Dana Mitroff Silvers, Design Thinking and Web Strategy Consultant

Dana Mitroff Silvers, Design Thinking and Web Strategy Consultant


Dana Mitroff Silvers is the founder and director of Designing Insights, a consulting firm specializing in design thinking and web strategy. Having previously led the website redesign project at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, a project which has greatly influenced her current work, she is now a design thinking facilitator and web strategy consultant with expertise launching online products in museums, nonprofits, and mission-driven organizations.

Our questions for Dana focused on user-centric design, developing web projects and current trends in the field. Below are some highlights from the interview.

Design Thinking: Putting users at the center of your process.
Dana first and foremost emphasizes Design Thinking: human-centered design and putting people, rather than a technology solution, at the center of her projects. She uses a five step process: Empathize, Define, Ideate, Prototype, and Test. This process is a simple and straightforward way to connect to visitors and design projects that will resonate. To further emphasize the visitor in her process, Dana’s redesign of the SFMOMA website was a two-year process where she used strategies like interviews, analyzing current site use, surveys, and intercepts to better understand users’ wants and needs. She indicated interviews are the best way to reveal unexpected user perspectives and highly recommends getting museum staff involved in listening to visitors- so they can hear first-hand user needs and motivations.

Advertising: Paying attention to the “offline”.
Dana reminded us that the “if you build it, they will come” philosophy doesn’t always hold true.  She suggests museums develop extensive branding, print ads, and the like to advertise their digital project to the visitors. It is about making sure that every step of the way through the museum, visitors are aware of what is offered online so that they know to use it during and after their visit.  A varied message will ensure increased visitation to your website.

New Trends: Dipping your toes in.
As a web consultant, Dana must keep up with trends in the museum world and the tech world. She does this by networking and following trendsetters on Twitter and blogs. When looking to adopt a new digital strategy, she looks first at why other institutions are interested in using it. She advises that in many cases, an analog solution is smarter, so the reason to use a digital solution must be about more than just using the new, cool thing. When a trend emerges as something she is strongly considering trying, she looks at how easy it is to just “dip your toes in” – can you experiment without investing full-out? Can you prototype before you commit?

Though our interview with Dana spanned many topics, the overall message reiterated throughout the interview was simple: build your web project for your visitor.  Empathetic design will ensure they are involved in the design process every step of the way, give them every opportunity to utilize the product and connect it to your exhibit, and make sure you are putting time and resources into the visitor, not a trend.

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Joshua Jeffery, Experience Center Lead at Google and Founder of Evil Genius Designs

Joshua Jeffery, Experience Center Lead at Google and Founder of Evil Genius Designs

Joshua Jeffery is the former Manager of Digital Engagement at the Andy Warhol Museum. Recently, he made a leap to the for-profit world, accepting a position at Google as an Experience Center Lead where he is incorporating his past work with museums and theater (and his love of roller coasters) to design engaging visitor experiences.

In his interview, Joshua spoke to us about using technology to create engaging environments for museum visitors. He discusses how museums can develop an authentic and compelling digital presence, and how we can develop projects that will be competitive in a saturated entertainment market.

Among some of the key points raised during his interview were how a web development team can function as an advocate for their audience; how we might develop an experience that would appeal to both new and veteran visitors; and how we can approach a design problem not from the perspective of “what can this new technology do?” rather, from the standpoint of “what is the bigger issue and how can technology solve it?”

In addition to this, Joshua took the time to provide a few tips for the emerging museum professional and to talk about the challenges of striking a balance between the use of available resources, adapting new technologies, long-term project maintenance, and meeting stakeholder’s needs and expectations. In his talk, he cites Warhol’s POP App and LACMA’s newest initiative “Snapchat” as examples of institutions successfully leveraging digital and social tools in the way they were meant – by creating “killer content” and providing the bits of fun and informative information that visitors want to see.

Joshua concludes by offering up the notion that it was time that we as museum professionals start to move beyond spectacle-based technology toward a better integration of our physical and digital worlds. That is to say – it is time we start thinking about technology in terms of how it can help us to make our lives better and more engaged.

