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Post-it comment left on my concept cards during poster session.

This week, I attended the 10th Nodem conference, this year held in Stockholm. And although I must admit that I was a little puzzled by a couple of presentations, I also took away some wonderful talks and some great conversations as well as new contacts and plenty of food for thought.

I myself presented a poster (and had a paper included in the proceedings, which is also available from the digital repository), and although I had not been pinning too high hopes on the outcome of that, it actually turned out to be a great format for generating conversations. As expected, most people just offered a quick glance, if that, but some were intrigued enough to ask for an explanation/demonstration of the probes, journal and concept cards that I had brought along. And some even stuck around for good long chat about design research, museological methodologies, cultural policies or digital mediation, to name a few topics. I had a great long conversation with Richard Sandell, professor of museum studies at Leicester University, following up on the conference there last month, and sharing thoughts about museum trends as well as methods and interests in museum studies. And artist/researcher at Aalto University Maarit Mäkelä also got really engaged with my material, posing some very good questions and suggesting I explore the notion of situated knowledge in order to reflect on my approach. This really struck a chord with me, and I will definitely follow that lead.

As of last week and until the end of the year, I have moved quarters and am now a visiting researcher at the CoDesign research cluster at The Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, 
Schools of Architecture, Design and Conservation, 
School of Design (aka KADK).

Last week was mainly spent acclimatising, but also on attending visiting researcher Tuuli Mattelmäki’s presentation on probes and other research methods for a group of new CoDesign students, and parttaking in the cluster’s weekly meetings, which last week included a visit from TV producer Ane Skak, sharing her experience with user involvement in cross media/ cross institutional projects. The presentations, the meetings and the projects presented or referenced were really inspiring – there’s some interesting things happening in this field and some interesting approaches taken. And one thing that is also clearly emerging is a very collaborative, engaged and openly conversational research environment. People take the time to talk with each other and savour the opportunity to share their questions and knowledge. So on top of drinking in the creative ambience of the design school environment (where all the work-in-progress mess, inspirational material and prototypes cluttering up the studios bring back sweet memories of being a fashion student, now a decade ago), I also enjoy this friendly and curious academic atmosphere and find this attitude to research and professional collaboration very appealing (even though I inevitably still feel like an outsider).

And Wednesday it was my turn to present my project to the group. As it turned out, however, the other PhD students in the group were all working from home (being in the final stages of writing), whilst another researcher was doing an all-day workshop elsewhere, meaning that I ended up presenting to a small group of senior researchers: Eva Brandt and Thomas Binder from the CoDesign group and Tuuli Mattelmäki from Aalto University. Of course it would have been great to get responses also from the other group members, but I also felt very privileged to get this kind of triple ‘master class’ attention on my project. And kick myself for not having recorded their insightful comments, but here’s trying to draw out the essence.

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Although I deliberately went for a flexibly handheld rather than a slick ppt-ey presentation, reasoning that my objective was not to sell my project but to lay out my uncertainties, I had actually really tried to think through my process and problems related to my research-through-design methodology, and to work out what I needed to tell and get feedback on. Honestly, I had. Running through my notes and material, writing up a chronology, pinpointing central ideas and uncertainties. But my presentation was still all over the place. Because now that I finally had the chance to discuss my approach and concerns with someone who could give me critique from within the design research field, I wanted to share everything. And since it’s all interconnected – what I’ve done, why I’ve done it and what I make of it; what I think I know and know I don’t (and think I ought to find out about); inspirations and outcomes – it’s hard to stick to a single narrative. Even when I have actually been following a relatively well-planned process. The mindmap shown above, which I made the day before to try to get an overview and piece together which references and questions belong to which aspect of the research, I guess illustrates my state of mind fairly well (mind you, this is only a representation of the methodological aspects of the project; museology, media and fashion hardly enter into the equation here. So in total it’s even messier. Which I sort of think it should be and sort of think it shouldn’t be at this stage (two years in, one to go), but either way it’s a bit scary).

I’ve come to CoDesign to try to make meaning out of this mess, to find out where to situate my design oriented research within the field, find the right language to describe what I have done and what it means. Because I have been getting a bit lost in considerations about methodology, and how it reflects my own preconceptions and preoccupations, since failing to make a clear case for my approach at the Nordes doctoral consortium  this summer and taking to heart J. Lee’s notions about the necessity of reflexive method making. And I still believe this is both relevant and interesting, and that I must necessarily be able to account for my methodology in my dissertation. But the supposedly-good-but-still-a-little-hard-to-get-my-head-around news coming out of today’s meeting, is that I should stop trying so hard to pin it down, at least for now. Stop trying to work out what my method is – the relevant question is not whether my concept dominos could be described as a form of game, or not, but what this particular approach has shown me. ‘Make the beast talk’ as Thomas BInder put it, and beware that my project does not fall into fragments.

