Imagine walking through a large lobby, searching for a place to pass the time. As you approach an empty corner of a large white table, you notice that a single chair is yellow. The chair attracts your eyes to the table’s design, and you realize you’re now sitting inside of a pie chart. Your eyes follow the colors to accompanying text on the ground, and just like that, you’ve learned that only 5% of Fortune 500 CEOs are women. This might inspire you to look for more information, talk about what you’ve seen, or take a picture and share it with friends.
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This is just one of many sections within “Seat at the Table,” an exhibit designed by Brooklyn-based design studio Dome at Drexel University’s Kimmel Center that’s dedicated to the centennial of women’s suffrage. Its poppy, graphic seating educates visitors about underrepresented groups within a system, like a half-white bench illustrating the gender income gap. This simple redesign of furniture transforms a lobby into a political statement, encouraging visitors to take notice and engage.
“Seat at the Table” originally launched in early 2020, as a tense Democratic primary swept the country. It shut down after the COVID-19 pandemic kicked into full gear, reopening in April 2021. Before the exhibit’s brief closure, the Drexel team noted “thousands of visitors per week, often before and after events.” Since the designers took full advantage of the space’s size, many of the infographics were legible from three balconies above the lobby.
The team knew all kinds of visitors would see these designs, so they wanted to make sure its content appealed to as many as possible. In the interest of reaching across the political spectrum, every piece of the exhibit was designed carefully and intentionally.
“Coalition-building is key to the Institute’s mission, [so] the design team was challenged to capture the attention of visitors without leaning on partisan cues,” said a statement by the designers. “As a solution, the Dome created an experience around having a ‘seat at the table.’ The form of the seat and its symbolism create multiple points of entry for visitors of different ages, genders, and abilities. Inspired by the Kimmel Center’s surrounding theaters, the exhibition acts as an open stage, inviting visitors to become participants in each scene.”
While “Seat at the Table” celebrates how far we’ve come, it also reminds us how far we still have to go. This exhibit maintains an awareness that suffrage is not a static event, but a right that requires active engagement. Stationary bikes with voter turnout statistics serve as a visual reminder of Americans’ agency in influencing national policy. Six nearby screens provide background on current issues that affect gender equity and allow visitors to cast hypothetical votes on each.
Through merging infographics and lobby seating, “A Seat at the Table” forces Kimmel Center visitors to interact with its message. With their innovative use of public space, the Drexel University team provides an excellent example of how graphic design can foster community engagement.
A Seat at the Table is the Professional Winner in both the Built Environment and Visual Communication categories of the 2021 Core77 Design Awards. You can check out all of the 2021 winners now on the Core77 Design Awards website.