Contributed by Thomas Williams, Clay Williams, Kate Skelly, and Alison Heney

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Jane Alexander, Director of Information Management and Technology for CMA

Jane Alexander, Director of Information Management and Technology for CMA

As Director of Information Management and Technology Services for the Cleveland Museum of Art (CMA), Jane Alexander was one of the driving forces behind the uber successful Gallery One project and ArtLens mobile app.  Both of these efforts have transformed the CMA into one of the most engaging cultural institutions around the world.  We were incredibly fortunate to speak with Jane about her experiences at the CMA and perspective on crowd sourcing, social media, and the roles of scholarship and visitor experience within the museum space.

Early in her career, Jane developed and directed Columbia University’s acclaimed distance education program.  Within this role, she was faced with the 21st Century challenges of integrating multiple systems into an online environment accessible anywhere in the world.   This was a very formative event, as it taught her to be both sustainable and scalable when it comes to digital strategies.  A New Yorker through and through, moving to Cleveland was not easy.  Though she was able to capitalize on the wisdom she’d gained at Columbia to spearhead innovation within the state of Ohio.

After serving as a technology design consultant to one of Frank Gehry’s building projects at Case Western University, she ended up at the CMA.  Never having worked at an art museum, she was suddenly confronted with a host of ambitious and interrelated projects.  One of the more controversial among museum staff was an early phase of what would eventually become Gallery One.   Colleagues were concerned with technology’s disruptive potential within quiet contemplative spaces, which is something she had to acknowledge and incorporate from the get go.  After careful evaluation of their local audience, the museum found that many people were intimidated by museum culture.  Technology, Jane saw, could help familiarize visitors with content.  The focal point of this project then became the personalization of experience.

While the success and individual components of Gallery One are now well known, the lessons learned about visitor engagement are wide reaching and only beginning to be explored.  Although we all know museums can’t be everything to everyone, Gallery One shows us that the personalization process causes people who may be otherwise intimidated by the museum experience to suddenly pay attention to content.  This is truly groundbreaking, and can be applied to literally any collection, anywhere.


The Cleveland Museum of Art’s Jane Alexander with visitors. Image retrieved from www.club-innovation-culture.fr on 7 November 2014.


Transparency has also factored largely in Gallery One’s success.  Object status is updated in real-time, showing viewers whether or not a piece of art is on loan, being conserved, in storage, or on exhibition.  This clarity shows visitors that, far from being static entities, the museum’s objects have an ongoing life of their own.  Revealing the “lives” of objects is a crucial step in opening up authority to make content more accessible to visitors.  Transparency is the keystone to effective crowd sourced content and social media initiatives, as it opens up the content for ownership.  This personalization, as discussed above, brings visitors closer to the scholarship involved with each piece.

Jane ends by giving a single word of advice to emerging professionals: listen.  By paying attention to the actual desires of both museum staff and visitors, technology can most effectively be applied towards catering the museum experience to each patron.  This is the power of Gallery One, and museums everywhere would do well to heed its lessons.  Jane’s advice is astute and heart-felt, a piece of wisdom that a seasoned professional develops through years of hard work and trial and error. So, to the collective, what other advice can we share with one another?  If we could make the lives of budding museum technology professionals a bit easier by shortcutting that experience, what valuable lessons would you add to this list and why? If you can sum it up in one-word like Jane did, even better!

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Stephanie Pau, Content Producer for Mobile Media, SFMOMA

Stephanie Pau, Content Producer for Mobile Media, SFMOMA

Stephanie Pau, currently Content Producer for Mobile Interpretive Media at SFMOMA, spoke with us about her career path, the importance of audience research and evaluation, digital trends, and the role mobile media will play in the new SFMOMA, set to re-open in 2016.

Prior to rejoining SFMOMA in September, Stephanie spent 4 years as the Associate Educator for Interpretation and Research at MoMA in New York. She has worked in the museum field since 2001, and holds an M.A. in Museum Studies from San Francisco State University.

Stephanie begins the conversation by noting that digital media has a critical role to play in museums as a “great storytelling device and convenor of opinions.” She cites MoMA’s Audio+ in-gallery app as a very rewarding digital project she has worked on.  MoMA used an agile development approach for the app and cross-departmental stakeholders were involved in design and testing. To keep the app visitor-focused the team developed six personas to define app tasks and goals. A survey of mobile use conducted in the galleries also informed the process.

On evaluation, Stephanie notes, “Evaluation is key to testing out new ideas. We work in big institutions and can get into a rut presuming what visitors want.” Museum professionals should not assume that evaluation always requires large-scale studies. More often than not, she says, you can prototype something and do quick surveys in galleries or use volunteers to test out ideas.  Stephanie acknowledges, “Data can only tell you so much…it can’t tell you who users are, what their motivations are.”

