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Over the last few weeks, I have attended a handful of interesting events which deserve summing up for future reference, and because they presented insights worth sharing. Also they serve as a lesson in getting it down while it’s still fresh in your mind, as I realize that some of the (surely brilliant) thoughts I had after some of the earlier events I now can’t recall, like how inspired I was by Else Skjold’s research or the details of working with Cecilia’s probe. Which explains why the entries get shorter and shorter…

Loic Tallon open lecture at CIID: Adapting to mobile: a museum perspective (26/2)

Last week, Copenhagen Institute of Interaction Design hosted an open lecture by Loic Tallon. Tallon is director of Pocket-Proof, a digital consultancy specialized in helping museums develop strategies for mobile media with some pretty cool projects under their belt; chair of the Museums and Mobile online conference; and producer of the annual Museums and Mobile Survey. He also co-edited Digital Technologies and the Museum Experience: Handheld Guides and Other Media with Kevin Walker and co-wrote the paper ‘Going Mobile?‘ with Isabel Froes for MW2011, amongst other things. So, in short, he’s cool, and has a solid knowledge of and experience with this field, and I’m thrilled that he agreed to do an interview when I get to New York. So more on that later.

Aimed primarily at designers, the presentation centered on six tips how to think about designing mobile projects for museums, reminding newcomers to the museum field that while smart phones may be the latest craze, mobile interpretation tools in museums go back a long way. Listed in the photo below, I’ve added my own notes on the six tips beneath.

Loic Tallon's top tips for museum mobile design

Loic Tallon’s top tips for museum mobile design

Be specific about what mobile is (and is not)
– Smart phones, tablets, audioguides etc. are not one and the same – explore the specific affordances
– Why do it on mobile (e.g. smart phone)?
– Central characteristics of smart phones: digital, personal, portable, connected

Forget about the technology
Get past default ‘we need an app’ thinking or simply replacing audioguide # with QR codes
– Think about what experience you want to create, what content or what stories you want to share
– Mobile technology can now do far more than museums ask for (there was a really nice graph for this, but I didn’t get my camera out in time, and I haven’t been able to find the slides online) – but what is it we need it to do?

Mobile projects are not new for museums
As demonstrated in videos and audioclips from past museum tours, with some lovely examples like Stedelijks groundbreaking 1952 broadcast technology and a dramatic Tuttenkhamun tour narrated by Orson Welles.

Define who it’s for and what it does
– with reference to Falks situated identities: visitors motivations are key
– clearly defined objectives (the experience) for a clearly defined audience.

Support the museum’s challenge
#1 challenge: getting people to use them ( see museums & mobile surveys) (now, I think this is the wrong way to think about this issue, as it suggests that the goal is to boost uptake stats; rather, this kind of knowledge should not only make you wonder how to get people to use them more, but should also make you think about whether they are actually valuable for the visitor or if they are quite fine without them, thank you)
– so think about the experience from the visitor’ perspective – what do they need, what is the added value: forget about distribution of your products, think instead of supporting visitor needs, what kind of experience they want (which is kind of the point I was making above, except the assumed sollution in this context may be better experience design, whereas non-use, the non-scaffolded, unequipped skinnydip museum visit is at least not addressed as an option. Further to this rant here and here).

Bring capacity building, not just a product (or pilot)
-Work with museums, let their needs, ideas, perspectives decide the development

This advice should go out to museums as much as to designers. Sadly, I think one big problem is that because most museums do not have in-house development, they don’t build up much experience or understanding, and so are quite easily manipulated by flashy suggestions from design bureaus who, at the end of the day, are trying to flog a product.

Further on that note, I couldn’t help noting how many people were there; the small venue was totally crowded. This field is scarily popular. Were these people all museum-mobile-designer wannabes? And if so: are mobile museum experiences more a designer’s wet dream than a visitor need? Or a result of the museum folks’ desire to rub shoulders with the creatives? I’m not pointing any fingers here; this was exactly how I got to be interested in this field. Just speculating.

Either way, Tallon’s sound advice should come in handy.

MMCN network seminar: Methodologies of mobile communication and media research (22/2)

The Mobile Media and Communications Network is a newly founded network of Scandinavian researchers sharing findings, work-in-progress conundrums, publication possibilities and more around their research into mobile communication and media. Starting from last year’s ‘Researching Mobile and Locative Media’ workshop and PhD course at Århus University, the group met once in the autumn to establish the network and this time for a seminar focusing on methodology. The plan is to continue with biannual meetings as well as instigating mobile media sessions at relevant conferences. There’s also a website in the making, and an open invitation for other reserachers in this field to take part.

