Designer Harriet Whitehead on creating Thackray’s new galleries

In order to build our new galleries, we had some help from the guys over at CORE who are experts in visitor experience design. Hear from Harriet Whitehead as she writes about her experience designing galleries about surgery, diseases, and much more!

Harriet Whitehead. Design Team Lead

Not your average museum…

Thackray isn’t like any other medical museum you might have been to. It doesn’t shy away from difficult topics, but instead provides a safe place to have open and honest conversations. It’s this that makes me so proud to be part of the project.

Matt and Harriet in gallery Who Cares?

Each gallery is so different, depending on the subject matter, the outcomes of each story, and the feelings and emotions we are trying to elicit within the space. This was a challenge to achieve while also giving visitors a coherent journey, especially when overseeing so many different disciplines – from artists to electricians, filmmakers to joiners.

Creating a vision can be emotional!

I’ve been involved with the project right from the very beginning, building a submission for National Lottery Heritage funding. It’s been a rollercoaster of a journey over four years – the initial excitement of a new project, delving into research and the finer details, the slightly sick feeling you get on first seeing drawers full of forceps, knives, saws and all manner of operating tools!

The anticipation you feel as you wait to hear if the project has been awarded funding, back to excitement again as you reassess the previous submission and start to make it a reality. The disappointment you feel when you realise what has been designed may be slightly over budget, so back to the drawing board to try and value engineer the vision. Exhaustion when the project you’ve lived and breathed can finally be handed over to the builders and installers, nervousness that exhibits look way too big to fit, anxiousness when you watch installers unload exhibits, turned to relief when you realise everything fits after all!








Finally, elation when galleries come together and the client is happy every time you visit site and hopefully it will all end in satisfaction when it finally opens and you see a wide range of visitors explore the museum with massive smiles on their faces.

My favourite gallery

My favourite bit of the new museum are the tents within ‘Response to Crisis’. These symbolise wartime field hospitals where so much medical innovation took place. The tents dominate the space and create awkward routes for the visitor to move around. Visitors shouldn’t necessarily feel comfortable here, rather they should sense the perils of conflict and what this has meant for modern medicine. After the field hospital tents, the visitor has a choice to enter an STI clinic, making an important link with why STI’s are more prevalent in times of war. Within this small gallery, we try to breach a taboo subject with comically suggestive seventies wallpaper.







Making friends with Norman

I’ve worked with an amazing collection but the object I’ve found most interesting is Norman the Correction Frame. Norman is placed at the entrance to the ‘Normal & Me’ gallery, which looks at what is normal, what normal means to other people, and how one person’s normal isn’t the norm for everyone (and that’s fine, since we’re all different and should embrace our differences!) It sparks the question, what’s the modern-day correction frame? There aren’t many objects that can spark debate so easily and without much interpretation, that’s what makes Norman so special.

Thanks to Harriet and the team at core for helping build our exciting new galleries!