We’ve just taken part in a thought-provoking live chat for the Guardian Culture Professionals network on mobile in museums. It aimed to ask a range of probing questions:
Why address the same old issues when we can take a deeper look at the role mobile can, should and does play in museum development and audience engagement? We want to discuss the practical, organisational and financial barriers that can scupper a great idea; we want to look at the finer points of user experience, responsive design, and the tech and tools available.
We also want to look at the audience, from the differences between on-site and off-site users to how different demographics interact with mobile. And what about data – should you be collecting it, how can you measure it and in what ways can those results be used for future iterations?
It proved to be a really interesting and lively discussion, ranging across topics such as the benefits of and barriers to creating good mobile projects, carrying out qualitative research in the gallery, simplicity vs complexity, favourite museum apps, funding, google glasses, interpretation in gallery vs on mobile and more. Last count it was up to over 230 comments!
Comments will be left on over the weekend and we’ll try and pop back to the discussion so do get stuck in if you’ve got more to add.
Also on the panel were Hugh Wallace (head of digital media, National Museums Scotland), Tom Grinsted (product manger: core mobile applications, Guardian News and Media), Dianne Greig (associate director, digital, Culture Sparks), Matthew Tyler-Jones (consultant, visitor experience, National Trust), Linda Spurdle (digital manager, Birmingham Museums) and Andrew Nugee (chief exec, Imagineear).
On the 31st May the Guardian Culture Professionals published an article by Matthew Petrie of Fusion Analytics that caused a bit of a fuss amongst museum professionals on twitter and in the comments.
Dear museums, we love you. You inspire, engage and educate. We visit you to have an experience, to learn something new, or for a day out with family and friends. We love you because you actively bring change and development to our communities. You just make us feel good.
And it seems that you London Museums are having a bit of a moment. The British Museum was recently named the UK’s most visited attraction in 2012 for a sixth year running, while Tate Modern moved into second place, with a 9% rise in attendance from the previous year. The V&A had its most successful exhibit ever with Hollywood Costume (over 250,000 visits) and David Bowie has just become the fastest selling event in the museum’s history. Well done.
But now we need to have a word. Many of you celebrate the past, history and heritage exquisitely, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be forward thinking too. See all those people coming through your doors? You know what the vast majority of them don’t leave home without? That’s right, their mobiles.
You can read the rest of the article here and see some of the response on twitter here. People took issue with the tone, the suggestion that museums weren’t thinking about this already, and the focus on technology over audience experience, in particular. The Guardian Culture Professionals network asked us to write a response, which was published last week.
We can’t just blindly copy from one museum to another or replicate old formats on the new devices. Creating a mobile experience is a design activity and must take the context and audience needs into consideration. As our museums professionals at the ME:CA workshop acknowledged, one size rarely fits all. As a sector we are beginning to develop tools and evidence that can help organisations identify where and for whom mobile can deliver the biggest impact and we are excited by the potential this offers.
Our experience at ME:CA is that few museums believe that mobile is a silver bullet that will enable visitors to engage by simply delivering more stuff. There is acknowledgement that mobile is a very powerful tool, but it is just a tool and one that we need to master. It should be used strategically – in the right way, with the right audience, and at the right time.
Read the whole article here and please do let us know your thoughts in the comments, here or on the Guardian site.
Thursday 21st March, 2013 – The British Museum
After months of talks and rants and deliberations, early morning skype calls and meetings in cafes, it was finally time for us to put our money (and cake) where our mouths were and run our first ME:CA event. We’ve already said a little about the ideas and aims but basically our objective is to take a fresh look at mobile projects in the cultural sector and how we can put experiences and audiences at the heart of what we do and how we do it.
This first event, held at the Samsung Discovery Centre in the British Museum, was intended to kick start the conversation, and see where it might go from here. We brought together people in digital, visitor services and interpretation roles at a variety of organisations (see below) for a day of discussion and workshops, thinking about the role of mobile and the processes that can be used to create really great mobile experiences. We’ll be posting in more detail about the outcomes of the various sessions and themes that came out of the day. In the meantime here is a short roundup of the day itself along with some recipes for the homemade cakes we served that seemed to be very popular!
Fiona Romeo and how mobile can help reposition digital within cultural organisations.
After coffee and an introduction to the day, we had a rousing and thought-provoking talk from Fiona Romeo, Head of Design and Digital Media at the National Maritime Museum. Fiona had just announced that she would be leaving her role, and indeed the UK, in just a couple of weeks, so the talk was partly a farewell, partly a reflection on her experiences in the role and a big call to action.
We’ll leave Fiona to explain more in her own words in a future post, but in essence her talk argued that digital projects can be great catalysts for organisational change. This is true of mobile projects in particular because they involve so many different departments by necessity. Such changes might be modest, opening up the photography policy or getting decent wifi installed, or more fundamental, repositioning the digital team into a more integrated and central role within the organisation and bringing about, what she called ‘Digital Thinking’. This certainly resonated with us; mobile has always involved multiple departments in delivery – from curatorial to front of house – and as more digital teams go beyond the static web to take on mobile we are seeing more and more conversations about organisational and project team structures and processes.
Tijana Tasich of the Tate has already blogged some of her thoughts about the talk
The next session looked at the opportunities and challenges inherent in working with mobile within cultural organisations. The idea was to build a shared understanding that can inform future events and activity through a kind of purging – getting all those gripes about why mobile projects don’t always work out on the table as well reminding ourselves of why they have so much potential.
We worked initially in small teams of 4 or 5 people. You can see some of the responses in the pictures below. It was interesting to see that whilst some of the responses were what we might have predicted, there were many others that we hadn’t thought of. We hope this will prove useful, as we begin to develop a manifesto or set of principles around creating and using mobile (or perhaps digital) in cultural orgnisations. But we’ll leave that for a future post too!
