I’m new here \ Bird Sounds

On August 20th, 2013, posted in: new post, news by

A few months ago Frankly, Green + Webb advertised for a new Research and Project Assistant. For their sins, they ended up with me. Hello! As this blog-space is also used for hiring, you can find, very conveniently, a near-complete copy of my job-spec below. However, as with any new role, there are one or two tasks that never made it to print and which are only now beginning to emerge as key additional elements of my day-to-day.

One such unanticipated part of my role is to spend an hour a day regretting having ‘upgraded’ to a Windows Phone in the very same week as I opted to pursue a career in mobile interpretation. With the majority of mobile endeavours in the UK cultural sector sensibly and understandably targeted at Android and iPhone users, trying to get any kind of grip on the market through the medium of a Windows Phone is very much like taking a Frisbee to a knife fight (albeit a very beautiful Frisbee). A consequence of this is that I am now and seemingly forever to be teased by Alyson and Lindsey for my technological backwardness, and to serve for them as a pitiable – if grounding – example of ‘the average user’.

In my first month with FG+W, I’ve been carrying out a heap of audience research at a range of sites across London, assessing visitors’ receptiveness to mobile experiences in museums. It’s been enlightening in two senses. First, upliftingly, I’ve witnessed at close quarters the real appetite for experimentation that exists within museum audiences. Second, less happily, with my trusty Windows Phone weighing heavy in my pocket and something like the grim bitterness of the cuckold growing in my heart, I have begun to recognise myself in my own data. So how do I look, and how do I behave?

  1. I don’t plan ahead. Why else would I have bought that ridiculous Windows Phone? One of only three apps I had ever downloaded pre-FG+W, and certainly the only one I have ever loved, ‘Art Guide’ by the Art Fund has been lost to my dear, departed old Android. I miss it like nothing else I’ve ever missed before. On rainy days, dog days, date days, it is irreplaceable.
  2. I over-report. My assumption is that I’m tremendously tech-savvy, a slave to the fervid mobile addiction of my inner youth: subject me to a quantitative survey about mobile usage and you might reach the same conclusion. But on reflection, historically, only two things have ever persuaded me I ought to download something: urgent need, or pure whimsy. I use the Met Office app religiously, I downloaded an adorable bird sounds app this summer in order to harness the joys of a crow ringtone, and I once got a free compass app when lost in the woods between Whitstable and Canterbury on my summer holidays – a triumph, which, to this day, I congratulate myself regularly upon.
  3. I never intend to buy a tablet, and I cringe at the very thought of ever using one to take a photograph in public.

Realising all this rather surprised me, particularly because, speaking with some organisations in recent weeks, I’ve come to feel that I form part of their core target market for mobile: twenty-five, owns a phone, likes photography, uses Facebook, frequents the V&A café. Plus, I’m wildly enthusiastic about the prospect of mobile interpretation.

Perhaps I’m an anomaly – a tech-shy digital native? But the data I’ve helped to collect would suggest otherwise. One brief example of over-reporting: in our recent survey of teachers using mobile with their classes, nearly half self-reported as being ‘avid’ users of smartphones or tablets – by pursuing in depth interviews with respondents, however, we found that for a large proportion of these individuals, being an ‘avid user’ amounted to little more than using a phone for emails, playing music and catching up on the news; hardly a fertile seed-bed for a museum looking to market new and complex digital platforms.

To wrap all this up, there are two things I’ve had to learn quickly since starting at FG+W (neither are exactly revelatory, but equally, there’s no harm in being reminded):

  1.  Cultural audiences are not like mobile designers. They might be comfortable with digital experiences, but they don’t often go out of their way to find them (this problem was a subject of energetic debate during a web-chat hosted last Friday by the Guardian – our Lindsey was there!)
  2. Given the chance, audiences will lie to you and break your heart. Quantitative research lets visitors paint a false picture of their own digital immersion, and sometimes creates the mirage of an inexhaustible market for innovation. It is only by taking the time to carry out proper qualitative research to support mass data collection that museums and galleries can get closer to the truth of their audiences’ needs and desires.

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