Current SFMOMA renovation requires staff to work off-campus, presenting challenges to Stephanie’s work on mobile media. There is no physical space to conduct testing of new technologies or to survey visitors. Stephanie claims without a museum, digital communication and interpretation have “moved to forefront of what we do. As part of SFMOMA’s new digital strategy, online and mobile platforms will act as a metaphorical “fifth wall” of the museum, providing a space for not only information-sharing, but also experimentation, and the presentation of commissioned creative works that are as compelling and provocative as those within the traditional four walls of the gallery.

The new SFMOMA’s mobile media will feature commissioned responses to art works. This may take the form of a piece of writing or music, or asking actors, politicians, and athletes their opinions on art. Museum staff are also working on games to encourage intergenerational learning. All content will be delivered on demand through a bundled app and all galleries will be wired for Internet. On-site interactives will provide stand-alone digital opportunities for unplugged visitors or complement SFMOMA’s mobile app. The digital team is also working on using location-specific technology to deliver content, a concept that Stephanie feels could be a game changer.

On digital trends, Stephanie notes that we are in an era where “it’s no longer possible to be two things – one in digital and one in the physical space.” SFMOMA’s Content Strategy and Digital Engagement Division reflects a broader trend wherein museums are integrating digital teams with educators, publishers, content editors, and designers. She describes her current team as “an incubator for change.”

Contributed by Julia, Jessica and Meg

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Layla Masri, President, Bean Creative

Layla Masri, President, Bean Creative

Layla Masri is president of the interactive design firm Bean Creative.


Layla spoke with us about usability, interactives, and developing web projects for multiple types of users and devices.

Though it may seem like a career change, Layla describes how her experiences in marketing and journalism have helped her in creating successful web components and maintaining relationships with clients.  She discusses the tools Bean Creative uses to create these components; not just the software and coding programs but also the techniques and approaches used.

Layla describes the various ways that demographics can be considered when building a project including the demographics we’re all familiar with such as age and education levels, but also how these demographics can be considered by the types of devices they own, or how familiar they are with technology.  She explains how these considerations are combined and how Bean Creative begins their designing process.

For museums, Layla explains the best methods to use for uncovering usability problems and challenges in museum websites as well as what she would like museum professionals to understand about the importance of usability for a museum site and how to make it successful.

She also describes for us the importance of designing with mobile in mind and how the process differs from designing for a desktop site.  Layla also tells us how to make usability work optimally for institutions with a tight budget.

Layla goes into specifics about the development process at Bean Creative for designing the Bison Kill Interactive Game for the Comanche National Museum & Cultural Center, describing the collaboration with curators and amazing attention to detail and realism that the interactive portrays.  She also describes the Bean Kids program, developed for testing out versions of their projects before they are launched and how this program fits into the formative process.

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John Stack, Head of Digital Transformation, and Elena Villaespesa, Digital Analyst, Tate

John Stack, Head of Digital Transformation, and Elena Villaespesa, Digital Analyst, Tate

John Stack is Head of Digital Transformation and Elena Villaespesa is Digital Analyst at the Tate.


John and Elena spoke with us about digital strategy and evaluation in museums.

During this conversation we focused on the TATE Digital Strategy 2013-2015 and measuring tools used to ensure that the Strategy is accomplishing the established goals.

The Tate Digital Strategy 2013-2015 takes in consideration several areas of the museum: collections and content creation for the digital media at the Tate, fundraising initiatives and marketing of the Tate brand. Digital activity started to show up in different departmental strategy plans and individuals were assuming the content creation for these roles. Taking into consideration this new reality, Stack developed the Digital Strategy to unify and establish important considerations in the development of the Tate’s digital presence. A lot of emphasis can be seen in the development and education of the museum staff regarding the creation of digital content. As each department is interested in developing more digital content, it is important for them and the institution to have the right tools. By teaching the staff to create digital content and allowing them to have creative control, this process becomes more decentralized and open to the public, since many will be able to put their voices “out there”.

My interpretation of the Hub and Spoke model for a museum.

Hub and Spoke Model is used to handle the digital activities at the Tate. The Digital Department functions as the hub and the other departments related to a particular project act as the spokes by creating content and managing social media in support of the project and in direct contact with the public. 