Context is everything.
What difference does it make if your audience, user or visitor has young kids? If they are using a device in low light? If they are checking your app or site from the cafe, in gallery, or out and about? The context for mobile experiences is, we would argue, a vitally important consideration. Unlike the desktop experience, which is usually stable, the mobile experience is hugely unstable, and frequently less than optimal.
And yet, many mobile experiences are conceived of whilst sitting comfortably around a meeting room table or at a desk. The context is often thought about too late. We see this as deeply problematic – narrowing the type of audience needs we address and experiences we create and reducing the success of what we do.
Inspired by haptimap, we developed a set of ‘context cards’ – design tools that can be used to prompt us to think about the context when developing or testing mobile projects. We tested the cards themselves in the next session.
Each group was tasked to look at a specific audience and institution and develop a series of experience ideas using the cards to prompt and provoke their thinking. We think it’s fair to say that this led to a real shift in focus and some really interesting – and somewhat unexpected – concepts, including the dubious sounding (but not about sex, honest) Museum Grindr, amongst others. Again, we will go into more detail about this session soon, and are also developing the context cards further with a view to making them available to buy as a physical copy or as a free download.
(As an aside, others have been talking about this recently too, see this post from Thoughtden about their CultureGeek presentation)
Designing Powerful Experiences with Coney.
After lunch, it was time for us to relax (a bit) and join in with the activities as Tassos Stevens and John Gottschalk of Coney took over.
Coney are an unusual agency who, in their own words, make “adventures and all kinds of things for people to play, following a set of principles: loveliness, adventure and curiosity”. Sometimes this is immersive theatre, sometimes work with schools, sometimes digital projects and always in some way playful. We’d been impressed with both their work and, perhaps, more importantly in this context, their thinking and design processes that have the audience firmly at the centre.
We had hoped that they could share some insights about these process but in a way that was itself playful. We weren’t disappointed!
After a warm up with a game called something like Who Is The Person With The Teabag, (which is both more than, and exactly, what it sounds like), we were sent out into the gallery on ‘reconnaissance’ to observe visitor behaviour (and try not to get caught out doing so). It was a reminder of just how important it is to do this, with so many visitors doing something unexpected, or unintended. We noticed a particularly high number of teenagers sat together ignoring exhibits, and lots people taking lots of photos (a theme explored in recent research from the V&A and Frankly Green + Webb, and separate research from the IWM, National Gallery and Tate, V&A blog post for more details ).
Back in the room, and after some cake, groups shared their findings, and then went on to use the evidence they had gathered to think about how mobile might support and/or intervene in these behaviours. This exercise wasn’t about the functionality of the phones, but rather the behaviours they can engender. E.g. a phone can make you smile (when you receive a nice text from a friend), a phone can distract you (when it rings during a conversation) and so on. Finally, groups picked an audience and an institution to work up an idea for a mobile project that would itself ‘hijack’ these behaviours to support the organisaional mission whilst delivering a delightful visitor experience.
Finally we wrapped up with a brief discussion of what people might take back to their organisations from the day that would help to make change happen. This included the reminder that observation was important, spending more time in gallery with visitors, and using the cards as prompts. And then, after a rather intense day, we all went to the pub.
Since our afternoon homemade cake break seemed to go down so well, we thought we’d share the recipes here. Apparently we’ve promised to have homemade cakes at all our events and have started trying out recipes already!
Thanks to Shelley Mannion for her invaluable help in organising the event and providing a venue, to Fiona Romeo for a great talk, to Tassos and John at Coney for a fantastic workshop, and to our helpers on the Day, Fiona Cairns, Hailey Baxter and Laura Mann.
And finally, a big thank you to all those attended from:
Heritage Lottery Fund
Imperial War Museum
Institute of Education, UCL
National Portrait Gallery
National Gallery, London
National Galleries of Scotland
Science Museum, London
Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums
Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam
A while back we discovered that we held a shared frustration at some of the events and conversation around the use of mobile technology in the cultural sector. We were disappointed with the promise of mobile fixing all our problems without the evidence of what is working – or not – and why. We wanted to find out if we can move beyond creating mobile experiences that are just the same old formats repeated on newer and shinier devices.
We felt there had to be another way of thinking and talking about what mobile can really do for cultural audiences. What would this new conversation look like? What would these new experiences look like? And what would it take for us to make them?
We shared a view that what really mattered was the experience and we wanted to understand what was working – and what wasn’t – for audiences and organisations. What should we – could we – create and how?
At some point we decided to stop complaining and start to do something about it and here’s the outcome: Mobile Experiences: Cultural Audiences, or ME:CA. We’re kicking off with a small, invite-only workshop on the 21st March, but hope that this will just be the first of a series of events or publications that tackle this subject. The results of the day will be published and shared with the wider cultural community here. The aim is that they will inform future research, publications and events designed to help to answer some of the big questions around mobile experiences for cultural audiences.
We are acutely aware that we don’t hold all the answers or even all the questions, so this project will be as much about listening to the views and needs of those working in the sector.
We are Frankly Green and Webb and Martha Henson.
Frankly, Green and Webb: a respected digital interpretation and learning consultancy specialising in the cultural heritage sector with a particular focus on mobile experiences. We have provided research, insight and advice to a wide range of organisations in the UK and beyond to deliver successful innovative technology projects.
Martha Henson: a digital magpie, interested in applications of technology (especially games and mobile) to learning and public engagement with culture and science. Martha is a freelance digital producer, helps run the London Educational Games Meetup Group (LEGup) and blogs at marthasadie.wordpress.com.
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