(And yes, I guess that at the end of the day these reflections on a personal process of ‘enlightenment’ are mainly of interest to myself, and should be largely purged from the dissertation. However, as I find it useful to write them out of my system, the blog will still have to stand for a whole heap of confused confessions of this type.)

Referencing Donald Schön’s assertion that ‘one thing is what you do, another is what others make of it’, Thomas addressed the (common?) pitfall in justifying one’s position, and urged me to avoid longwinded meta-level deliberations on method. Rather than speculating about what I’ve done, I should trust it – this notion was seconded by Eva, who acknowledged the designerly takes and sensitivities in my material, and pointed to the richness of the journey taken – and focus instead on understanding how the generated material talks back to me and show what it can say about the world.

It’s still a delicate balance, as my project and process is hermeneutical rather than empirical – again, Thomas emphasised that I should stay true to this outset and consider my material as text rather than data, to look at the readings and writings, and rereadings, a spiralling movement of interactions with the material and the partipants around the designerly material I have written in the process.

(I promptly took out Gadamer’s Truth and Method from the library. Perhaps being in my bag will give it a competitive edge over Foucault’s The Order of Things and Deleuze & Guattari’s A Thousand Plateaus, not to mention Baumann, Giddens, Latour and all the other seminal works currently sat on my shelf that sadly all to often end up simply collecting dust. So many things I want to read, and so hard, sometimes, to decide what is relevant for the project and what is just an inspiring detour, which I don’t have the time to indulge in. For which aspects will a superficial understanding suffice, and for which is deep knowledge essential?).

So what can I say about the world? I guess I have been hesitant to claim that I can really say anything, given my narrow samples/studies and being conscious of my subjective approach. And perhaps this hesitancy has led me to become too guided by ‘agenda’; my gripe with mobile museum mediation. As Tuuli suggested, I need to consider to what extent I have actually sought to draw out the participants’ viewpoints, and how much I have simply been exploring my own ideas, or mainly been receptive to reflections of my own views. So while it is relevant to reflect on which assumptions about fashion, mobile media and museums I have been working from when designing these tools, I should also be aware of how they have narrowed or skewed my participants’ interpretive space.

Tuuli also commented that while at first she did not see the critical inspiration in the material – which admittedly was not very noir – my description of a process where I retained a strong sense of authorship, rather than staging a truly co-creative process, was indeed indicative of a designer-led approach akin to that taken by critical designers, also working to an agenda as much as exploring the field.

My probes, for instance, combined tasks for self documentation (e.g. mobile photography) with activities that were more akin to prototyping of early designerly guesses (e.g. the Pinterest and Polyvore assignments). Similarly, the dominos were designed to explore later stage guesses. Then again, these tools also served to disprove my guesses – heuristics, hypothesis, if you like – as when the online activities were rejected by the participants. The realisation that even this very digitally literate group were not inclined to engage with museum-related activities via social media sites was thus not so much a confirmation of my scepticism as a source of it. And while my studies are too small to make any results indicative of general patterns, the outcome has definitely informed my thinking. (As well as the other way round, and round, and back into the hermeneutical spiral we go).

One very concrete suggestion coming out of the workshop, from Thomas, was to initiate a collective Interaction Analysis session, and enlist the other researchers here to help me analyse interactions in and outcomes of my workshops from the video material. Until now, I had only kept the videos as documentary backup, whilst transcribing the procedures from the audio recordings. So actually just looking at the videos again feels like a fresh view into my process. And even though the footage is not great (in workshop II the camera shows what goes on on the table, but not the faces, in workshop III the camera is set to show the group, but not the table, and two people have their back to the camera (a result of experimenting with methods I’m not trained in, but at least I’ve got footage, so there)) it will be interesting to see what can be learned from it. Whereas the transcripts have been useful for drawing our central themes and problems regarding (the museum professionals’ perceptions of) mobile mediation, perhaps collective analysis of the visible interactions can uncover perspectives that I have hitherto been blind to.

Jordan & Henderson, in the 1995 article ‘Interaction Analysis: Foundations and Practice’ (in The Journal of the Learning Sciences 4(1), pp. 39-103), imply as much, stating that ‘Collaborative viewing is particularly powerful for neutralizing preconceived notions on the part of researchers and discourages the tendency to see in the interaction what one is conditioned to see or even wants to see’. (44)

I really hope that the researchers here will be able to find a couple of hours to engage in this work, as I am sure I would learn an awful lot from partaking in such a collective session. And even though I intend to turn my attention to the outcome, to what this material tells me about the world, another look at the videos could perhaps also provide some answers as to how to understand my method, and how to describe it, as ‘accounts of methods cannot be separated from accounts of findings and that the best way to talk about method is to show instances of the actual work.’ (ibid. 42).

