum community has participated in the development of a conceptual framework for ICT services as well as the resources required to put them to use. Due to the similarity between this sort of work and the tasks performed at living labs, I believe that museums could benefit from dialoguing with living labs about their methods, networks and new technologies, indeed their entire ecosystems.

Living labs include the public, private and civil sectors as key actors as they generate and test new products and services. They are spaces of innovation that engage these actors at the different phases of development. But most importantly, the use of living labs’ user-centered design methods is becoming much more widespread.

Museums create and use products and services to further their mission of conserving, researching and communicating our common cultural heritage. This paper addresses how museums can make use of and benefit from living labs in their attempts to open their institutions to new audiences and enhance audience participation. This paper also discusses how communities can actively participate in the creation of museum programs and activities.

The existing literature (Eriksson, Niitamo, Kulkki & Hribernik, 2006, Eskola, 2011) describes the work carried out at living labs and contrasts it with work done in museums in Helsinki where interactive pieces have been produced and implemented through a co-design process involving external collaborators, audience and museum staff.

My hypothesis is that if cultural institutions like museums, exhibition halls, libraries and cultural centers acted like living labs, or took part in their activities, they could begin a dialogue with other strategic partners, including an array of research units, and the civil and private sectors. Rather than fostering innovation in their own spaces and based on their audiences’ needs, museums currently use technological solutions designed for other contexts, adapting theme to fit their needs. By changing the way that museums refer to themselves and their partnerships, it might be possible not only to shed light on possible collaboration strategies but also to review the role of museums in society and the future. Though the term “living lab” might be a fad, in the context of this publication it may help facilitate participation in and collaboration with the museum community. This paper also contrasts museums and living labs to highlight their common interest and possible points of convergence.

As a result of my research, I believe that museums need to renovate in order to better incorporate ICTs with a user-centered design approach into their communities. User-centered design (UCD) is an approach and a process that heeds the needs, desires, and limitations of a product’s or service's end users at each stage of the design process. UCD has been widely applied due to its ability to help people appropriate and incorporate new technologies. UCD is a design philosophy and a process.

Author Biography

Mariana Salgado, Laurea University of Applied Sciences
Mariana Salgado is a design researcher working in the Laurea University of Applied Sciences. She has been collaborating with museums and other cultural organizations in Finland and Argentina. Her interests are in participatory design approaches and inclusive solutions that weave new media into cultural sites.
How to Cite
Salgado, M. (2013). Museums as Living Labs Challenge, Fad or Opportunity?. The Journal of Community Informatics, 9(3). Retrieved from