Rhetorics of Staging

A design framework

How might we create a tool for analysing and designing museums, exhibitions, restaurants, and any other communicative spaces?


One of the toughest tasks an exhibition designer faces is to turn a blank paper into a persuasive solution. My aim was to define a comprehensive system of thinking about staging, to help aid creatives through a spatial design process. In the case of staging, that solution is an embodiment of a concept, idea, information, feeling, etc. within and around the built environment- one that is convincing enough to delight and intrigue. From this thinking sprung the key question : If staging is seen as ‘the art of persuasion’ in space, is it possible to use classical theories of rhetoric in order to develop models and methods for 3D communication design? With those questions to guide me, I embarked on a study of classical theories of rhetoric and their relations to the design process.


Final Master Thesis at the Koln International school of Design


Summer 2016


-Exhibition Design
-Graphic Design
-Communication Design


individual project

Key Assumption 1

Staging can be seen as a type of rhetorical practice, where the designed space becomes a text the visitor reads and is persuaded by.

Key Assumption 2

It’s possible to ‘translate’ the basics of classical oral & written rhetorical frameworks into one for the staging practice.

A new design tool | from Classical Rhetorical Theory to staging

Standing on the shoulders of classical giants, I reconfigured popular methods from rhetorical theory - mainly established by Aristotle and Cicero in Roman and Greek times- for the new staging framework. The folowing three methods make up a chekclist for good staging practice :

1. The four modes |

The rhetorical modes define four different types of writing that differ in their purpose, features, and language. A designer should know which "mode" of space they are aiming to design.

2.The Three appeals |

The artistic proofs are also know as the three modes of persuasion. They are meant to present strategies by which successful rhetoric is achieved. They can used as a reference of "ingredients" to ensure a well thought-through design.

3. The Five Canons |

The canons can be understood as features of staging that, when taken holistically, give the staged space its rhetorical value. A designer should aim to go through the list and see how her designed space achieves the different elements of the cannons.

Research | The Case Studies

To develop the tool I explored a number of different types of exhibition spaces from all over the world. From historical museums, to ceramic shops and cafe chains, I took the most relevant examples and ran them through the checklist of the new rhetorical theory for staging. When placed through the rhetorical filter, many seemingly different staging solutions revealed their similar intent, as well as the differences that made them unique. .

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View Case Studies

The publication | Binding theory and practice

The unique book consists of 4 main chapters, each with further division based on key rhetorical elements. At the end of each is a summary that relates the elements of rhetoric to those of staging. If you get a chance to read it, be sure to look at the margins since they give clues for how to use the accompanying case-studies.

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View Thesis Excerpt

“This work was what I would consider to be state of the art for a thesis”

- Prof. Birgit Mager, professor of service design at the KISD

The Exhibition | Theory Embodied

Using the findings and concepts in my thesis as raw content, I created an exhibition experience for those curious to stop by. I was pleased to see the somewhat abstract ideas I’d presented take a more physical form. This clarified and confirmed the validity of the heuristic framework for staging I put forward. It was also something that the visitors could touch and feel. They enjoyed flipping though the booklet, after wandering through the ‘narrative gallery’.

Want a closer look?

My presentation is available online!

View Slides