So it all comes together, getting what I came for, but in a different manner than I could worked out myself.

David Bowie Is

One of the highlights of the holiday was to be ‘David Bowie Is’ at the V&A; a much hyped sound and vision extravaganza showcasing the style and influence/influences of one of music’s greatest. ‘Honky Dory’ was the first album I ever bought (taking inspiration from my older sister, who by then sported a Ziggy Stardust hairdo) and Bowie’s whole 70’s catalogue provided much of the soundtrack to my adolescence in the 80’s. It was thus both as an admirer of Bowie and as a museological explorer that I had been looking forward to seeing this exhibition, ensuring tickets online months ago and making a detour to London on our way to Iceland to be able to visit. In this age of experience economy, this was a pilgrimage, no less.

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It should have been awesome. Instead, I was disappointed. Overwhelmed by too much stuff, too many stories and displays, too many disjointed soundbites, far too many people and as a result underwhelmed by the total experience. I didn’t gain a deeper insight, I didn’t get a Bowie moment, and if I did glimpse the future of museums I’m not sure if I like it.

Explaining the cultural references and impact of an eclectic icon such as Bowie is a huge and complex task, and although it was great to be able too see some of the fantastic costumes up close and to revel in stylish music videos and cheeky interviews, I came away unsure if the exhibition format really was the best medium for the task. I sort of wished that I could have been served that narrative as a two hour documentary instead, as that might have equipped me for reading the artifacts afterwards (I was never enough of a fan to delve into these details on my own, and so I was a visitor with a keen interest in, but limited prior understanding of the exhibition’s subject matter).

The state of the art audio system, which should have enhanced the experience also turned out to be a frustrating affair. The idea was good; supplying all visitors with a location sensitive headset which picked up the audio for the exhibit you were looking at. In this way, a video became audible as you came closer, and other exhibits were augmented with music tracks or commentary. Probably the experience would have been great for the invite only press shows, where one was able to move around freely. But even though the flow of ordinary visitors was somewhat controlled by the strict timings of entry on pre-booked tickets (the exhibition sold out almost before opening), there were simply too many people crammed into the space. As a result, you were lucky to get close to the exhibits you wanted to see, and the audio seemed to get intercepted so that you weren’t quite sure if what you heard and what you saw were intended to go together. Several exhibits you had to pass over to get to less crowded space, meaning that you ended up trying to navigate the collective flow rather than following the flow of your own interest and understanding.

Speaking to my fellow visitors afterwards, they had experienced similar frustrations (although my sister did get her Bowie moment). Still she complained that the exhibition was too heavily front loaded, packing too much information and too many objects into the first part. My husband suggested that an exhibtion of this scale should have been allocated a larger space, which perhaps could have solved some of the audio problems.

Exit was of course through the giftshop, packed with bowieographies and special made trinkets – V&A Enterprise has taken ‘the museum shop’ to a whole new level. And yes, I too brought back relished relics, as well as some memory morsels from the exhibition itself, I will say. But overall, ‘David Bowie Is’ did not live up to expectations.

Ebbs and flows
On entry to the ‘Club to Catwalk’ exhibition on 80’s fashion, also at V&A this summer, I noticed this sign, forbidding not only photography but also sketching in the special exhibtion. This struck me as odd, given that sketching is considered a valuable tool for learning, not least for London’s many budding designers who surely will be a key audience for such an exhibition. Asking the custodian, I was informed that sketching was prohibited to ensure a better flow of visitors in the exhibition (when we visited, we had the exhibition more or less to ourselves, so flow was no problem here). An example of how experiences of the entertainment variety + economy is becoming museums’ primary concern, over and above learning and contemplation, it would seem.

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The Danish National Museum has also introduced online booking for timed entries to their current special exhibition ‘Viking‘, produced in collaboration with the British Museum and Museum für Vor- und Frühgeschichte in Berlin. The result of this collaboration is a beautiful spectacle, cleverly designed using dark wood and scenographic lighting to evoke a sense of drama and featuring an abundance of glorious artifacts. It’s well worth a visit. Opting for a 50 minute guided tour, we learned a lot of interesting things about the vikings as seafaring warriors and traders, and about the idea of a ‘viking age’ as a construct of the nationalistic romantics of the 19th century. However, the decision by the museum to amplify the tour with headsets, thus allowing for up to 30 participants on each tour was problematic. Half the time you were not able to see the treasures that were being talked about, as other members of the group were crowding around the exhibit, and with only 10 minutes left of our allocated hour after the tour, there wasn’t really the time to go back and explore the whole thing once again. As a result, again the connection between the narrative and the artifacts were lost; and thus the museum’s ability to tell stories with authentic things as put by Bruno Ingemann (2000:47) diminished.

Replacing traditional object labels with touch screens next to each case in the Vking exhibition allowed for easier reading in the dimly lit space, but also meant that only one person could control the reading at any point. For our young boys, the familiar and interactive screen also easily stole the attention away from the ancient treasures on display. Similarly, whilst they were enthusiastically enganging in the interactive computer game The first raid (we’d also booked tickets for readmission to the exhibition in order to be able to do this – a little awkward that you have to prepare so well in advance these days), the focus on testing their viking potential meant that they raced through the exhibition to get to the next game station, again the artefacts were upstaged by the technology (ofcourse, this was our second time round the exhibition). The game itself was good fun (although I, alas, ended my days in a fatal attempted raid on Byzantium), but the game mechanics were obscure and the learning potential very limited.

Chrome Web Lab
By contrast, the interaction of the Chrome Web Lab at the Science Museum in London was much more interesting. Experiment 1, the Universal Orchestra, especially, was a mesmerising experience. Using a digital interface you could play a group of analogue percussion instruments, whose sounds blended with music made by other visitors and online participants to create a soothing soundscape that gave the whole exhibit a tranquil, slightly otherworldly ambience. Using your Google login in a Chrome browser, you can launch the experiments and take part in the orchestra at home.

This was a great example of successful scaffolding. Controlling the rhythm digitally meant that you could experiment creatively and be sure to generate pleasant music with no prior skills. The limitations in the tactile experience of the instruments were weighed up by the auditive clarity, allowing you to single out and learn the sound of the individual instruments and play around with rhythmical sequences. The digital interactives were easily as engaging as the physical interactives of the museum’s Launchpad lab (actually, the online counterpart of that exhibit, the Launchball game is also both fun and educational).

Place and presence
Having a presence in the public sphere is one of the ways that museums work to gain relevance in the public mind, for example by way of landmark architecture, augmented reality apps or city walks.

IMG_1802The Settlement Exhibition Reykjavik 871±2 in central Reykjavik did this beautifully and effectively.The whole museum is built underground around the archeological excavation of one of the earliest settlements in Iceland. Although augmented with a variety of well chosen digital tools, it is the remnants of the longhouse and the experience of being in situ that remain in focus and make the exhibition so special. A final brilliant touch was this lightbox, allowing bypassers a peak into the museum and linking the past and present of this very spot.

Much less spectacular was Post & Tele Museum in Copenhagen’s pop-up pavillion, where tourist and city shoppers were invited to sit down and write a free postcard or design a stamp. Still this simple idea worked brilliantly, creating public interest in the museum and its subject matter, as well as providing a service and a welcome distraction.

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Pamuk revisited
Visiting the V&A Museum of Childhood I was again reminded of Pamuk’s museum manifesto when looking at a series of displays of mundane knick knacks from three presentday families.

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Individually, and contrary to Pamuk’s claim, these personal objects and stories were not of much interest to me, although perhaps this could be due to my fading attention at this point. However, in the juxtaposition of various family constellations and what objects make of the everyday of different ethnic groups, the overarching narrative became interesting, and allowed you to project your own family and your own stories and objects into this exhibit. As my own kids were still absorbed in cracking morse code and hunting for insignia in the excellent War Games exhibition, I did not test the family exhibit’s qualities as a conversation starter.

Also, contrasting an exhibit such as this to ‘David Bowie Is’ or the experience of seeing the Rosetta Stone at the British Museum, which to me looked like this

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I get Pamuk’s point about the value of the intimate museum as an antidote to the grand national institutions. On the one hand it is wonderful that museums are more popular than ever and make up a substantial part of the tourism industry. But on the other, these institutions are also drowning in their own success, turning what might have been a profound experience of culture into a somewhat tacky hustle and bustle affair.

Still not quite ready to write my own manifesto, though, not sure what to make of it all. But also still not convinced that mobile media can do much more than add to the noise.

Last week, I ran the final workshop with paticipants from Designmuseum Danmark, thus completing my empirical research. Once again, I used my ’concept dominos’ to illustrate the themes in the discussion, but this time the session worked more like a focus group or group interview than an ideation workshop. Still, the workshop produced some interesting ideas as well as some great discussions, answering most, but not all of my questions, as the debate followed other paths worth pursuing instead.

I had transcribed the recordings of the last workshop almost verbatim (however only noting intonations, pregnant pauses, background affirmations etc where significant); a lengthy process but a very informative one, as it forced me to listen closely. I noted, for instance, how digital media was at times discussed in specific terms referencing technologies and services, but also often referenced with vague notions such as ’the digital’, or with the ubiquitous ’app’ standing in for any kind of mobile service. Hardly a revelation, but still it was interesting to capture how open ended our wordings and how fuzzy our concepts of media and technology often are. This is not to imply that the museum communicators did not know what they were talking about, they surely did, but only that it is hard for anyone to navigate this wide, multi-facetted, ever-changing jungle of new media, let alone to ask that museums can leverage its potential for mediation meaningfully and succesfully.

