Digital Strategy: Tatics, designing for verbs, and well basically blowing it all up

Slides of Bruce Wyman’s presentation

One of my favourite sessions during the Museums and the Web conference was all about Digital Strategies.  I like strategies, I have a background in project management and I like to have a map of where I’m headed, something to aim for.  Weird considering, I do a lot of agile and user centered design work, which admittedly is hard to produce a strategy for. So I always have a bit of an internal conflict when it comes to strategy, is it a good thing?  Or is it actually a bit of a waste of time, particularly if you are decompartmentalising strategies and not looking at the overall approach? Traditionally, I think there needs to be strategy to any project, otherwise it risks becoming a cool thing rather than having a purpose (particularly when talking about digital things), strategy shouldn’t be aimed at devices, or tech it should be aimed at experiences, and those experiences fit into the bigger institutiuonal goals. Experiences don’t date, therefore strategy shouldn’t either.

It was fascinating to hear three sides of the story about digital strategies in museums.  Firstly by Carolyn Royston and Charlotte Sexton (IWM and National Gallery) discussed the need for tactical thinking when it comes to digital strategies.  They highlighted that a digital strategy is more than just a written document to be filled away and forgotten about. A digital strategy can provide a vision and action plan that is a framework and focus for all digital activity across an organisation. They really hit home that it is a requirement to put digital at the heart of the institution. They discussed the elements that they found were key drivers for change in their respective institutions and how they could create a coherent vision for digital engagement:

  • Every strategy needs a champion:  Advocacy is key.  Engaging staff and managing the management are important factors to consider
  • Allow time for reflection: Embrace lessons learned from these past projects in order to move forwards
  • Gain confidence:  Delivering key elements of strategy, on time and on budget.
  • Strategy is a living thing: It’s a continuous process.   Not at written document which is filed away.

Ultimately they came to the conclusion that a digital strategy can provide a vision, a framework and a way of working.  Providing an incentive to deliver on time and to budget.  Developing and implementing a digital strategy can act as a catalyst for change.  It’s challenging but worth it.

Up next came Bruce Wyman, who talks at the speed of light.  I always enjoy Bruce’s presentations, not only because I envy his ability to be articulate and eloquent at speed, but because everything he says packs a punch. Bruce started with the idea that Digital strategy helps you evolve from “risk averse” to “risk aware”.  But  you need to amplify experiences.  In order to do that you need to:

  • Think beyond traditional paradigms of interaction.
  • Create frameworks, serialize experiences, concentrate on your digital presence and make that amazing
  • Design for verbs, for specific interactions you want people to have.  Because the value of the interaction is critically important.  Interaction should be the museums brand.
  • Create delightful interactions. The visitor should be made to feel special

Bruce also advised to “Skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been.”  Now I don’t really understand ice hockey, but the sentiment remains the same, aim ahead, don’t stick to the now. Bruce spoke to the permeability of place as the future of interactive media and suggested restrictive digital strategies which are designed for tech rather than experiences may be detrimental.  Museums need to evolve the things that they are good at, and design not for the device but for the visitor and their engagement. Bruce really hit home the need to trust our audiences and serialize the experience by developing content and experiences that transcends and crosses platforms.

Finally, Rob Stein came with his log fire to tell us a story.  Rob advised to make sure your digital strategy reflects the larger museum strategy and highlighted that communication is key.   It’s really easy to fall into the trap of creating a digital strategy on what technology should look like, rather than focusing on how technology can help reach institutional goals easier.   Rob also encouraged every to learn to write well, and realise that communication barriers do exist between departments and the ability to communicate ideas and perspectives adequately is a critical point to consider.  Rob suggested blowing up the expectations and stereotypes about technology can help to bridge the gap between departments and highlight a clear understanding of what really matters.  Rob thinks it is important to:

  • Be a museum expert first not a technologist.
  • Break the stereotypes
  • Learn to write
  • Change the conversation
  • Beware of technology timeframes

Total Immersion and a tribe of synthetic monkeys

Place-Hampi from UNSW iCinema Centre on Vimeo.

