I recently read Museums at Play: Games, Interaction, and Learning edited by Katy Beale over my Spring Break travels to NYC. The book is incredibly straightforward with simple 5-7 page chapters, each illustrating an example of an interactive experience (some low-tech & some very hi-tech). Because this is what I study – visitor engagement with collections – in traditional or digital spaces – I was very aware of several of these examples, but a few were new and very surprising.
Two (of the many) that struck my fancy:
- Art Heist at the New Art Gallery Walsall
- Playing With Light – An Interactive Science Exhibition [SciTech Australia]
Take away points from the book:
- Keep designs simple – the more complexity that’s added to a game, the more likely it will only work for subset of your audience, will be too time consuming, or will be confusing to pick up. Simple is better.
- Test prototypes on your audience several times – almost every chapter discussed how testing the product on families, kids, parents, or students revealed problems, challenges, and outcomes that were unexpected and required going back to the design boards – all of which ended up being instrumental to the success of the product.
- Never design for users coming up with “right answers” – the exhibits that made the interaction a contemplative experience were the most successful. They allowed different people to build off the ideas of others, which led to longer, more rewarding museum visit experiences. One chapter discussed the use of a large, unstructured space devoted to white legos, where users spent exorbitant amounts of time playing, redesigning, and engaging socially with others.
With government cutbacks and economic hardships shadowing the last several years, museums have been bludgeoned with the outcry for more programs, more events, more visitors, more twitter and facebook followers, and to do it with constantly shrinking budgets. Every institution I’ve worked in has faced difficulty not only accomplishing those feats, but finding ways to balance the weight of all of their other responsibilities in addition to meeting new requirements. Even if visitors and social media engagement reflect the more, more, more, is it worth it? What is actually gained from all that time and effort?
I found this lovely article by Randi Korn (ala Randi Korn & Associates) that gently argues for more careful consideration of quality over quantity when evaluating output and end results. A nice reminder :)
“Museums’ measurements of achievement are often tangled up in building larger buildings, counting visitors and increasing programming. But to maximize their impact on the communities they serve, the fastest and most efficient path may be embracing the very un-American idea of scaling back.
Doing less feels scary, especially when other museums are still on the treadmill. All sorts of fears emerge when considering program reduction. Will the museum’s traditions be lost if programs are discontinued? What might fill the void? Will you receive a poor performance review? Sometimes such concerns prohibit organizations from taking a risk, pursuing a brilliant flicker of an idea or simply moving on when the time is right.
The less-is-more approach necessitates changing how museums plan, care for collections, select programs and exhibitions, and engage their communities. If numbers of digitized objects, visitors, programs or exhibitions are no longer accurate measures of success, then what is? Approaching work with different goals—for example, balancing quantity with quality, satisfaction with meaningfulness and national appeal with community relevance—may help all of us in the museum enterprise realize the true value of our institutions. Museum work isn’t only about how much or how many; it is also about providing the public with meaningful experiences that are personally relevant, significant and enduring.” – Randi Korn
Korn, Randi. (2010) “Less Is More”. Museum, 89/5: 25-27, accessed online 02.20.2012 (http://www.randikorn.com/docs/less_is_more_museum.pdf)
Short post, but worth pointing out:
A case study of a good example for highly accessible, visible, and legitimately helpful resources for visitors with disabilities is front-and-center in the Museum of Modern Art’s web presence. Double high-five, MoMA!
This is so important, and I commend them on implementing a variety of resources that can make the museum a more fun, rewarding, educational, and memorable experience for patrons of all types, shapes, sizes, backgrounds, and abilities!
The only thing that might have been even more helpful, is giving a phone number for more specific advice, pointing to times when the museum is less or more crowded (in general) for visitors who might have a preference one way or the other, and pointing these visitors to a way to organize group visits or to correspond with someone on setting up exactly what they need in order to visit & have the same experience as everyone else :)
On the overall, though – it’s a nice, full-frontal tackle of an issue that a lot of institutions and organizations forget about or gloss over! Hip-hip, hooray!
Screenshot from the Collecting + Exhibiting Page. CHNM has developed remarkable tools for data curation & beautifully archived exhibits
Just spent 3 hours discussing web tools for digital archives & libraries in school today – #ohyeah. Especially mindblowing are projects at the CHNM, which you can access here. The page on Collecting + Exhibiting and Research + Tools are worth the time (especially Omeka). Other super resources that were shared include:
- Tagasauris – uses software to determine which meaning a user intended for sites with crowd-sourced tagging (i.e. user tags ‘chicken’: do they mean chicken noodle soup, farm chickens, the chicken dance, or chicken-crossing-the-road jokes).
- Hiroshima Archive Project – self-described as “a pluralistic digital archive that tells the reality of Hiroshima atomic bomb.”
- Zotero – a personal research assistant – helps you collect, organize, cite, and share research sources.
- VoiceThread – multimedia slide show experience with new ways for leaving comments and collaborating among peers.
- Etherpad – Collaborative online document writing – Google used the source code to build Google Documents.