Having reproduced the whole workshop in written form also allowed me to do a first rough ’coding’, identifying some of the themes and ideas, in preparation for the final workshop. While the questions opened were manifold, still I only made minor changes to my original plans, as I mainly wanted to stick to the issues that we had not had the time to address in our first meeting.

Some of the points made inspired me however to extend my deck of dominos with new perpectives such as ’the curator’s glasses’ and the notion of fashion as the ’little sister’ within the fields of design and cultural studies. However, only a few of these came into use in the final workshop, and I actually found that as the deck had grown, I sometimes struggled to find the appropriate cards to support the discussion. Therefore, during the workshop, the tool sometimes became a distraction for me as a facilitator, and perhaps also for the participants at times when the presented images where not quite right for the questions I raised. In this way, I would say that the dominos still served their function, but functioned less well in this second iteration, perhaps surprisingly, as I had already tried them out once before. Still, as I am experimenting with methodology in this project, falibility is part of that package.

And in terms of outcome, the workshop was a success. Even though there were more topics I would ideally have liked to address, still I got what I came for and more. And although at the end of the workshop I could sense that my participants’ engagement was starting to wane, my clear impression was that they too have found our conversations useful and inspiring. Yet as was also a topic in the discussion, turning ideas and ambitions into practice is not easily done, when the day to day workload is already stretching ressources.

Half way status

With the completion of my empirical research process, I am halfway through my project. 19 months in, to be exact. I can say that now, almost without twitching, although it took me a while to embrace the fact that I am no longer ’in the beginning’ or ’a little over one year into’ my project. Half way. And the good news is that I am realising that it is not only in terms of time spent, but also that even if my research so far has been very divergent, and although I still haven’t started writing my thesis proper, I have in fact done and thought and learned a lot.

To get started on the thesis, I have gathered my writing to date into a very raw script, structured around my draft disposition. Actually I started by simply collating all my blogposts and papers into a document, and although it may sound silly, it was really encouraging to realise that in fact it added up to a whooping 70.000+ words. (And that’s not counting all my notes, 50-odd pages of transcription, abtracts submitted to PhD courses and conferences, lecture notes and slideshows, status reports and supervision updates, applications for funding, admin blah blah and all the other stuff I’ve been writing over the past 18 month). I’m making a note of it here to remind myself that I have in fact been productive, something I have a tendency to forget when in bouts of panick induced procrastination.

Of course, only a fragment of all this text might actually be usable in the final thesis, the rest is really just an extended note system, and quantity is no measure for quality of content. But still I have that, rather than 200 blank pages. What’s more, there are actually some interesting thoughts in there, which I look forward to exploring further when transforming sketch ideas into academic arguments. Which of course is where the real hard work lies.

Reading through a recently defended (but not as yet publicised, hence the omitted reference) PhD thesis within my field has also been very informative. Even though I plan to write a monographic thesis rather than an anthology, as this was, it has given me a clearer idea of the scope and level of the genre, and to my great comfort, it seems within reach, provided said hard work.

The theoretical framework used and the insights presented in the thesis and comprised articles were all familiar to me; in fact I found myself worrying whilst reading that the points I was hoping to make were all being made here, making my own contribution obsolete. Most notably, the call for a greater level of technology criticism, or questioning of the default association of digital technology with democratic museological advancements, is also a driving force in my own research. Then again, my project is also so very different in so many ways, that it shouldn’t be a problem; I trust that I can add ye another perspective to this  debate.

And actually, the fact that this thesis so clearly demonstrates the effects of (Danish) cultural policies on (national) digital museology, perhaps means that I can skip lightly over making this connection in my own thesis, referring to this research (and its sources) instead, and moving on to the problem areas that are of special interest to me.

At last, its time for the Nordes13 conference, starting yesterday with a very stimulating doctoral consortium. I have been looking forward to this opportunity to meet with peers and learn from seniors doing design research for a long time, as I do feel very out of the loop, being the only one to take this approach at my institution.

It was therefore very inspiring and informative to hear about the other doctoral participants’ projects, and of course also very useful to get some critical, constructive feedback on my own paper and presentation. But to be honest, it also made me panic a bit.

My concerns about being an outlier, and not really grounded in design research, were not put to rest, rather I was reminded of all the things I don’t know. The ongoing discussions in the field, the assumptions behind the different approaches, the programs, tools and methods. I mean, I know the basics, but really I have just been building my own method from the ideas that inspired me. And although experimentation is welcome in this field, I suddenly felt that I lack the understanding and the guidance to be able to explain what it is that I have been doing, and criticizing and situating my own research within the design field, let alone transfering it to the field of museology.