This year’s keynote at Museums and the Web was by Sarah Kenderdine, entitled Total Immersion: Re-living the Archive.  Sarah’s work is amazing and her research looks at interactive and immersive experiences for museums.  I had the pleasure of sharing a session with her last year, so I had heard a lot about Sarah’s work already. Despite knowing quite a bit about what Sarah does, it doesn’t take away from the mesmerising work. It was great to hear Sarah’s take on the intersection between cultural data and immersive technology and how it is possible to blur the links between the physical and the digital.

Sarah presented some brilliant projects from ALIVE (Applied Laboratory for Interactive Visualization and Embodiment) exploring interactive applications inside a series of large-scale immersive visualization systems; including interactive 3D panoramic 360-degree displays, hemispherical domes, and 3D panoptic hexagonal viewing systems.  The projects use massive data sets to create fully immersive experiences.  Sarah’s work just seems to push the boundaries of what is you can do with geospatial, cultural data and immersive technologies.  It was a fascinating keynote presentation on the creation of virtual worlds to engage & immerse audiences.  One that really sticks out is PLACE-Hampi, which is an immersive experience focused on the drama of Hindu mythology and archaeology.  It was fascinating to see how this was created, especially the creation of a synthetic tribe of virtual monkeys.

Throughout the keynote I kept asking myself questions, yes it is amazing, but how much did it cost? Yes it is amazing, but how long did it take to make, is it resource intensive? Yes it is amazing, but is it really required? Yes it is amazing, but why use an iPad interface, why not just interact directly with the data on the wall? Yes it is amazing, but if the dwell time in immersive environments is huge, what happens if there is a queue? What happens if there are lots of visitors? Can an immersive experience be a shared experience in a crowded space?

You may be catching my drift, yes the immersive experiences Sarah has delivered are absolutely brilliant, and in some instances the virtual experience of heritage sites is becoming increasingly important for delicate, over visited and endangered sites.  But is it realistic to create a fully immersive experience, in a time of funding cuts to culture? Is it worth all the time and expense?  One thing that became very clear by the end of the presentation is that Sarah has a clear knack from translating academic concepts into practical engagements that really work for visitors.  I’m just not sure if it’s a sustainable endeavour currently.

Regardless it has got me thinking lots of interesting immersive type things that I would love to explore further, particularly when it comes to textual things, it would be really interesting to have a bit of a play.  I will just have to find a huge pot of money to fund it first.

You can read Sarah’s paper over at the Museums and the Web conference site.

QRator and Museums and the Web

I am in recovery from conference fatigue, mixed with a head cold and jet lag from the Museums and the Web Conference in San Diego last week. It was a brilliant conference that brought together some fabulous museumaholics working on some really interesting projects.  Despite suffering from a rather bad dose of cold, turning my voice into that of a duck’s and a fever that struck me out for the middle day of the conference, there was still a lot of interesting projects to be seen, heard and discussed. I’ll be posting my notes from the conference over the next couple of days.

But first, Steve and I presented some of our work on QRator in the Next Gen Mobile Applied session our slides are below.

It was really nice to get some feedback about our work, and to see what people thought.  One point that I hammered home was the success of QRator is down to the Grant Museum staff, trusting their visitors.  I’m getting more and more passionate about this point.  Every museum related meeting I go into, I have the same conversation again and again, it has to do with museum authority, visitors lacking in that same authority, and giving visitors tools to write what they like, means that they will abuse that trust.  Just because they can doesn’t mean they will.  QRator is a fantastic project that encourages a positive relationship between museums and visitors, where visitors are actively involved in creating the museum displays.  For me the best museum experiences, are ones which not only make you think, but inspire you to want to engage in the topic, QRator does exactly that.  Yes I might be bias.  But the visitor contributions speak for themselves. Visitors are actively choosing to engage with the questions posed on the QRator iPads.  Being able to stand up in front of a conference load of museum people and talk about this, made me really happy.