#MCN2018 Recap

Most years, on my plane back from MCN, I am furiously typing up notes from sessions. This year, I was volunteer co-chair and Human-Centered Design SIG co-chair. As a result, I was ever-present but not always there when it came to sessions. However, I had a better sense of what people felt about what they heard. Here are the five ideas I heard most often:

AI, Machines, and Thoughtfulness:

Amber Case said in her keynote, “I don’t want to be a systems administrator in my own home.” She was alluding to the prevalence of digitally-enabled devices in contemporary life. Museums are now more commonly using iBeacons, RFIDs, and other tools that collect data on patrons. This data can be incredibly useful for improving experience and operations, however, data collection is also incredibly challenging. First, and foremost, data is a responsibility. Our institutions need to be thoughtful about honoring our tacit relationship with our visitors to treat them well, including by treating their data well. We also need to help visitors understand how we use data, anonymize data as often as possible, and be thoughtful in the conclusions we draw from the data. Finally, visitor data is only one part of decision-making. Staff feedback is an essential tool. Most museums do a poor job of aggregating staff data on visitor experience and an even poorer job of honoring and acting on that data.

Humans make Mistakes:

No person is faultless but many museums are still reticent to be honest about failures. Sharing failures and working collaboratively across institutions to find better solutions could save the field money and headache in the long run. Many museum professionals find strictures prevent them from being honest with peers at other institutions. They also find it challenging to find places other than conferences to share their challenges, particularly places where they can publish failures.

Humans together are better than apart or against each other:

Collaboration remains a perennial topic. Collaboration with other organizations is particularly hard for many as their internal systems are in disrepair. Even when collaboration is successful, many of the collaborative projects are grant-funded, or time-restricted. The lessons learned about collaboration are often not folded into the museum processes.

Bias isn’t Mitigated without Action:

Everything is biased because humans are. Data is created by humans and therefore biased. Many of our technology-projects are outcome-focused and deadline-driven, like a DAM that must launch in six-weeks or an interactive for an exhibition. Timelines and ignorance have meant that these technology projects have often been produced without considering and mitigating bias.

Design for Accessibility is Actually Good for All:

Accessibility and inclusion are about being thoughtful to accommodate the widest range of people. But, in doing so, everyone is helped. Accessibility, however, doesn’t happen by accident. Thought must be taken to make the right choices so all patrons are included. While upfront cost might make this seem frivolous, the increase in audience engagement for the broadest audience makes designing for all worth it. User Experience Design, Service Design, and Human-Centered Design are useful ways for organizations to make sure to develop accessible projects. These processes can be adopted by all types of professionals. There are many resources, including these from me and MCN’s HCD SIG workshop. (Join by DMing @artlust).

Girl Surrounded by Technology objects

Conclusion

Overall, while the conferences was called humanizing the digital, I felt that the conference was really about humans and their existence in a dense digital environment. The ideal is to create digital that does not destroy nor negate our humanity. This ideal will only occur with careful thought. When digital is seen as the medium and not the message or the meaning, people are able to have superlative experiences.

 

Finally, I heard over and over that MCN is attendee’s annual chance to recharge and reconnect with champions. The MCN community comes out in full force at the conference. For some of us, it remains with us during the rest of the year, like on social media. Yet, many people mentioned how they wished they had more chances to share ideas, like in publications. Think of how much better the field would be next year if all of the 500 plus attendees shared one idea to a peer at their institution, one idea to a supervisor/ director, and one broadly to the field. These ideas could be shared in emails, tweets, talks, blog posts, published articles, or books. The community of MCN is only as strong as its participants and their strength is in their ideas. By sharing these ideas, attendees can exponentially expand the good happening in the field.

Elements of Content Strategy

Content strategy is a framework that shapes all verbal communications and messaging within a brand. It ensures that all writers working with the brand have a cohesive approach while meeting their specific goals. Ideally, the strategy means that every piece of the text supports the overall feel of the organization.

Why write to a strategy?

Writing is a form of communication, but not an objective one. However, as anyone who has read a confusing email knows that language often obfuscate or confuse rather than inform. Written communication is more than the words on the page. Word-choice, framing, and sentence construction all project ideas and feeling beyond solely the meaning of the words. One projects a certain sentiment by employing erudite language. The mood is straight-up transformed when the words are switched up. Facile writers know all the tricks to manipulate readers. While manipulation might sound ominous, all writing is about swaying readers towards the writer’s ideas and point of view.

The content strategy, therefore, helps writers build their text within an accepted and common framework. Rather than manipulate wildly, a good content strategy hones language so it influences people towards a specific goal. In the end, influential language can help brands want to use language to build loyalty, trust, and connection.

What is in a content strategy?

Ideally, a strategy is like formalizing a language. You set rules and systems that help the team say what needs to be said.

The ideal strategy includes:

Norms: Every organization has a set of rules and norms. Some of these norms are expressed in the mission of the organization and its actions. However, many of these norms are unseen, like the unspoken but clearly felt accepted behaviors with the spaces. Surfacing these unspoken norms is incredibly important in developing a successful content strategy.

Limitations: Often organizations are able to find and articulate positive unspoken norms like we are a space that allows people to feel smart. However, often organizations have a blind to limitations. Without clearly facing limitations, and understanding their source, a content strategy will fail. One entry point to looking at limitations can be to explore words your organization avoids. Let’s say your organization doesn’t use slang. Exploring why might help your organization find that you fear seeming colloquial conflicts with your intellectual approach. Uncovering and address this unspoken norm would be essential before drafting your strategy.

Approach: What is the approach you hope to project to your audience? While the content strategy should fuel all written and visual communication, your overall approach to front of house is a good way think about your content strategy. What is the feel you want customers to have?

Tone: This is the most critical aspect of approach. You will likely want to send a spectrum of tone for different types of language. Remember, everything you do sets a done, so make sure you are doing it purposefully.

Scope: In this case, scope is about the breadth of communications you will use and the ways that each communication form ties into your brand. You can think of scope as how each external communication expresses an internal raison d’etre.

How does this all play out?

Google offers a useful concrete look at content strategy in practice. Google is constantly updating and improving the language. What are some of their considerations? Google is customer first, so they remove technical language in favor of user-centered communication. They also smartly front-load information while cutting unnecessary words. In the end, they say what they need fast because users want clear, concise, useful language. (For more about Google’s writing.)

What does Google’s approach mean for museums? Museums serve people with different needs. They can’t get away with quite the simplicity of Google’s approach. However, Google understood that their strategy is only successful if it is iterative and human-centered. Also, Google worked within the norms of their organization. For example, Google never moved into the passive aggressive humor many other sites use for error messages.

Overall, museums can learn that developing a content strategy is not just good for visitors/ customers but also for all of the people working in the museum. Frameworks support writers to do their best work.

5 Classic Journey Mapping Mistakes

Journey maps are great, there is no doubt, but there are certain pitfalls that should be avoided.


1. Maps are outputs, not processes:

Imagine you and your friend go to a destination wedding. You use Apple maps. Your friend is brand loyal to Google. You both get to the wedding. You are early enough to sign the guestbook and enjoy a pre-ceremony cocktail. Your friend misses most of the wedding but gets to see the vows, which are written by the bride and groom. Your maps will be different, most likely, given the difference in time. Your feelings about your paths will also be different. But, the journey maps will not show the process that got you to your experiences. Journey maps show space and emotions but don’t necessarily show how you got into this situation. Why? Journey maps are about events in time, but not the ecosystem outside of that concentrated moment in time. In other words, there are attitudinal issues that will fall out of the scope of journey maps.


2. You know what they say about Assumptions?:

They make useless maps. The reason that firms hire outside providers to map workflows and customer experience is that assumptions and bias are hard to avoid. Think of your drive to work. Do you ever space and then still get to work? People often put on blinders in situations that are de rigeur. It is hard to see these situations from unbiased, or new eyes.


3. Making your map more than it is:

There are oh so many types of maps that designers use. Empathy maps are a way to focus on feelings so that you can design empathetically. A touchpoint map focuses on all the ways that customers interact with an organization. This type of map is a snapshot of their connections to you but does not show specific pathways. Journey maps have the element of direction over time.


4. Missteps and missing steps:

The path is never straight. And, the turns and whirls are what make the path challenging. Most people are good at getting the beginning and end, but its all of the steps in-between that is the problem. Go slowly with journey mapping, because you might miss the little missteps. Those tiny hiccups are the ones that could easily be pain points. Missing those steps could be catastrophic.