So even though I had a general thumbs up to my approach, for instance in using a visual journal as a tool for research, I still find it hard to answer to/ specify exactly what I have done with it that makes it designerly, or research quality, and not simply a few pretty pages in a notebook. (I’ve started a draft for another post about the journal, because I’ve put off trying to explain it for so long, and I really need to start reflecting on it properly, so I won’t go into that here.)

No to self (from Joachim Halse)

No to self (from Joachim Halse)

As for the other comments, I really wish I had recorded the response I had, because I was too busy engaging in the conversation to take down  notes, and so I might lose some of the good points that were made.

One significant overall comment, from Lasse Hallnäs, was the assertion that my project/scope was very broad. I’m still trying to work out what to make of it, as it is not a criticism I’ve had before (when discussing my project with my supervisors or presenting in other settings). I actually thought that I had managed to narrow it down quite nicely (in general) as well as pitching this short paper and presentation to this particular context. Either way, I will have to consider whether my project really is to ambitious or unfocused, or whether it is my presentation of it that is too unclear, leading to misreadings of my actual intentions- or perhaps a combination of the two.

One contributory factor is perhaps that researchers in this field might place a greater emphasis on the design research aspects of the project, thus also expecting it to make up a more substantial part of the project than I envisage, seeing the design process mainly as a tool for thinking, a methodological approach, whilst the main interest of and contribution of the project lies in the field of museology. And yet, I have spent a significant part of my project this far trying to grasp and develop this methodology, so really maybe something else has to give if I am to ground this properly.

Another interesting comment related to my explanation of the process by way of the ‘hermeneutic spirograph’. Henrik Svarrer Larsen (himself using a super interesting figure of the interelation between space and matter to consider the dialectic of part and whole) thus pointed to the problem in placing theories, methods and actions, which are very diverse categories, on the same level, and suggested reworking the model to suggest concentric levels, seperating motors from matter. He also inquired about what was at the center – my model described a neat circle in the middle, making me aware that the spirograph design I had picked as a rough appropriation of my idea, was far to orderly and complete, and did not truly reflect the more erratic, irregular process that is really taking place. A handdrawn spirograph would be a better representation of this. Which helped me see, that although the object of study is not given as an entity at the outset, it is brought into being as well as explored by the process, in the juxtaposition and exploration of the various aspects.

Still, even with this kind of constructive and insightful response, I got this feeling of having set out to sea in a homemade dinghy, and now it was starting to leak… I also realized that I had to be proactive and do something to amend the situation (as well as snapping out of my misery). And fortunately, today gave me the opportunity to do just that.

For starters, learning from today’s paper presentations and project exhibition that this field is tremendously diverse, bringing together researchers from multiple traditions, and that my experimentations are extremely conservative when compared to, say, fungi prototyping or the provocative ‘Abort’n’Go’ device, gave me some peace of mind. Surely I too can situate my research in this field. And I won’t be alone in finding it hard to pin down what I’ve done and what it all means -it seems to be par for the course.

And then I had a good chat with Tau, my former lecturer from ITU, who is working to complete his own PhD research into design as a critical practice. As i relayed my concerns, he suggested that I spend a period as a visiting researcher at the school of design, and introduced me to Troels Degn, head of research at the school of design. He seemed positive to the idea, and saw various possibilities for connecting with both design researchers, fashion researchers and other research groups within their faculty. I will of course need to discuss this with my supervisors, but to me this seems like a very constructive prospect in terms of both mentorship and networking.

Workshop with Designmuseum Danmark
This Tuesday, the day had finally arrived for my final workshop, with participants from Designmuseum Danmark. The workshop was designed to complete my three stage research process, but as it turned out, we got so engaged in the discussion that we ended up scheduling yet another workshop in a month’s time in order to be able to continue the debate. I am really happy with this outcome, not only because it means that will get a richer/fuller material for my continued research (and will still be able to complete my research this side of summer), but also because it reflects that the discussion was valuable for the participants too.

The purpose of the workshop was to uncover the museum professionals’ view on the possibilites for and problems in framing fashion outside the museum with mobile media, as their perspectives will inform my continued research into the museological matters of concern related to this issue. (The intentions behind and design of my three stage research design is described in further detail in an earlier vlog post and in this short paper for the upcoming Nordes13 doctoral consortiumResearching museum matters through design).

