Museum Studies at Tufts University

Exploring ideas and engaging in conversation

Thinking about design thinking

I’ve had some exposure to design thinking both professionally and as a student but it has always involved developing a usable product, either physical or digital. It wasn’t until I attended a session at the 2019 NEMA Annual Conference that I realized its potential for programming purposes. In hindsight, that’s an absolute “duh!”

In a session titled Using Design Thinking to Solve Problems Throughout the Museum, Sherlock Terry, Trish Palao, and Jennifer Rickards of the Montshire Museum of Science shared examples of using design thinking for a range of projects including exhibit design, operational challenges, and event planning. They introduced the room to the basics of design thinking, walked attendees through the steps in three Montshire use cases, and then we had the chance to practice it ourselves. (Hands-on learning – my favorite!)

The idea behind design thinking is that it is a human-centered approach. It’s flexible, iterative, and, as most design thinking proponents will tell you, usable by most anyone. It’s not exclusive to people who identify as designers professionally or as a hobby. I’d wager many professionals follow the process intuitively, but may not hit each stage.

The typical order for the five stages is as follows:

The stages can happen in order, out of order, and repeat as many times as the project requires. Understand your users from their perspective, clearly define what it is they need, brainstorm ways to help, and do a practice run (or three) to see if the project achieves what you hope it will.

This graphic from the Interaction Design Foundation illustrates the cyclical nature of the process:

Copyright holder: Interaction Design Foundation. Copyright terms and license: CC BY-NC-SA 3.0

Design thinking’s focus on user needs and flexibility makes it the perfect multipurpose tool for just about any challenge we might encounter in museum work. As our work is entirely for the sake of our visitors, if our project doesn’t work for the people we serve, it doesn’t work at all – no matter how cool or innovative we think it might be.

If you’re new to design thinking, here are a few helpful tips I’ve learned courtesy of both Montshire staff and the Tufts digital media course:

  1. Enter the process with a well-defined goal to guide you. Our broad goal for the practice scenario in the NEMA2019 session was “How can our museum better engage teens?”
  2. There are multiple ways to think of the problem you are defining – without thinking of it as a problem. Consider it a “job to be done” or build a challenge statement. Montshire staff gave us this template for a challenge statement:
    • How might we [theme goal] in order to [broad goal] considering that [key consideration #1] and [key consideration #2].
    • Example: “How might we train staff in order to better engage teens considering that staff may have little knowledge and/or negative impressions of that age group?”
  3. When brainstorming, go big and broad. Montshire staff came up with 40 ideas during their ideate stages! The idea isn’t to have 40 winners, but to spit out anything that comes to mind. Ideas which might seem totally bizarre or unattainable may have just the right kernel of inspiration.
    • Post-its are your friends here: use one post-it per idea and then group them into themes.
  4. Prototypes don’t have to be physical. Develop the prototype that fits your goal – if you’re designing a program, this might be a lesson plan, a discussion prompt, a question on a sign, a game, a worksheet, whatever. Whatever format lets you test if users are getting what they need is the right format.

Here are some additional resources on design thinking and design thinking in museums:

What uses have you gotten out of design thinking? We’d love to hear your experience in the comments!

Talking the Talk: Next Steps for the Salary Spreadsheet

You may have seen the Arts + All Museums Salary Transparency spreadsheet: a Google sheet of (at the time of this posting) nearly 2000 museum salaries from around the world. The nature of the data for each submission varies, but most entries include the name or type of museum, individual’s role and department, location, starting and ending salary, benefits, and required degree. Some individuals have also provided their gender and race. The bulk of the submissions come from museum professionals working in the United States, but the sheet also includes entries from countries such as Brazil, France, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom.

Kimberly Rose Drew (@museummammy) shared her story of undercompensation at the 2019 AAM Annual Meeting & Expo

Michelle Millar Fisher, an assistant curator in the European decorative arts and design department of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and colleagues created the spreadsheet to encourage transparency across the field after being inspired by Kimberly Rose Drew’s story of how she learned she had been undercompensated for her work at The Met. They may have also been inspired by a similar spreadsheet created weeks earlier by Alison Green of Ask A Manager for the same purpose: to “take the mystery out of salaries.”

