Decoding Design

Decoding the design of the iconic Tripp Trapp chair

Posting in Architecture

In a new video, the Museum of Modern Art demystifies the design process behind a well-loved object and sets a fine example of how museums can use YouTube subtly to lure audiences.

Earlier this week, I reviewed the entertaining and thought-provoking design exhibition, "Century of the Child, Growing By Design 1900-2000," on view at New York's Museum of Modern art through November 12. In researching the show, I came across this MoMA-produced video, posted on YouTube on August 15. I think it's an excellent, subtle example of how museums can effectively use online, shareable video to promote itself and, more important, the ideas and objects they curate. The 2-minute video tells the story of an iconic design object, and softly sells to the public the exhibition in which it appears:

The video isn't too self-promotional, but instead gently educates viewers about a striking piece on view in a exhibition in a very casual way. It offers the narrative in a way that doesn't at all seem didactic or overly produced, yet it is also professional in quality. O'Connor appears in a warm, unscripted, and charming introduction--making the curator accessible, the concepts inviting. She also describes the story of the chair (which MoMA offers for use its own restaurants) in a manner that's knowledgeable yet down-to-earth, as you'd want a friend to...rather than a tour guide or historian.

And the designer Opsvik also seems to be speaking from the heart and off the cuff, as those two admittedly overused sayings go, when describing his own quest for finding a design solution for a space-saving, adjustable, and beautiful kid's chair. The shots of him demonstrating the sound that most Norwegian parents make when telling the fairy tale of the "Three Billy Goats Gruff"-- by saying "tripp, trapp, tripp, trapp" to mimic the noise of footfall-- is adorable and sincere. His sense of joy related to both parenthood and the discipline of design is palpable.

Probably one of the best touches of the video: the closing shots of many different types of adult museum-goers climbing onto the giant versions of the chairs. I definitely saw a never-ending stream of grown-up visitors do this on the day I attended the exhibition. These scenes might seem staged to people who haven't yet been to the show, but I can tell you that the public's reaction to the installation is consistent with the clips. Oh, and "Century of the Child" is absolutely worth attending, too. The video's style and substance does a lovely job of illustrating the curatorial care that went into organizing the exhibit.

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Reena Jana

Contributing Editor

Contributing Editor Reena Jana has written for the New York Times, Wired, Harvard Business Review online, Fast Company, Architectural Record, Artforum, Time Out New York, Harper's Bazaar, and GQ. Previously, she was the innovation department editor at BusinessWeek. She holds degrees from Columbia University and Barnard College. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure