#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.

An Overview of Journey Maps

Why create a journey map?

We want to make the path to our experiences better, because we know happy customers are repeat customers. And, are visitors customers? Yes, in this case, they are. They might or might not be paying to participate. But, they are choosing to consume the services we provide. Also, we know there is a relationship between interactions, space, and emotions. Remember the last time you had a bad experience at a store or restaurant. What felt bad? Where were you when you had this bad feeling? Will you go back to the place that this bad experience happened? Many variables went into that bad experience. Next time you go the experience could be better. But, most people still avoid places where they had a bad experience. The visceral reaction is incredibly powerful, and most decisions have an emotional aspect.

Most emotional challenges are about a specific situation or moment. It’s about that mean woman who served the food or the fact that the bathroom sign was white print on the glass in 8 pt font. People usually react to a certain impetus. Understanding which moments cause negative emotional reactions helps designers improve the overall experience. Otherwise, their changes cannot target the problems. Why shoot in the dark when you can hit the right target?

Overall, a journey map is a tool that helps everyone work from the same information. Admitably, map reading is not a skill that everyone possesses. Once you get everyone up to speed on understanding the material in the map, the whole organization has the SAME artifact to focus on.

How do you create the right map?

Firstly, there is no one journey every one customer takes. Even a Disney ride, that has a clear beginning and ending, would have a set of journey maps. A young child, for instance, will have a different experience in Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride from the line to the exit than a grandparent. (And, yes, I know that ride no longer exists :>)

  • Ideally, you should create journey maps for each persona you identify for your brand. They will hopefully be fairly simple. You will want to hone in on the difference to truly understand where you can improve customer experience.
  • You need to perform research. Observe users. Do surveys. Take feedback. Use this data to help you create data-driven maps. Absolutely do not use yourself to create your maps. The research should feed your maps. For example, let’s say middle-aged women are an important sector of your audience. Observe a set of people in this demographic. Map each of their behaviors. Interview them after you observe them. Develop an averaged map of behavior and attitudes. (If there is huge variation, then you will need to do interviews to understand differences. A generalized journey map would not be helpful, and could actually mask problems.)
  • Every map needs to have phases (chunks of time being tested), actions (the actual map), emotional responses (customer’s feelings at each point), touch points (moments when the customer interacts with the company).
  • After you create a set of maps for each of your personas, look for pain points and other insights. You will also add insights under each part of the map and organizational responsibility for each element. Are their places where everyone struggles? Are there places where one sector struggles? What are places that really work? Why? Are there parts of your organization that is doing great? Where can you improve? 
  • Then reach across your organization to find solutions. Share this journey map, just as you share the customer’s journey. 

Journey maps can’t solve all problems, certainly, but they help organizations find specific places where customer service falls down.

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.

The Sweet-Spot in Interpretive Approach & the Politics of Mounting Installations

 

Helping visitors engage in collections is a primary concern for museums. Museum professionals often partner with various vendors, consultants, and partners to do this work, for example commissioning firms to develop interactives for exhibitions. Mounting these installations can be exhausting and rife with interpersonal challenges. Visitors walking into spaces, ideally, have no idea how contentious and challenging mounting installations can be, thankfully.  Even if the customer experience appears alright, the staff experience should not suffer to mount such installations.

What causes interpersonal challenges in mounting spaces and installations?

I have always loved the phrase lock-step and turn-key. Both phrases scream efficiency, ease, simplicity, and replicability. None of these adjectives would be useful in describing the mounting of a collection space. Collections managers and database administrators work had to make systematize collection data. But short of digital systems, most things about collections are complexity and nuance. Objects come to museums for their rarity and complications. Installations are meant to help people with little background knowledge fall into love (like) with an object. Collectively, the work of the people mounting an installation/ exhibition is to bewitch/ bemuse the public.

Getting visitors from 0-60 about collections is a tall order and its one about which every person (either on staff or on contract) feels passionate. Emotions can run high, and the stakes can feel enormous. People on the teams come with different expertise; each person seems the DMZ and faultlines in the process differently and through the lens of their own professional role.  For example, while a curator might understand the nuance between using certain phrases (say artwork vs artifact), others on the team see these as unimportant arguments. Everyone on the team is often placed in the position of arguing their corner, and everyone can come out of the process feeling bruised.

 

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How can these challenges be mitigated?

Everyone on the team is hoping to get an interpretation for installations that is interesting and easy to use without compromising the museum’s reputation. This sweet-spot is a bit of a holy grail. But, diminishing inter-personal challenges and developing better systems is essential to improving interpretation. Sound systems result in superior products, and broken systems result in subpar products. Think of how a broken conveyor belt will not be able to create wonderful chocolates.

The first step in developing a good working process is to agree that ideal interpretation and installations need to be easy to access, understandable, and grounded in research. Like a three-headed dog, these three elements have to work in concert to go forward. Often museums allow their legacy to serve an anchor preventing action towards innovation and excellence. Museums can also be fooled by the newest fads to skew too far away from their core competencies.

After agreeing to collective and balanced actions, teams need to determine more practical issues, such as work plans, sign-offs, and tone. Underlying these practical issues the teams need to decide and articulate the no-go zones for their institution. Every institution has issues that cannot be discussed easily. Donor issues and collection histories often top these lists. In working with teams, I like to put these issues on paper. This process can feel uncomfortable. But, these lists are also freeing, in that one person on the team is not required to be the guardian of these verboten topics.

Finally, any good plan needs some follow through. Often, the best-laid intentions are destroyed because there is no big stick. Museum staff managers are rarely given training on deescalating emotional conflict; a fear of conflict is epidemic in many museum senior staff members. With so much work and so little time & money, who can fault these managers. The result is a culture of conflict-avoiding people finding ways to step around and then crashing into challenging personalities. When I have worked on successful installation and interpretative teams, there is a person who is judge, jury, room mother, and traffic controller. (Ideally, the team has been set up so that everyone is on their best behavior and everyone understands they are in this together FOR the visitor, so challenges don’t bubble up.)

Conclusion

Interpretative work is basically like all human to human communication, prone to emotions and challenges. In installation work, the bigger challenge might be that the people starting the conversations about the collections (the staff) are not actually present with the receivers (the visitors). The installations, from signs to interactives, need to speak to visitors on their own. When the systems create these installations are smooth, the conversations can go singingly.

 

On Thursday, we will talk about questions teams can ask themselves to hit the ideal sweet spot for interpretation. 

This topic also ties in with a previous post about the relationship between interpretation and research.