Weeknotes: 1.2016 – Thoughts from last year and what’s in store for 2016

On January 8th, 2016, posted in: weeknotes by

Since we were mostly gorging ourselves on Christmas dinners and brownies over the last two weeks, we have very little to report in the way of work. This week Martha set us the interesting/slightly daunting task of identifying what we’ve been thinking about in 2015 and what we’re interested in learning more about in 2016. Alyson had a pass because she’s super busy… but don’t worry we’ll get her next time.

Thoughts from 2015

Martha: Several projects in 2015 left me thinking hard about the way visitors make sense of museum objects. From speaking to visitors for several different projects, I realised that many of the questions they had were really about the context of those objects: who were the people that used this, and what did they look like? How did this look when it was in situ and still standing? Why is any of this important and how did it get here?

It’s very hard to piece this sort of thing together when you are looking at lots of individual object texts (which are often very detailed), and quite tiring too (which might account for the slightly dazed museum drift you see visitors slipping into as they move through the galleries). Maybe museums need to make less assumptions about the prior knowledge of visitors and help bring this stuff to life a bit more.

Lindsey: A lot of last year was thinking about how the small boring stuff makes the big difference. Many visitors come to museums to learn but nearly everyone comes to enjoy themselves. A first time visitor to the majority of cultural organisations is a really tough experience for most people. It means they don’t learn as much, don’t connect as much but it’s often difficult to think as to why you would ever return. At the same time, and on a very practical level, repeat visitors cost a lot less to attract than first time visitors. So, a trend we see is a lot more local repeat visitors increase the resilience of a cultural organisation.

One of the questions and themes this year for me, is about how do you deliver a frictionless experience, choreographing the physical user experiences, digital user experience, content and staff to create an experience visitors want to keep returning to. If I focus in on what that means, it’s about understanding what’s best at delivering which bit. Where does the digital experience take over from a staff intervention, what data can you offer, what tone should it be. It’s the little boring stuff. But it makes it easier for visitors and it’s a big reason that they return.

Two presentations that had the biggest impact for me this year – Kevin Giglinto, Vice President for Strategy & Special Initiatives for Chicago Symphony Orchestra talking about Building a life long patron relationship  and Russell Davies for this Thinking Digital talk (you’ll need to skip to 1hr 13 mins)

Laura: Looking back at 2015, I realized that I had spent much of the year researching and designing new online and mobile experiences and publications that exist entirely outside the walls of the museum and are unrelated to a visit. The projects were very diverse – from scholarly publications and immersive long form experiences for the general public to mobile apps for collecting individual family stories – but they all challenged me to reconsider how we design for and measure the success of new digital experiences. As technology enables new digital experiences, the conventional yardsticks for measuring success (number of visitors, revenue, print run) may not apply or may be a poor reflection of actual impact. So what does impact look like? What effect do we wish to have on our users?

What we’ll be thinking about in 2016

Martha: I’m excited about the games workshops I’ll be running. I’m really hoping we can show that game thinking is more accessible than people might have feared, and that there is loads of untapped potential for low key playful interventions in museums. They don’t all have to be £100k and digital.

For example, I loved hearing that AMNH in New York has been doing card games, and selling them to visitors, I really hope that catches on. I’ve been getting more and more interested in board/card games and will aim to find and play many more this year (particularly obsessed with the hard to find oeuvre of Oink games right now). Plotting a potential visit to the Spiel games convention in Essen to play all the good stuff and stock up (inspired by James Wallis’s visit this year).

Lindsey: We’ve been banging on about Service Design in museums for the last two years, experimenting with tools and processes, setting up projects and talking to colleagues. We’ve seen successes, some failures and learned so much. Some of the strengths to service design are also it’s challenges. Focussed on tools to support collaboration across different departments to leverage the strengths of digital by focussing on user needs and behaviours is tough to do as an individual in an organisation. Ideally, it takes an organisation at all levels but it needs to start with at least two different people from different departments who are willing to collaborate. Which means, the more people talking about moving a focus from innovation in product to innovation in services has got to be a good thing because everyone can help innovate the service.

Over the last six months, I’ve seen the focus shift. For me this is super exciting, more people thinking and talking about designing services means more real discussion, debate, tools and expertise which will improve both the quality but also increase the opportunity to do great work.

Laura:  I’m thinking a lot about how we design for greatest impact. And if we start from that question, how does it affect what we make? At the top of my reading list for 2016 is Kathy Sierra’s Badass: Making Users Awesome  (HT to the awesome Mike Edson for the recommendation.) Sierra argues that we shift our focus from making an awesome product to making an awesome user of that product. What can our products and services help our users do and be? This is – to borrow an example from architect and MCN keynote speaker Liz Ogbu – about designing for the cook, not for the cookstove. I think this perspective has a lot to offer museums as they work to design new products and services that are truly meaningful to their audiences.

Looking into the future of 2016 (or A Metro shaft in Gateshead)

Looking into the future of 2016 (actually, a Metro shaft in Gateshead)

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