5. Burying your map:

Customers don’t care which department does what. Their path across to the services likely overlap many functional areas from parking to curatorial. They want the whole experience to feel cohesive and positive. They don’t care who does what, and they don’t care where your departmental boundaries leave holes. Therefore, your map needs to be communicated by the whole chain of action. No single department is responsible for the experience and no single department can fix any problems. Share the map and share the chance to solve any problems.

User-Experience Design/ Service Design: Planning versus Feedback Tools

While many people are focused on the testing/ feedback tools, there are other tools that user experience designers/ service designers use to collaborate and plan within teams. These tools can be broadly broken down into tools/ processes that help shape a project (i.e. expand ideas) and ones that refine a project (solidify an idea). The ideal project uses a balance of tools from all four quadrants of the diagram.

What are Personas and How can Museums use them?

 

What are Personas?

Personas are sketches of sample users that help designers plan products in user-centered ways. Research can be hard to understand. Numbers are not warm and fuzzy, for example. Turning research into an idealized person makes it digestible across the team. The final personal is like an anonymized, fictionalized version of your research.

Creating personas usually requires the following steps:

  • start by determining the users
  • perform research on a set of users
  • develop generalizations and conclusions based on the research (surveys, focus groups, and/ or interviews)
  • writing a set of stories about a set of mock people.

Working with personas helps the whole team create a shared focus, i.e. a tangible client. In the end, you will find that using personas will help your team surface latent ideas. Also, personas are a wonderful benchmarking tool that helps your team stay on track throughout the project.

What are the components of the Persona?

Personas are like a snapshot of an idealized person.

Personas vary considerably but always include:

  • Start with some demographics like age, marital status, and education level. Your set of personas should touch all the key demographics your project hopes to affect.
  • A description of the person’s interests and dislikes
  • A photograph or drawing of the “person”

Personas should also include statements related to the project, like their feelings and behaviors about museums, for example. Include non-museum behaviors as needed, like leisure behaviors or attitudes towards technology.

How can I make the perfect Personas?

Personas are essential to user-centered work. Here are five tips to succeed in creating perfect personas:

  1. Turn research into characters: Each part of your persona should draw from research but don’t keep it dry. Imagine the person who makes up that data point.
  2. Short and Sweet is Key: Personas are sketches not finished portraits. These personas will help guide your work to ensure that they are easy to use by keeping them succinct.
  3. Feelings, ideas, and details: Good personas touch on motivations, pain points, and behaviors. But, the special details are what make stellar personas, such as categories like triggers, goals, wow factors, and/ or dreams.
  4. Stay objective: Personas need to be completely objective. Don’t draw on real people. Take care to avoid personal biases.
  5. Doll them up: Before sharing your personas with your team, create one-page, designed documents with photographs of the “person”. There are plenty of templates online. The designed persona will feel more concrete.

Choosing the Right Design Tool to Solicit Feedback

While there are many User Experience and Service design tools, people are often most interested in the tools that help solicit customer feedback. These tools are essential in human-centered design, of course. How do you know which tool to use when? This grid helps make sense of the tools. An ideal study balances behavioral and attitudinal research, as you need to not only know how people interact with a product/experience but why they act this way.  Quantitative research can be quicker and less costly, but the feedback will not be as rich as qualitative research. In the end, your timeline and budget will impact how many tools you can use.

Adapting User Experience Design and Service Design tools to Museums

Many Design tools are often about collaborating to create the best solution for the customer. What professional doesn’t want that? The challenge, however, comes when trying to think out how to use these tools in your workday. These tools and systems can be broken down into many different ways. But, one useful way to consider these tools is to think about learning styles. Most of us work in places that preference textual communication. Textual communication has drawbacks. Not everyone has the same level of verbal competency. Written and spoken language has limitations. For example, certain feelings are hard to verbalize, like think of verbalizing the feelings you get when your favorite food hits your tongue.

Visual Learning:

Sketching and drawing out ideas is a useful way to communicate across individuals. Many people fear drawing, particularly those who feel uncertain about their skills. In collaborative drawing sessions, consider using a scribe who is a terrible, but unashamed sketcher. Invite them to use simple shapes. Remind them this is not art. Sketching is a means to an end. When would you use this? If your team is tasked with planning the customer experience, you can collaborative sketch parts of the experience

Storyboarding is a set of sketches that show a sequence. Many people have played with storyboarding in school when working on creative writing. In the work situation, you are storyboarding a sequence of parts of an experience. The ideal storyboard combines pictures, annotations of those pictures, and text describing the moment. When would you use this? If your team is tasked with planning the best program ever, you can sketch the event from signing up to leaving.

Mapping is a broad category of tools. Journey mapping is a common tool that user experience designers employ to show the steps in using a product. Empathy mapping is used to describe the feelings associated with an experience.  When would you use this? Every museum customer experience would be improved if they mapped the feelings people have from entering the building to leaving.

Kinesthetic Learning:

Card sorting is a feedback tool where people rate topics on cards. Placing the cards in order is a different form of meaning-making than surveying or rating, for example. When would you use this? When your internal team is trying to find consensus about ideas associated with a new space, card sorting can help surface major trends. This is a particularly useful tool in teams with many introverted members.

Prototypes can be high-tech or low. They can be refined or guerilla. However, all prototypes are useful for making ideas seem concrete. Some people can’t really understand an idea until they see it. When would you use this? You are trying to figure out the right types of signs for a new installation. Put up samples and solicit feedback.

Mapping can be considered kinesthetic, in that teams need to walk around to create their maps.

Aural Learning:

All of these tools have an aspect of aural learning. Encourage everyone to talk out the ideas that come up as they use these tools. You will find that many of these ideas would have remained hidden if they hadn’t used the processes.

 

 

 

Comparing User-Experience Design and Service Design Tools

User-Design and Service Design continue to grow closer together as disciplines. There are many process and tools associated with both fields. It can be challenging to keep each of these processes straight, as well as understand how they play out in each discipline. This cheat sheet helps make sense of some of the most common tools.

Setting the Stage for Great AR/ VR Projects

Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) are tantalizing prospects for museums. These technologies offer museums a chance to engage visitors differently, while at the same time appearing cutting-edge.

In early September, the American Alliance of Museums and the Knight Foundation fostered a conversation about immersion. Museum professionals along with practitioners discussed AR, VR, and Immersion. Their conversations touched on some of the tensions that museum professionals feel about this new technology.

Cost was foremost amongst people’s concerns. Museums consistently feel the pinch of tight budgets. New technology can be a chance to gain additional funding, through grants. These grants might mean that the project costs are separate from the operating budget, but the organization can still be taxed. New projects pull capacity from existing projects.

Staff also feared the motivations and effects of implementing such projects. Many organizations might jump into “shiny new” projects without shoring up their internal capacity and infrastructure. Managers often lack the knowledge to make good decisions about digital. As a result, projects can fail even before they are launched.

These challenges are valid. AR and VR remain newer technology. Their impact on the museum-goers remains somewhat uncertain. Without clear impact studies, implementation costs can be hard to justify. The risks seem enormous.

However, the gains are greater. Immersion offers visitors new ways to engage. Both technology and non-technology immersion are becoming an important form of engagement throughout society.  Museums risk more by not considering AR, VR, and immersion. The tools might not be right for all museums, but its imperative for museum professionals to understand immersive tools well enough to make informed decisions for their constituencies.

Ideally, museum professionals start by focusing on the visitor experience (VX) as a big picture. Everything within the institution should connect to their overall VX strategy. Then, they need to take stock of their internal abilities, both interpretive and technological. This step is essential but also challenging. Museums are often unable to assess holes in their capacity. Consultants can be helpful in lending an outside eye to determine the state of things. This foundation is essential before moving forward on any AR/VR project.

With the price tag in mind, museums might invest in AR/VR projects with permanency in mind. This approach is foolhardy. Instead, museums should go in planning obsolesce. Ignoring change will not make the pace of technological evolution slow. Focusing on the content can help stem some of the fear of investing in ephemeral technology. The ideas content will be evergreen even if the technology changes.

If AR or VR is the right tool for the ideas and the audience, the museum should develop processes that foster experimentation and iteration. Ideal processes should involve research, not just testing. Staff from many departments should be involved and make an impact on the project, not solely senior executives or tech staff. Early in the project the whole team should confirm the goals, outcomes, and define a common language.

AR and VR can be extraordinary or unnecessary, with the difference being the implementation. All engagement fails when it is produced thoughtlessly. Museum AR and VR projects will fail if they focus on the technology rather than the ideas. However, focusing on ideas alone is not enough. The organization has to be ready to launch such projects. Most museums require internal growth and planning to be able to develop successful AR and VR projects. But, these changes can reap huge benefits in meeting visitors in new, exciting ways.

Immersion and Museums

In early September, the Knight Foundation sponsored an event at the Detroit Institute of Arts called Immersion in Museums: AR, VR or Just Plain R?. Here are some reflections from the day.  

Waning attendance has museum professionals seeking novel ways to increase audiences. Many institutions are looking to immersive technology as salvation for their visitation woes. Technology alone, however, will not ensure the future of museum attendance. Museums need to develop engaging, immersive experiences to buoy to transform their attendance.

Museums, Technology, and Immersion Now

Technology appeals to museum executives hoping to counteract criticism of being stodgy or old-fashioned. While a decade ago museums often placed technology in sequestered spaces creating an immersive environment by virtue of their physical installation, the most successful recent technology projects are informational rather than immersive. San Francisco Museum of Modern Art gained wide notoriety for their SendMe SFMOMA project, where users could text words to receive corresponding objects. The millions of users increased their awareness of SFMOMAs collection through short, transactional moments. SendMeSFMOMA’s success was predicated on employing mainstream tools to deliver surprising content. Akron Art Museum’s Dot Chatbot is like a virtual educator, answering questions in real time.

At the same time, museums are in the midst of a non-technology immersion trend. Yayoi Kusuma’s exhibition, Infinite Mirrors, invites people to walk into transformative spaces, many employing mirrors to heighten the effect. The exhibition sold out in venues across the country, with second-party sellers asking hundreds of dollars for a single ticket. While Kusuma’s earliest rooms date to the 1960s, her work’s popularity increased exponentially, thanks to cell phones and social media. Celebrities like Beyonce and Ivanka Trump proudly posted pictures of themselves in her Infinite Mirrors exhibition on their Instagram. The success of the exhibition can be seen as due to the popular zeitgeist rather than the immersive qualities of the works. Visitors want to visit the rooms to photograph themselves in the space.

However, Kusuma’s recent spike in popularity has spawned many immersive museum experiences. The Museum of Ice Cream, the Museum of Selfies, and the Color Factory are examples of immersive spaces. Rather than looking at collections, visitors play in installations. The most successful built immersive experience is not a museum at all, but the artist-made space, MeowWolf, in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Artists Golda Blaise and Vince Kadlubek, in collaboration with a larger team, turned an abandoned bowling alley into an interactive artwork. Speaking in Detroit, Kadlubek noted that immersive experiences allow people the agency to drive their engagement. In the MeowWolf experience, visitors are awarded for their curiosity with sensory excess and pleasure. Immersion is a positive feedback loop that drives the enjoyment.

Low-tech immersion has a long history in museums. Specimens and artworks from the world over flooded into Western collections displayed to quell the voracious European intellectual interests. Beginning in 1812, John Soane, an early prophet of museums, filled his London home with his collection of 45,000 objects.  Visitors today, like those of Soane’s time, can be awed, inspired, and even overwhelmed by Soane’s collecting prowess. Public museums in the 19th century continued Soane’s practice of displaying objects in dense groupings. Salon hanging, or hanging works in multiple stacked tiers, was common practice for most major art collections well into the 20th century. The sheer volume of art in one space inspired delight and wonder in visitors. Everyone could find something that appealed.

The physical space of the early museums were also immersive environments. Most early museums included fine details throughout from detailed floors, vaulted ceilings, and adorned exterior architecture. This attention to detail was meant to elicit specific feelings in visitors. Consider the fine exterior courtyard of the Victoria and Albert Museum, with its extraordinary mosaic tile scenes depicting artisans in action. Visitors, then and now, feel the transformative effect of spending a few minutes cosseted from the hubbub of London street, seated on the cool grass, surrounded by the awe-inspiring built environment.