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Workshop II at Designmuseum Danmark with (clockwise from left) Marie Riegels Melchior, Laura Liv Weikop, Nikolina Olsen Rule and Kirsten Toftegaard

I had therefore invited a group of people who all have a stake in the museum’s strategies for mediation of fashion: Kirsten Toftegaard, chief curator of fashion and textiles; Nikolina Olsen Rule, head of communications; Laura Liv Weikop, PhD student researching the multisensory museum, and Marie Riegels Melchior, fashion researcher and curator. Apart from drawing on their professional insights, I asked that they would also speak from their personal experience and preferences, partly because the personal perspective relates more closely to the user experience and objectives, and partly because I believe that the two can never be separated anyway, that as professionals we will always have a personal bias. Thankfully, if unsurprising given their passionate professionalism, the participants engaged wholeheartedly in the discussions, and I am really grateful for the thoughts, ideas and insights that they shared in the workshop. However, I have yet to transcribe the recordings and start my analysis, so I will not be sharing the outcome in this post.

Personas
In the workshop, I also shared some of my insights obtained in the first stage of the research process, involving prospective users via interviews, cultural probes and a workshop. In order to operationalise the user perspectives for this second workshop, I had generated personas from the four participants in Workshop I, distilling their (obviously more complex) viewpoints  into key objectives and interests. Their views, ideas and reservations were further represented in probe materials and quotes, which triggered some interesting questions and reflections from the professionals.

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Personas for workshop II, based on particpants in workshop I

Concept ‘dominos’
As for the concept sketches, devised to evoke a meaty debate, they took on a different form from what I had initially envisioned.

Having explored and considered a vast range of options for and implications of alternative forms of mediation, I found it hard to narrow down the ideas I wanted to discuss to a few completed concepts, as had been my plan. Furthermore, I was aiming to strike a balance between the need for open-endedness – heeding both the ethos of critical design and a general rule of thumb for participatory design processes stating that the rough sketch is a better starting point for criticism and co-creation than the polished prototype – and the allure and rhetorical strength of aesthetics (see Lenskjold 2009‘s descriptions of Dunne & Raby’s use of ‘visually stunning representations’ of noir designs); that is, a balance between retaining and relinquishing control over the discussion I wanted to stage. And finally, following an inspiring meeting a few months back with Isabel Froes, interaction designer and design researcher at ITU, who had also co-supervised my master thesis, I kept thinking about how the workshop design itself was also a crucial aspect of the process.

In the end, I came up with a solution which I believe served my purpose really well. Rather than designing two or three final concepts, I broke down the multiple solutions into concept elements, each represented by an image and printed onto card, which could be combined and interchanged in order to form a variety of scenarios.

As I started to work deeper into this concept, elaborating on potential scenarios and designing the cards, it suddenly struck me that what I making was maybe some sort of design game, an approach explored by Eva Brandt, amongst others. Getting very close to the workshop, I only read a single article on design games by Brandt (2006), confirming the kinship but not having the time to really let these new perspectives inform my design, but I will definitely look further into this field, to see if that may be a relevant way to contextualise and explain my concept.

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‘Concept dominos’

An example scenario could be fashion item/icon (subject for mediation) + shop (purchase as trigger situation) + QR code (as placed on sales tag) >> content of QR code? (question).

The scenario as a whole can then be used as a starting point for debate (e.g. discussing the possibility and relevance of leveraging a fashion purchase situation for museum mediation). But also the individual elements can be scrutinised or substitued, sparking new questions related to the same issue (e.g. does it matter which item or brand would the subject; what other trigger situations could be envisaged; what are the pros and cons of and alternatives for the QR code etc).

For the workshop, I had collated a series af scenarios, each exploring different situations or paradigms, but was also able to change and elaborate on them to follow the flow of the conversation. As mentioned above, this format worked well for this workshop, and I look forward to taking the discussion further in the next workshop.

Now in the final week of my research visit, I am starting to wrap up, mentally and practically. Even if six weeks is a short time, it feels like I’ve been here a good deal longer, as the experience has been so intense and eventful. In other words, I’m full now (and pining for my family), and although I partly regret not being able to stay for longer, I also feel that now is a good time to return and digest all that I have learned.

In terms of my project, the work I’ve been doing to round off is actually more a case of unpacking the insights and ideas that have resulted from my research, both at the BGC and around town. Last week, I had a eureka moment, suddenly seeing a new perspective in my project. Although I am generally happy to share in-process ideas on the blog, with this one I feel I need to mull it over for bit longer, exploring its potential and working out how to unfold it. So far I’m trying to join the dots by doing a draft for a draft for a paper or thesis chapter, or at least something to discuss with my supervisors when I return.

So I’ve mainly spent this last couple of weeks in my office, reading and writing and jotting down notes and ideas (and starring blankly at my screen, if I’m honest, but I’ve decided that’s par for the course). Still, there have also been a few events worth noting.

Last week, Rebecca Zorach of University of Chicago gave a incisive lecture entitled “Friedman’s Pencil and Kant’s Tattoo: Graphic Arts, Global Utopias, and the Acheiropoetic Social”, in which she discussed – amongst other things – Kant’s notion of  ‘purposiveness without a purpose’ as a prerequisite for the appreciation of beauty. For me, this would potentially be an interesting track to follow in a discussion of contextualisation/decontextualisation of museum objects and of how we appreciate aesthetic objects.