Even if I can feel like an outsider, even a bit of a leech, given that I probably will not be contributing to this field but only learning from it, it is still very interesting for me to take part in this network and learn from some of the leading researchers and shooting stars in this field. A mix of presentations and discussion, the atmosphere is nicely informal, meaning that rather than showing off people share uncertainties, allowing for a constructive dialogue. As we discussed that this could also be a forum for PhD students to get feedback on their work (rather than pushing for another PhD course this year), I should seize that opportunity at some point.

Both Bechmann, Ess & Waade ‘s project about Tripadvisor and the communicative functions of travel apps (as yet unpublished, but the abstract presents some very interesting points about key functions and significant tendencies in locative mobile apps, such as their visuality and connectedness), and Gunnar Liestøl’s presentation about establishing a methodology for design development of ‘Situated Simulations’, a kind of indirect augmented reality, were very interesting and relevant for my project. I was particularly intruiged by Liestøl’s notions on the value of negativity, of negation, pointing to what is not there, as essential to the design process, which counters the insistance of possitivity in design thinking ass advocated by Ided, Aalto a.o. Also here, a paper is under way, which I will look forward to reading.

I also picked up on the fact that Liestøl also used the term ‘mediation’ – but when asked, also confessed to some uncertainty as to the appropriacy of this translation. It seems that all Scandinavians share the frustration that there is no truly appropriate English translation for such a central term in museology as ‘formidling’ (German Vermittlung), only a host of related terms that convey some aspects, but not the complexity of meanings in the original term. And while mediation may be the correct term etymologically, and in accordance with ICOMs key concepts of museology, it is still not used by the anglophone museum community, as the common usage of the word has very different connotations. So, I too will have to keep circling around this issue, before tackling it head on in my thesis.

#SMWSMK: Social Media Week at Statens Museum for Kunst (21/2)

Social Media Week in Copenhagen inlcuded a string of events at Statens Museum for Kunst:
The art museum on social media – presentation by three different museums on Livestream

Allegra Burnette, creative director for Digital Media at MOMA, presented their social media strategy and a catalogue of initiatives across YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr and traditional blogs, all used in differerent ways to document, distribute or engage the public in ongoing exhibitions.

Jesse Righam, Digital Communications manager at TATE similarly laid out their social media strategies, which seemed to have a strong focus on the marketing potential of social media. An interesting aspect for me here was how fashion culture, via bloggers (e.g. Stylebubble), designers (e.g. Westwood) and collaboration with the industry (e.g. Topshop), was used to gain access to a wider public, quote RIngham: ‘it taps into that audience that we need, the visitors of tomorrow’. Perhaps this has been the inspiration for the newly founded Louisiana Channel‘s decision to feature Danish designers Henrik Vibskov, Peter Jensen and Anne Sofie Madsen as commentators on art (in relation to fashion, but still).

Finally, Sarah Grøn from SMK generously shared the ups and downs in the process towards ‘becoming social’, making the point that staff’s personal experience with and command of social media platforms is a prerequisite for using them succesfully as an institution.

After a panel discussion, which mainly revolved around sure-fire communication on Facebook (apparently, updates about artist’s birthdays and the weather never fail – the key is to give something the puiblic can personally relate to), the day concluded with presentations by Merete Sanderhoff and Unges Laboratorier for Kunst on ongoing projects at SMK. Not entirely convinced by ULK’s Tales App (perhaps I’m just not getting it, or perhaps it is one of interesting, but somewhat artyfarty concepts that work best as concepts only)  but I would recommend trying Hintme, the scanner/twitterbased concept which I have written about earlier, which is now open to the public in a beta version. So go check out the website, make sure your QR scanner is up to date and go try it out in on of the participating museums! Better still, let me know how you liked it.

Modesalon: Fashion, music & identity at Designmuseum Danmark (30/1)

During fashion week, and in conjunction with the current exhibition of vinyl album covers, Designmuseum Denmark hosted two fashion salons about the relationship between fashion and music. Sadly, I missed out on the second one, a conversation between designers Mads Nørgaard and Henrik Vibskov, but found the first, featuring music scholar Morten Michelsen and fashion researcher Else Skjold, very inspiring.

Following themes such as emancipation, experimental expressions of gender and marginalisation, they spoke of fashion and music as bodily media for cultural expressions, and of the problematics of the ‘subculture’ discourse, which has now gone out of fashion, to be replaced with concepts of scenes, tribes and genre as social phenomenon.

Skjold is currently finishing up her PhD research on men’s fashion, a very interesting project exploring the potential and developing the methodology of wardrobe studies for cultural studies into fashion as well for market oriented developments in the fashion industry. I had a brief chat with her after the session about our shared interest in how fashion is not just products on a catwalk, but a complex mix of utility, identity, style and culture when used in real life. I expect that her thesis will provide some useful insights into these aspects as well as into considerations on design methodology in cultural studies, and might try to hook up with her at a later stage.