As part of the Digital Strategy, analytics are being used to monitor performance and engagement. Villaespesa tells us how dashboards have been created for several departments so they can monitor their performance. This allows for openness and the ability to monitor real time the department’s performance and act accordingly. Sentiment Analysis was used in The Tanks project to interpret the public’s reaction and engagement with the activities being held in this new space. Villaespesa was able to draw data from the tone used in tweets as well as the length of the tweets. There are other ways of engaging with the exhibition or content shared by the institution that are more difficult to monitor, but this gives the Tate a good idea as to how the public is reacting. Language also presents another challenge for the analysis of the data since individuals can tweet in other languages besides English. Data queries are being developed to also monitor other languages and we find that some staff members at the Tate Modern are engaging with the public using other languages.

Museums need to start thinking of Digital as part of the overall institutional strategy, according to Stack. The future goal is to not have a separate document that established the Digital Strategy, but to have the digital aspect included in the institutional strategy, making it an unconscious decision by the institution. What do you think? Will we ever reach a point where there will be no need for a Digital Strategy?

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Loic Tallon, Senior Mobile Producer, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Loic Tallon, Senior Mobile Producer, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Loic Tallon is Senior Mobile Producer at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Chair of the Museums & Mobile Online Conference.


He spoke with us about mobile strategies for museums and gave suggestions on how to create successful museum apps.


Loic is an art historian by training, but became obsessed with audio guides at museums.  When the updated iPhone came out in 2008, which was based upon apps, it created a greater interest in mobile technology for cultural institutions.  This interest led to the start of Pocket Proof, which is a company he ran for four years.  It still exists in the U.K in a smaller more dormant format, but he still works for them every now and then.  Pocket Proof is a company that helps museums adapt what was possible with mobile and picked the right things to do to fulfill the museum’s mission.  One of his clients became the Met and he worked for them for a year as a consultant, but recently he was offered a job in house as the senior mobile producer to be in charge of a particular project.

“If the app is the answer, what was the question”

He feels that it is a knee jerk reaction for museums to think that they must have an app nowadays.  When you make any digital product, you are effectively making an answer to a problem.  In other words, there is a need here and we need to make something to fill that need.  Far too often people are saying that they need an app, but they are not thinking why.  He tells us that making a kiosk or an app is pretty easy, but making a good one that people will use is the challenge.  In the first month of planning you need to decide why are we doing it and what is the strategic need for it.  Usually the success or failure of an app was all predetermined during this first month of planning.  He used an example of building a house to explain how to build an app. You tell your needs for a house like the square footage, number of rooms, etc and that you need this house to change locations.  The designer will come back to you and say well you are actually describing a caravan.  It isn’t an app or a house you need, but a caravan or a mobile website.  The reason why he thinks that over half of the museum apps out there are not of the highest quality is because they are made a little too quickly and not enough forethought was put into them.  He points out that there are dozens of fantastic museum apps out there, but that they get “noised out” or overshadowed by ones that are less creative.  These apps used mobile for what it is good for, which made them very successful.

Where will digital will lead us over the next 5 years?

He told us that digital teams are creating new ways for people to understand and interact with museums.  He is hoping that people will feel closer to their museum, which is what they are doing with digital since they are changing people’s relationship to the museum through digital technology. He does not know how this will happen, but they will have fun inventing it and getting there.


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Rebecca Federman, Electronic Resources Coordinator and Culinary Collections Librarian, New York Public Library

Rebecca Federman, Electronic Resources Coordinator and Culinary Collections Librarian, New York Public Library

Rebecca is co-curator of the “What’s On the Menu?” project, a website that invites audiences to transcribe the New York Public Library’s menu collection and build a seriously awesome culinary resource.

Rebecca spoke with us about crowdsourcing and described the many ways visitors use the website called  “What’s On the Menu?”


Rebecca has always been interested in New York City history, food research, and overall restaurant menus in general.  This inspiration in coordination with the NYPL Labs Team created the idea of the “What’s On the Menu?” project.


A couple years ago the NYPL Labs Team wanted to work on the food collection since many people have responded to the collection.  Over the years they noticed that people were coming to see the collection to look up specific dishes or foods, which led to searches getting more and more granular with the collection.   They collaborated with a team of designers, programmers, and curators who were familiar with the collections to create a crowdsource platform of menu transcriptions.  In other words, they wanted to digitize the menus in the collection so that they could ask online visitors to help transcribe them for the museum.  In the end, this would lead to a database of searchable dishes for the public to use on a daily basis. This project was launched April 18th, 2011 and at first used 10,000 already digitized menus of the collection, but these were transcribed very quickly.

 Two Main Goals

Goal 1:   Get all of the remaining menus digitized  so that more transcriptions can be done, which gives more data for researchers to use.

Goal 2:  Another goal would be to incorporate menus from other menu collections like Cornell University, the Los Angeles Public Library, or another institution that has menus, so that they could add other collections into the platform to give visitors the opportunity to research more menus that would reside all in one location.

People Love Food

We talked about how people did not need too much encouragement to participate in the beginning of these project.  The NYPL used Twitter and various social media websites to get people excited and involved.  Rebecca explained that people responded to the menus because they are documents from everyday life, the terms are all familiar to people, which makes it easy for them to do and overall people love food.

“The true measure of success is how it is used”

Since the NYPL does not require online visitors to register or create a log in to transcribe a menu, they are unable to capture who their users are or where they are from.  They only receive statistical information by using Google Analytics, which does provide a bit of granular information.  Through anecdotal evidence the NYPL assume that most of their users are power users.  These are a dozen or two dozen users that are very active on the site and they are the ones who will email the NYPL when there is a problem with the site, a menu is broken, or tell them that there are no more menus to transcribe.  These power users are the library’s metric.  Some users come because of boredom, but other users come after they have Googled a restaurant or hotel and were sent to the NYPL website based upon their research query.  The last typical users are the ones who are interested in menus and know that they can come to this site for research purposes , find a menu from a restaurant and get that information.

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Lori Byrd Phillips, Digital Marketing Coordinator, The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis

Lori Byrd Phillips, Digital Marketing Coordinator, The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis

Lori Byrd Phillips is the Digital Marketing Coordinator and Wikipedian-in-Residence at The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis. She is also highly involved in the GLAM-Wiki initiative, an international group of Wikipedians who assist cultural institutions in collaborating with Wikipedia in order to share multimedia content and cultural expertise.

Lori talked with us about open authority, Wikipedia and the benefits of openness.

Open Authority

In her thesis The Temple and the Bazaar: Wikipedia as a Platform for Open Authority in Museums, she proposes the working model of Open Authority and defines it as the coming together of curatorial expertise with contributions from broad audiences.  It provides the opportunity for the institution to contribute information they possess to an open dialogue on the Web, and be an active participant and not on the sidelines, while at the same time validating and clarifying user generated content.  Millennials are used to sharing everything online, therefore to establish a dialogue with them it would be counterproductive to hide or not share information; they have a better understanding of what can be done with shared information.  We also discuss how the Rijksstudio at the Rijksmuseum is a great example of the Open Authority model where the museum shares its collection with the audience and invites them to let others know how they are using the information.  This way they establish a dialogue between the public and the institution, where the temple then becomes a bazaar for all.


The GLAM (Galleries, Libraries, Archives and Museums) Wiki is an opportunity for cultural institutions to share their resources with a larger community through a collaborative effort with Wikipedians. Through structured projects that draw from the museum’s knowledge and resources, together with Wikipedians, museums can reach a wider audience and have an active voice in the content available through the Web.


QR code for QRpedia
QR code for QRpedia

QRpedia is an example of how The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis in adopting the Open Authority model and taking it a step further.  Through a Quick Response code, gallery visitors can access an extended article in Wikipedia about the object on display in the language of their mobile device.  When there is a limited word count the institution has to adhere to, QRpedia codes are an excellent tool to provide added content to an exhibition and also have that information available to a wider audience through Wikipedia.

What is the next big thing?

QRcodes are only one way museums are connecting with the visitors.  Lori let us in on the upcoming trends for museum technology and visitor engagement: augmented reality and location-based apps.  What other technology would like to see used in the future?

As Lori said when discussing the Open Authority model and the engagement dynamics it creates between the museum and the public: “It’s not that the museum is always right or that the crowd is always right, it’s that we can make it even better together.”

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Peter Gorgels, Internet Manager, Rijksmuseum

Peter Gorgels, Internet Manager, Rijksmuseum

Peter Gorgels is responsible for the major redesign of the Rijksmuseum website, which coincided with the museum’s reopening after extensive renovations.

Peter talked with us about the website’s role in opening up access to collections and marketing the museum, and how people are (and aren’t) engaging with the thousands of hi-res images that are now available through Rijkstudio .

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