Mar 02, 2010

SXSW, Here We Come: A Museum Convergence Success Story

Maria Giudice's picture
Maria Giudice
CEO & Founder

SXSWi is about two weeks away. Last year, I had the pleasure of moderating the core conversation entitled, When Worlds Collide: Human Centered Design Meets Agile Development, with my colleague at Carbon Five, Alon Salant. This year, I have the privilege of participating in two new topics with two new co-presenters. I'm thrilled to be co-presenting From Dinosaurs to Digital: A Museum Convergence Success Story with Jonathon Denholtz, the Director of Interactive Media at the California Academy of Sciences. Jonathon and I have worked on many projects together over the past few years and we both are really excited about the potential of experience convergence in the museum space. The Core Conversation format is a speaker or two in conversation with the audience. Below, we respond to a few select questions.

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Jonathon: What makes working with museums different than working with any other client? What unique challenges do you and your teammates face? What unique opportunities do you see?

Maria: When people visit museums they are walking into, and expecting, immersive experiences. The unique challenges museums face is that they are not structured to deal with convergence because ownership and accountability of decision-making can no longer be made in silos as most organizations are now set up. Typically, lower budgets can really hinder innovative thinking, which can lessen impact due to projects getting scaled back. Clients tend to put designers in boxes (the brand guy, the website company, the ad agency). Convergence creates opportunities for designers to work holistically or collaboratively with other teams because experiences are now overlapping.

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Maria: How can you seamlessly merge online and offline experiences?

Jonathon: 1. Enhance the museum-going experience with mobile applications that address real visitor needs. These include wayfinding, daily programming guides, supplemental exhibit information, themed tours and more. In addition, develop applications that invite visitor participation (e.g. polls, photo contests)—the output of which can be displayed in real-time both on the museum floor and online, via the social networks. 2. Extend the museum-going experience by inspiring visitors to log on and connect to the Academy after leaving the physical building. For example, provide visitors with the opportunity to bookmark favorite exhibits. In turn, allow them to log on from home to access content tailored to their individual interests or to connect with others that share the same interest. 3. Tie social networking efforts directly to location-based events and programs. For example, the Academy leverages sites like Facebook to drive 3,000-4,000 people each week to a Thursday night program at the museum called Nightlife. In turn, attendees help further promote the event in real-time by sharing comments and photos via Facebook and Twitter.

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Jonathon: Why are you wasting your time chasing museums? What is happening in the museum space that you find most interesting/exciting? Trends? Technologies?

Maria: More than any other industry, museums can be on the cutting-edge by innovating and experimenting with technology to enhance the overall physical experience and create deeper, more meaningful connections to their audiences. I get excited when I think about how mobile phones and tablets can connect visitors and create a shared learning experience through games, contests, and other learning activities. I can see mobile phones being used as translation devices that can facilitate conversations between people who speak different languages. Take a picture on your mobile phone and learn more about what you are currently seeing. I am really looking forward to the day when technology seamlessly enables people to live better and lead more meaningful lives.

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Maria: How does the issue of convergence affect traditional organizational models of working inside the museum? Does it help or hinder getting work approved and done?

Jonathon: The process of introducing and integrating new connected technologies into traditional museum settings can be slow, inefficient, and frustrating as many organizational structures remain highly silo-ed and have yet to find ways to coordinate across divisions. What happens when the Interactive Media department has a new idea for enhancing the museum-going experience with a mobile application? What happens when the Exhibits department has a new idea for extending the exhibit floor beyond the physical building? Ideas like these require coordination and collaboration but it’s not always clear who’s responsible for prioritizing and executing on these ideas. The exciting news is that transformation is starting to take place. New organizational models and new paradigms for product development are taking hold. A new generation of connected exhibits is leading to new and compelling visitor experiences—both on location and beyond.

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Maria: What will the future of museum experiences be like Jonathon?

Jonathon: A number of thoughts come to mind Maria: 

Immersive & interactive: Visitors will step into exhibits, learning by engaging and feeling rather than simply by observing and intellectualizing. 

Dynamic & personalized: Exhibit information and interactivity will adapt in real time to the needs and interests of individual visitors. 

Visitor-generated: Exhibits will increasingly invite visitors to contribute content that helps shape the actual presentation.

Connected & accessible: Museums will become less and less constrained and defined by their physical buildings. Rather, content and expertise will be distributed and easily accessible online and/or repackaged for download—both inside and outside the building.

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We Want to Hear From You

Please join us for this conversation in Austin on Sunday, March 14 at 5pm. If you can’t make it, feel free to email us or ask questions as comments to this post. We look forward to hearing your thoughts and ideas on this exciting topic!