Museum practices have moved away from chock-a-block installations and baroque spaces in the two hundred years since Soane’s time. American museums particularly have moved towards thinned out galleries surrounded by empty wall space. Museum professionals often suggest sparse installations allow visitors the chance to examine collections closely.

Immersion in Society

As museum practice has become more rarified, everyday life has become more immersive. Most visitors walking into museums have experienced some form of brand immersion. Most stores have a music playlist carefully chosen to project their company culture. Walking through the aisles, the shopper is unconsciously being immersed into the feel of their brand.

Explicitly immersive experiences are big business, as well. Disney makes billions annually on visitors hoping to escape into a different reality. Disney draws on decades of immersive education to deliver seamless experiences to visitors by blending built space with technology. Most visitors notice the attention to detail in the built space that makes fictional spaces manifest. However, Disney also exemplifies the hallmark of immersive experiences. Heightened experiences require playing with multiple senses. Disney subtly controls every sense in their spaces, including smell. With the mechanics hidden, the Disney visitor can be transformed into worlds that never existed.

Successful experiences do not need built space to be immersed. Video games are a $108.9 billion industry partly thanks to their highly immersive nature. Setting aside virtual reality and augmented reality for the moment, most video games have all the hallmarks of immersive experiences. Games are designed to make players feel as if they have entered the world of the game. The effect is so compelling that players often lose all sense of time as they become subsumed by the experience. People playing games feel empathy for their digital simulacrum in the game. The immersive nature of video games, like in Disney, is a carefully manufactured effect. Designers craft compelling storylines and build out complex digital spaces complete auditory effects and sounds. Players respond by feeling completely transported to the game world.

The appetite for immersive leisure has fueled intense interest in virtual reality and augmented reality. Virtual reality is a technology tool, usually accessed through a visor-headset, let’s users explore a world in 360-degrees. Augmented reality adds a virtual layer to reality, say through using a mobile app that combines input from a camera with digital content.  Virtual reality uses technology to take people to new places, while augmented reality brings new places into people’s current reality.

These technologies remain in their pioneer phase. Consumer behaviors will help the scale of success and diffusion of VR and AR. Pokemon Go is oft noted as being the first successful AR game. In the game, players capture figures who seemingly appear in their actual surroundings, as pictured in the app. The player’s wonderment and delight are predicated on the juxtapositions between their world and another reality. The New York Times, under Maureen Towey, has been producing virtual reality videos that use cell phones and Google Cardboard. Towey noted at the Detroit convening that this medium allows people to explore in 360 degrees just as they view their real world. The NYTimesVR endeavor is seen as an extension of their existing work. These short videos are framed to tell immersive stories. Through experiencing video of the Land of Salt and Fire, for example, consumers delve into a story about Ethiopia’s Afar people.

Consumer behavior outside the museum sphere affects their desires for institutions. The trend for immersive exhibitions, therefore, is as much a product of the appetite for immersive games as an interest in being able to take trendy social media photographs. Therefore, museums would be remiss to ignore immersion as a form of visitor engagement. Immersive engagement is within the museum’s historical underpinnings.

Museums and the Future of Immersion

A few museums have had real success using technology to enhance reality. The Canadian Human Rights Museum had a well-reviewed virtual reality experience helping patrons understand the lives of Guatemalan women. The Knight Foundation-funded Detroit Institute of Art’s Lumin experience uses AR to deliver interpretation about the collection. While there are differences between these experiences, an important similarity connects them—they are visually-driven technology-mediated interpretive tools. Technology allows museums to break away from textual interpretation. Engaging patrons using other senses and forms of meaning-making is an important step in diversifying audiences.

These early museum AR/VR projects, though, only hint at the future of museum immersion. For the possibilities to come to fruition, however, the field needs to transform many of its processes. Immersion requires placing visitor experience above content goals. For museums, moving towards a human-centered design can be challenging. Museums are more comfortable at broadcasting information based on their internal, curatorial goals. This status quo is antithetical to the ideal processes needed to create compelling, immersive experiences. However, if museums are willing to move towards visitor-centered experience design, their audience and reach will expand greatly. The trade-off is the long run is a worthy one. Immersive experiences offer museums a future where huge audiences are a reality.