06 Apr

#MW19 Reflections: Data and Diversity and Field Death

Girl Surrounded by Technology objects

Before I go into my notes from Museums and the Web Boston, I want to thank the home committee who was seriously on their game. Everyone around the area was so welcoming and giving with their time and ideas. They created such a wonderful vibe.

In looking through my notes and reflecting on my conversations from MW, I was struck at how much the conference was focused on big idea conversations and sessions. Instead of specific how-to sessions, many presentations were more why-to or if-to. What do I mean? Well, often sessions that show how a project occurred don’t share the raison d’etre and justifications. Of course, practical how-tos are important, particularly if putting ideas into action is your job. But, there are also benefits to sessions that consider the reasons parts of the field exist. It’s the difference between plugging something into a formula (how-to) and do the proof that the formula works (why-to). We have all been swamped enough to need to just plug into the formula and move on to the next thing. This conference feels like a mental shift, and it allowed us a group to spend the time building the proof about parts of our field.

Data, data, data: Data was the king of the conference and AI the queen and certainly the topic of many bar-time convos. Protocols and processes interwove some of these conversations. The ways that we structure data still have idiosyncratic quirks that hamper our abilities to work across organizations and fields. And, yes, some people are doing better at finding commonality. But some of the data lovers are still hitting their head against the wall. The challenge is often that data is a representation of something in the real world, and any representation of the world is filtered through the person creating the data. As Latanya Autry and Mike Murawski say, museum [data] isn’t neutral. One particularly interesting data talk about Liz Neely, and Chad Weinard really brought the issues of data being interpretive home. Liz spoke about her efforts to work across fields and their mental models. If the same idea can be cataloged differently, it shows that the catalog is mitigated by the field. Chad followed with a talk about how the changing who is doing the data production can completely change what data matters and what matters can be investigated with the data. University students will look at collections differently than scholars, for example, looking at color first instead of classification. This flexibility of thought can feel scary. It changes the concept of authority, and shakes the perceived solidity of our data, but seen differently; it helps us as a field expand knowledge processes and outputs.

Inclusion requires including people: Diversity is often a coded word. Organizations see diversity in narrow terms, adding a few different people, but maintaining the status quo in all important ways. The topic of diversity came up throughout the conference, including in my decolonization talk. People show data as a form of access, discussed social content as a form of access, considered multiple language products. But, and this a big but, I would love to see a greater focus on diversity, inclusion, access, and equity work in museum tech. Any work that connects to visitors is DEAI work. Without using that lens, the field is missing out on doing their best work for our constituents.

F’ng IIIF: OR WHY can’t we communicate: Alright, I joke about the f’ng part. There were a few IIIF talks, and then so many tweets. In thinking back on all these, this an interesting marker of the parallel train track effect in this field. The back-end folks often feel very strongly about how something works and the front end on how something feels. Both are important and connected, but in discussions, they talk past each other, their conviction impeding their ability to hear each other. So, when you say but interoperability or get into the code, you are not finding a common language. You are asking people to come to your mindset instead of finding a middle one. I find that IIIF is a topic that is particularly susceptible to this. It makes me chuckle that something predicted on crossing systems (interoperability) isn’t communicated well interpersonally. In some ways, I would love the IIIF talks next year to go the way of the data ones where I hear more people speaking about the why-tos. I find getting to the big picture is a better way to get everyone involved.

The Field: The biggest topic of the conversation wasn’t in any presentation title. Is our field imploding? Are we too depressed for our own good? Is there an epidemic of bad management? Is this work sustainable? The topic came up in many talks like Seb Chan’s talk about experience (magic keys, I tell you, magic and keys!). But, otherwise, the topic was most manifest in the halls, bars, and twitter rooms. One particular aspect of this issue was about the ways that many people feel a lack of agency to make change. Koven Smith and Emily Lytle-Painter talked on Twitter about how they felt their hands were slapped for trying to act. Many people talked about how if this field is for the future, we are stuck, bc the present looks pretty bad. I can’t put a nice spin on this topic. There was no resolution. Yet, it’s pervasiveness in the conversations at the conference should be indicative of some big issues.

 

20 Nov

#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.

06 Nov

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.

04 Nov

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.

01 Nov

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.

30 Oct

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.
25 Oct

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.

23 Oct

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.

 

 

 

18 Oct

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.

25 Sep

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.