Jean Starobinski. Relations critiques

Design System, Sound, Website
Inclusive Audiences, Reviving Digitised Heritage

What factors increase engagement in the consultation and navigation of an online literary exhibition?

Jean Starobinki. Relations critiques

Celebrating the centenary of Jean Starobinski, the EPFL+ECAL Lab in collaboration with the Swiss National Library and Apptitude SA unveiled a new kind of digital exhibition. Awarded as the “Best User Experience 2020” by the Meilleur du Web, the project brings together literary expertise, museum research, design, engineering and psychology. It aims to highlight major writers and their contributions to thought, from the collections of the Swiss Literary Archives.

Jean Starobinki. Relations critiques
Jean Starobinki. Relations critiques
Jean Starobinki. Relations critiques
Jean Starobinki. Relations critiques

The end of 2020 marked the centenary of Jean Starobinski (1920-2019), the renowned writer from Geneva, who marked reflections on critique around the world. His work certainly addresses literary critique, but also touches on his other favourite disciplines such as medicine, the history of ideas, music and the fine arts. His writings stand out for their relevance and international impact, but also for their accessibility.

Jean Starobinski left his archives to the Swiss National Library: an exceptional heritage comprising manuscripts, correspondence, documentation and more than 40,000 books. But how can this wealth of information be curated to express his works, his background and his personality for a wide audience?

The Swiss Literary Archives (Swiss National Library) in collaboration with the EPFL+ECAL Lab and Apptitude SA thus embarked on an experimental project that aimed to imagine a new digital platform capable of meeting this challenge. This project relies on the skills of both institutions. It combines research work, which explores the principles of design, curation and reproduction of documents, with the development of a digital exhibition accessible to the public.

Jean Starobinki. Relations critiques

Promoting aura, authenticity, materiality, tangiality and state of flow in digital exhibitions can increase the feeling of authenticity, value and materiality of digitised artefacts.

The digital exhibition experiments with several key concepts to be discovered online. For example, one of them consists in offering the public a main route, made up of thematic islands representative of the author.

According to their wishes, visitors can decide to look at an object from a new perspective: the theme disappears and the object is placed in a historical or typological context, – as if the rooms in a museum could be reconfigured and the contents re-arrange themselves accordingly. Visitors can thus trace their path according to their expectations and discoveries, changing perspectives and contexts. They may either follow a main narrative or delve into in-depth readings.

Jean Starobinki. Relations critiques

The digital exhibition Jean Starobinski. Critical Relationships, opened to the public in November 2020 at


Stéphanie Cudré-Mauroux (Swiss Literary Archives SLA) and Nicolas Henchoz

Project Management & Art Direction

Romain Collaud

Curation, writing of notices

Stéphanie Cudré-Mauroux (SLA)

Research Assistant

Valentin Calame

Interaction Design

Valentin Calame and Romain Collaud


Axel Pasqualini, Pierre Brossard, Michael Vuilleumier, Jeremy Barthoux and Diogo Ferreira Venancio (Apptitude SA)

Document photography

Fabian Scherler and Simon Schmid (Swiss National Library NL)

Sound Design

Dr Cédric Duchêne


Aselle Persoz and Laetitia Dumoulin (NL)

UX Psychology

Dr Andreas Sonderegger, Andrea Schneider, with assistance of Nolwenn Gonzalez and Dario Savina

Catalogage du fonds et de la bibliothèque

Denis Bussard, Fabien Dubosson, Laetitia Dumoulin, Edwige Durand, Vincent Yersin and Simon Willemin (NL)

Photography Credits (Reproductions)

EPFL+ECAL Lab / Fabien Scherler, Simon Schmid, © Bibliothèque nationale suisse, 2020. Handwritten documents, © Famille Starobinski.

Photography Credits (Still Lifes)

EPFL+ECAL Lab / Calypso Mahieu, © Bibliothèque nationale suisse, 2021.


The research project funded by the Swiss National Library had support from the Hans Wilsdorf Foundation and the Sandoz Family Foundation.