Responding to someone else’s probe

Thanks to Cecilia, a master student from the IT University of Copenhagen, I have been getting a chance to ‘taste my own medicine’. For her master thesis just finished, she explored how to design for sensory experiences in digital media, focusing on the potential for the fashion industry; a very interesting project and field, and highly relevant to my own research. During her process we’ve had some inspiring conversations and I am curious to learn of her findings. What’s more, she used cultural probes in her empirical research, and I had to fortune to one of her informants.

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Her beautiful probe package consisted of seven activities exploring various sensory expressions – I was asked to produce sensual forms in clay; to create a colourscheme, to articulate my thoughts on sensual expereinces on a series of postcards etc.

Apart from inspiring my own thinking around the importance – and complexity – of sensory and aesthetic experiences, and how to translate that into digital designs, it was interesting to be an informant and experience the very subjective interaction between designer and informant when performing her probe activities. Like the blurred boundary between what was her research interest and what was mine, and between my personal and academic understanding of the sensory, brought on in part by an overlap in project foci, and in part by engaging myself in her probe. Or the time issue, as in how much you can ask of your informants. For my part, I enjoyed working with the probe and also had a sense of obligation, meaning that I completed all tasks, but even so I can see how the demand on the informant’s time must be taken into consideration in the probe design, and may also account for some of the lacking responses in my own research.

Last week, I received an invitation from Bard Graduate Center in New York to become a short-term research fellow for a six week period next spring.

Having waited anxiously for their decision since applying in August, I was (am!) exhilarated to receive this news, and feel truly privileged to be given to opportunity to take part in the strong research community at the BGC.

The Bard Graduate Center: Decorative Arts, Design History, Material Culture, is a graduate research institute of Bard College. As implied by the title, the institution studies cultural history through its material manifestations, or, in the words of Dean Peter N. Miller:

At the Bard Graduate Center our focus is on Cultura. This ancient Latin word referred to the class of activities in which human beings acted on, and so transformed, their natural surroundings. Studying the traces of this effort is, of course, cultural history, but of a specific sort. It directs our attention to the substances intervened upon, the processes used to make these interventions, and the consequences of these interventions.

Museum theory, fashion history and media/materiality matters are all represented in the course offerings, making it a perfect institution for research into my project field. The library and Digital Media Lab look simply brilliant, and the symposia and seminar series – open to the public – very inspiring – hopefully the program for the course of my stay will be as interesting. The institution publishes the book series Cultural Histories of the Material World and the journal West 86th: A Journal of Decorative Arts, Design History, and Material Culture as well as publications related to their exhibitions. Yes, there is a gallery too! opening up the field to the general public and making the insititution a vibrant part of NY cultural life as well as hub for intellectual discussion.

So this really is a remarkable institution. What excites me the most is the prospect of taking part in the academic community, and really immerse myself in its approach and discourses as well as in my own project. I find BGC’s emphasis on object-centered, question-driven work [which] unites the best approaches of the museum curator and the university professor’ (as put by founder and director Susan Weber) most inspiring, and look forward to take that lead. I will also be doing a presentation to staff and students, hoping to receive some critical feedback and just get stuck into some brilliant eyeopening conversations along the way.

It goes without saying that I am also exited by the prospect of spending six weeks in New York. I look forward to explore the world class museums, pick out a couple of good plays, find a favourite second hand haunt, and just wander through the city like modern day flâneur (or flâneuse, I guess), reserving the touristy bits for when my husband and boys come to visit. This will be my first visit to NY, and studying at the BCG and living in Bard Hall, both in Manhattan, I really get the chance be a part of it (New York, New York). Awesome news indeed.

New York Fashion Week, just ended, saw a merge of fashion and technology with models sporting Google Glass eyewear on the runway for Diane von Furstenberg. The #DVFthroughGlass project/stunt caught the attention of both tech community and the fashion world, and will result in a short film of the runway show as captured by the model’s augmented reality glasses.

Is this the must have accesssory for SS13, or at least the near future, and how will that affect museums and mediation?

Social media was also playing a central part during NYFW, with Fashion’s Night Out (a night of ‘shopping and celebration’) offering lots of ways to take part via Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr etc., in order to win prizes (and create hype and spend money, of course).

As part of Copenhagen Fashion Week, the big industry trade fair taking place this week, the fashion council has organised a fashion festival to give the general public a feel of the vibe. Although most events are poorly disguised PR stunts for the local fashion shops and big beauty brands, some have a little more substance.