And this week, Glenn Adamson, head of research at the V&A, gave an intriguing lecture on ‘The Future. A history’, sharing his curatorial considerations on an exhibition of ‘futurology’, planned for 2016. The history of projections of the future is in itself a fascinating one, and his points about the role of design and designers in this context of course struck a cord with me. But what was also very interesting was his (at this stage still sketchy) concept for a radical use of technology as a form of display. For this exhibition in particular, this strategy made a lot of sense: on the one hand, minimizing the amount of physical displays would allow visitors to admire the architecture in its purity (the exhibition will be the first in a new underground gallery that is part of the Exhibition Road building project), on the other, augmented reality, as a present day technology of the future, would be a perfect medium for reflecting the exhibition theme in the visitor experience.

It is going to be very interesting to see how this concept will be realized in three years time, which is quite a long way into the future in terms of technological advancements. Even more interesting, perhaps, is the fact that Adamson saw this as a way of offering the audience a glimpse of the future of exhibitions. He also suggested another possibility, namely that in the future, exhibitions will be built as filmsets, as their transmission to a world wide audience would be the end goal. If he is right – and the V&A has some muscle when it comes to making this a self-fulfilling profecy, which is furthermore in keeping with their new brand vision – then that is a pretty fundamental shift in how we understand museums.

Finally, visiting my sister in Chicago this weekend, I also got the chance to see the exhibition Inspiring Beauty at Chicago History Museum, which celebrated 50 years of Ebony Fashion Fair and laid out the story and impact of Ebony Magazine in the history of black empowerment. It was a very straight forward kind of exhibition, using a combination of gorgeous couture (which as much as showing a bit of fashion history gave you a sense of the level of glam that editor and producer Eunice Johnson leveraged to boost black pride) and well edited video to tell its story, but this no-nonsense form of display with a clear narrative still did a great job.

Summing up & closing credits
As expected, things have not panned out quite as planned. I never heard back from Loïc Tallon and decided not to pursue it as there were plenty of other ways to explore my project in this city. I didn’t get it together to try and drum up a #drinkingaboutmuseums session with the NY museum tech crowd, and now they’re all in Portland for MW2013 (sort of wish I was too, and sort of think that it would only result in a bad case of information and experience overload if I had made that the end of my trip). I didn’t get a chinese take away in one of those boxes you always see in films (or a bagel, or a cupcake, or a cocktail. My bad, and anyway I had enough of a Sex and the City flashback obsessing about shoes.) And I didn’t meet Tom Waits by chance in a bar at two a.m. (which was a favourite New York fantasy of mine twenty years ago).

Instead, I did do so many other things. There really is a lot to love about New York, and as hoped it has been the perfect place for me to explore my project in a new way. First and foremost, the BGC even exceeded my (high) expectations. Having ready access to such a wealth of ressources has been great, and I only wish I had had the time to devour even more books. To compensate, I’ve built up quite a larder of articles to read back in Copenhagen. Whats more, being able to present my project and discuss my questions and research interests with the faculty here has been wonderful, and I am deeply grateful for the response I have been getting. Especially, debating the role of new technologies in (and outside) the museum with Kimon Keramidas and getting insights into fashion curation from Michele Majer has been very useful. Also, the wealth and level of the lectures and events that I have been able to attend here has been absolutely astounding. Even though a lot of the subject matter has only had a tenuous connection with my own research, these lectures have given me a lot of food for thought, pointing to aspects of museum practice that I would otherwise not be considering, opening new perspectives or alerting me to theories that could perhaps be of use in my project too.

Secondly, being able to visit all these amazing institutions here in New York has been a real buzz. World class museums as well as smallscale, dedicated inititiatives, its all here in abundance, and I’ve been fortunate to have had enough time to explore and indulge. I’ve seen a great variety of exhibitions, tried a whole heap of apps (bear with me on that slightly dubious image), immersed myself in cultural experiences and engaged in public debates. The After the Museum talks at MAD have been a great source of inspiration, I only wish there had been even more time for discussion, as so many interesting perspectives were brought up by some really cool people. So I’m looking forward to read the resulting publication, and also hope that at some point, somewhere, we might get the chance to pick up that conversation again.

And of course, simply feeling the vibrancy of this city, watching people on the street and sensing the pace and spirit of the academic culture; being free to put in the hours and not least finding myself in a new context and therefore even more open to impressions. All of this has been a great learning experience, and has really pushed my project forwards. So I am deeply thankful for Bard Graduate Center for inviting me and for being so welcoming. And also very grateful to my sponsors, who made this visit possible: Augustinusfonden, Farumgaard-Fonden, Oticon-Fonden og Dansk Manufakturhandlerforening.