Lads of Liberty: Matt Weisgerber, Associate Director of Physical Design at ESI Design

Posted September 23, 2019

In May 2019, the new Statue of Liberty Museum opened on Liberty Island with experience and exhibits by ESI Design. The new museum is part of a $100 million Liberty Island-wide beautification effort that is funded by our clients, The Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation.

To celebrate we’re sharing the stories of some of the talented people who have worked for over five years to bring this world-class museum from concept to completion.

In this edition, you’ll hear from Matt Weisgerber, ESI Design’s Associate Director of Physical Design, who worked on the experience and exhibit design for the museum. Matt hopes to give the island’s millions of visitors a renewed sense of what the word “liberty” means to them when they interact with the exhibits.

Matt Weisgerber, ESI Design

Name: Matt Weisgerber
Job Title: Associate Director of Physical Design, ESI Design
Years of Experience: 23
Age: 45
Nationality: United States
Languages Spoken: English
Education: University of Cincinnati, College of Design, Architecture, Art and Planning


What was your first encounter with the Statue of Liberty?

Matt Weisgerber, Associate Director of Physical Design: My introduction to the project in 2014 was a bit surreal. I flashed back to Jack and the Beanstalk. The forming of the copper is very nuanced but also basic in its assembly. I was not expecting to internally restate my personal oath to treat everyone fairly, but I did when I stood inside the crown. She has a great, non-judgemental view of the harbor.

Matt samples signage options during a site visit.

What was your role on the project? What did that mean for you day-to-day?

MW: I was responsible for designing the visitor flow through the museum, the look and feel of each exhibit’s material qualities, and the layout of the exhibit hardscape. Where others create content, or design audio and visual systems, I design the setting of the exhibits in the spatial context for what is in view at each turn of the visitor’s path, from all angles. I work to decide what the forms are, and what materials are used to construct them.

The most challenging aspect of this project was considering the massive volume of people that will visit the museum – over 4.3 million each year. There are far more visitors who come to the island than can fit in the Statue and the new Museum combined, but visitation to the island remains immensely popular. At best, I hope everyone who visits leaves with some new information and new or renewed sense of what Liberty means for everyone.

I did not expect to be as proud and grateful as I am to have been a part of this project. I most enjoyed the opening when the concept becomes a full reality with all of the colors, textures, smiles and attention given by the visitors.

Matt’s “digital souvenir” from the Becoming Liberty interactive.

You just opened a new museum for the Statue of Liberty — how does that feel? What does that mean to you?

MW: The Museum means many things to me — a concept, a challenge, a place, an opportunity, work, money, pride, and collaboration, to name a few.

Why is having a museum dedicated to the Statue of Liberty important?

MW: The museum is more than just dedicated to the Statue, the museum is dedicated to what the Statue embodies. Materials fail, concepts endure.

After working on this project, has your concept of liberty changed?

MW: It has not changed, but it has evolved. The most meaningful exhibits for me are the ones that suggest multiple viewpoints or provide a greater understanding and opportunity for reflection. I think this project has the potential for all of those, and I’ve been updating my idea of Liberty in the context of current worldly freedoms and privileges.

Do you have a unique or special connection to Lady Liberty?

MW: My grandfather and his brother passed by the Statue upon their arrival to New York at Ellis Island in the late 1930’s. It’s a fantastic feeling to reach beyond time and create a shared view of that moment.

What were the steps in your journey to this iconic project?

MW: I work at a great company that trusts its designers to do great things. I get to work on a lot of cool projects, but this one is among my favorites so far.

Since you started your career, what’s the biggest change you have seen in the world of design?

MW: Wow, across the board? Single biggest change? I think people are starting to respect designers more for what they can bring to any project. Design is a process, not a thing; I think people are starting to see multiple values in this process.

What advice would you give to your younger self starting a career in design?

MW: Learn from people who will give you a good foundation in the basics of design toolsets and design process, then develop your own opinions about what feels right. It’s a shame that some people still think of designers as responsible for “the next” best things by re-designing things for no reason. Change their minds by designing “the” best thing.

The Constructing Liberty exhibit area at the new museum recreates the sculptor Bartholdi’s studio through large scale graphics, reclaimed wooden pillars, projection, a soundscape, and more.

If you were giving a tour of the new museum, what would be your top highlight?

MW: I like the feel of the Constructing Liberty area (pictured above) because it bridges a gap between environment, artifacts, and media. It has a great warmth to it as well.

About ESI Design

ESI Design transforms places into dynamic experiences that engage audiences, solve complex challenges, and deliver lasting results. From our roots reinventing the Brooklyn Children’s Museum into one of the country’s first interactive museums, ESI Design has defined the field of experience design for over forty years, fundamentally changing how people connect with brands, organizations, cultural institutions and, most importantly, each other.

To read the rest of the interview series, click here. If you have any questions for Matt, sound off in the comments!

ESI Design

NBBJ’s New York experience design studio, ESI Design, transforms places into experiences that seamlessly weave the physical and digital worlds together.

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