Designmuseum Denmark, for instance, is hosting a pop up exhibition about sustainable clothing under the heading New Nordic Fashion. The exhibition showcases collections made for the recent NICE design challenge and ‘Zero Waste’ designs by David Andersen.

As a couple of young women I interviewed said (sadly my blog settings don’t allow for video uploads, so I can’t share the vox pop, or the video blog I did remember to do this time – but thank you, Marlin Sofie and Celeste), even if the outfits were somewhat lacking in colour, the information about the horrific waste and pollution of the fashion industry was an eye-opener, and the novel materials were interesting.

So even if the commercial constraints of the context and the quick and dirty nature of the exhibition set up did not allow the museum much space for really addressing the woes of the sartorial world, the exhibition still managed to inspire and educate, if just a little.

The mini interview also revealed that it was the fashion week that drew them to the museum, so from a PR perspective it seems to be a good idea for the museum to team up with the fashion council and be part of various events.

Sustainability, or CSR, was also a theme for another exhibition at Skuespilshuset, and even H&M had jumped on the bandwagon with a display of outfits made from recycled H&M garments. It’s a nice thought, an environmentally savvy and sound fashion industry. But I cannot help thinking that whilst green may be the new black this season, fashions will come and go.

Interviewing my respondents has been such a cool experience. As expected, demographic homogeneity has not meant a lack of diversity in the group, and I have had a string of interesting conversations and met many different takes on fashion and media.

I get the impression that my respondents like the project too. I hope they do, it’s meant to be fun for them to take part. And I was really happy to see that Tina, a 25 year old design student who I met yesterday, was so into it that she even shared the experience on her blog.

Already, I have collected a rich source of inspiration in the form of voxpops, friendship-book entries, and keywords from the interviews. On top of that, the probe returns are already trickling in. I’m lovin it! It is such a thrill to recieve an MMS from a participant, knowing that right then, someone was engaging in my project, and getting a glimpse into their lifeworld and their perception of the themes I’ve asked them to depict. Their returns are full of surprises and inspiration.

So, in case you’re reading this, Tina, Nanna, Stine, Kia, Cecille, Cecilie, Cecilie or Judi: Thank you so much! It’s great what you do, and it really means a lot. So keep ’em coming, and have fun with it. Looking forward to see what more you’ll come up with and to seeing you all again in the late summer.
Have a nice one till then ❤

Looks like the brand new site Musetrain is one to watch. Launched only yesterday with an opening post that reads like a bullet-point cluetrain manifesto for museums, already it’s causing ripples on Twitter and around the museum-(blogo)sphere. And with the promise of further deliberations on each point and an open invitation for discussion, it could just turn into an interesting debate forum for museum folks. For unknown reasons, however, the people behind the site remain anonymous, stating only that ‘We’ve been working in and around all kinds of museums (art, science & technology centers, history, cultural sites, zoos and aquaria, and others) long enough to have seen, experienced, and led a couple of cycles of change’. Now, come on guys – why hide behind a mysterious group identity, especially after declaring that ‘Individual voices should be heard and recognizable as such’. As Lynda Kelly points out in a comment, knowing who’s speaking would set a useful context for the discussion and – hopefully – strengthen the voice of the speaker(s). Failing to come out, the project might just fall flat. Still, the ‘manifesto’ itself seems to pretty much sum up the ethos of a ‘new museology’ in a neat list form. No surprises, then, in suggestions like ‘Make visitors part of the experience. Ask them to participate in your ideas and stories’; ‘Create frameworks that let visitors do more with your collections and ideas than you can imagine’ or ‘Create iteratively, these aren’t finish lines, just landmarks along the way’. But then again, these suggestions bear repeating and the summary format really is quite handy. museum geek, in a response post, proposes that you ‘Print a copy off, and revisit it regularly. See where the ideas in it sit with you over time’. Good point, and I will, inspired by the good sentiments but also wary of the somewhat simplistic certainty of such statements. And I do hope that the debate will take off, and perhaps get to a deeper level of considerations, pro’s and con’s, concrete experiences and academic reflections to back up -or question – the snappy rhetorics.

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UPDATE January 5th 2015:

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Today I got lucky at Fashion Flea: Yellow patent pumps, Stine Goya silk pants, Gucci shades… but the best part (and my professional incentive to go) was that this event gave me the chance to go and have a chat with some of the fashion bloggers that I have been eyeing up and would like to involve as ‘informants’ in my project.

So Kia, Cecilie, Cecilie & Cecilie (no, really!) – great meeting you ladies! I’ll get back to you shortly and really look forward to hearing your thoughts and ideas on fashion in and outside the museum.

Meanwhile, I’ll get that recruitment snowball rollin’ and get going with the probes – more on that in an upcoming post.