At this point, the spreadsheet has grown 1800% since its first day and the story has been picked up by news sites such as Artnews, Artnet, Business Insider, Nonprofit Quarterly, and others. Fisher expressed her hope to Artnews that the spreadsheet “… encourages a conversation between coworkers… If you don’t do it, everything stays the same. Sometimes it takes just one tiny action. Solidarity is the only way to effect great change.”

Where do we go from here? What can you do?

  1. If you haven’t yet, look over the spreadsheet. It’s grown from a 100-entry sheet of mainly curatorial submissions to a nearly 2,000-entry behemoth of positions in administration, collections, digital, education, operations, security, visitor services, and other departments. If you’re interested in downloading a copy of the data, you may be able to obtain one by emailing the contact provided on the front page of the sheet.
  2. Submit your own entry. The spreadsheet has been locked to preserve its data, but you can (and should!) add your information through this Google form. While it has grown impressively, we’re still nowhere near a full picture of the field.
  3. Be open with your colleagues. Workplace etiquette has long dictated to keep mum about one’s salary, but silence perpetuates the status quo. Transparency about salaries and benefits exposes both institution-based and field-wide inequities.
  4. Speak up. In a NY Times article about the Ask A Manager spreadsheet, Liz Dolan of the podcast “Safe for Work” and formerly of the marketing teams for Nike and the Oprah Winfrey Network suggests “[asking] for regular raises, noting that the earnings compounded over time [are] considerable.” She also notes, “Sometimes you have to be first and that is the scary part… It’s important to build that confidence.” Whether you are applying for or already in a museum job, use the data from this spreadsheet and other resources such as annual wage surveys to bolster your ask for pay you deserve. (You can find additional pay-related resources under Tab 3: Other Resources on the spreadsheet.)
  5. Team up. Asking for change can be intimidating. Lean on and lend your support to colleagues if you or they decide to speak up.
  6. Share up. Transparency is important; action on the the information provided is doubly so. Share the spreadsheet and other salary data with the people with pockets (or paying power): museum leadership, board members, HR, you name it. They need to understand that this is an issue to be taken seriously, and – hopefully – with our voices combined, we may move the needle.

What We’re Reading: Partying with Priceless Art: Why Galleries Are Loosening Up At Night

Evening parties are becoming more and more common at museums. They often appeal to a younger crowd, offer a new way to engage with collections, and add to the cultural nightlife of a city. Events involving alcohol, dance, and large crowds can give museums of all types new life, but they also come with risks. What if the crowds bump into artwork? Do people even notice the work that’s in the galleries? If not, does that matter or is it enough that people are at the museum, engaging with the space, and having a good time?

This article raises all these questions as it describes vibrant museum events across Australia. Read it here and think about what similar events could be done in your museum.

https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2018/jan/25/partying-with-priceless-art-why-galleries-are-loosening-up-at-night

What We’re Reading: Selfie Factories: The Rise of the Made-for-Instagram Museum

Wonder, an exhibit at the Renwick Gallery, brought in more visitors in six weeks than the whole rest of the year. The Museum of Ice Cream sold out a six-month run in 90 minutes. What do these spaces have in common? Their presence on social media sites, such as Instagram, blew up. Visitors took the ultimate Insta-worthy pics, enticing thousands of others to visit to snag their own photos.

But what is the real impact of these spaces? Do they provoke deeper thinking? Could designing for Instagram be a good museum strategy or does it compromise more authentic engagement with the objects and themes?

The article Selfie Factories: The Rise of the Made-for-Instagram Museum dives into these questions, challenging us to think about the role of social media in the museum world and the role of museums in the social media world.

What We’re Reading: Membership Isn’t the Top of the Mountain

Membership is traditionally a way for museums to increase engagement and have an additional source of revenue; however, museums often struggle to attract new members and keep existing members engaged. In this blog post, Eric Bruce, Head of Visitor Experience at the Minneapolis Institute of Art (Mia) provides AAM with the third post in a series highlighting Mia’s recent strategies for increasing their audience, including their membership base. Bruce explains their new approach that prioritizes loyalty over membership. To gain this loyalty, Mia strives to demonstrate loyalty to their visitors. With this mindset, the institution has made membership accessible for all visitors with no annual donation requirement and has since seen a dramatic increase in their membership base. To learn more about how exactly they have done this, read the article here.

« Older posts

Spam prevention powered by Akismet

Disclaimer | Non-Discrimination | Privacy | Terms for Creating and Maintaining Sites