Paul Morando, Director, U.S. Army Quartermaster Museum

Paul Morando, Director, U.S. Army Quartermaster Museum

The US Army Museum system faces many unique challenges when it comes to creating a web presence. The system consists of 178 different museums and historical holdings around the world and consists of an estimated 600,000 artifacts. The museum division falls under the Center for Military History and is headquartered in Washington D.C. with their main support center located in Northern Virginia at Fort Belvoir.

The museums in this system come in all shapes and sizes, and have unique missions and scope that are centered on the local commands or installations they support. Some museums play a duel hatted roll of interpreting an installation and unit or units histories all in one facility, other museums only focus on a unit or an installation. These types of museums are often referred to as “Field Museums” and typically have a staff of two individuals.

Large museums in the system tend to focus on telling the story of a specific Branch (job field) or in a few cases are Department of the Army level museums and tell the story of the entire Army. These bigger museums tend to be better established and resourced which includes a larger staff.

Mr. Paul Morando was selected for this interview due to his experience working in different sized museums and all of which had some type of web presence. His current museum’s website is at the forefront of Army museums virtual presence with several aspects of his website being the only example of that type of technology being used within the army system. Currently he is the Director of the US Army Quartermaster Museum on Fort Lee Virginia located near the city of Petersburg Virginia.

Some of the key points discussed during the interview were the fact that most Army museums do not have a website or only have very limited website that only presents contact information and hours of operation. Because of the unique challenge of access to the physical site that most Army museums face (most are located behind a gated community that requires special access) a strong web presence can greatly enhance the visitor’s connection and use of the facility.

Paul talked about his current website update project and how it was inspired due to the current site being too busy with information. He really feels that less is more on a website and if followed allows for the ability to focus the visitors attention on what the site is trying to achieve. This does beg the question if this type of philosophy limits the number of visitors the site will appeal too if it has too strong of a museum’s influence.

The US Army Quartermaster museum website can be viewed at:

Jon Voss, Strategic Partnerships Director, Historypin

Jon Voss, Strategic Partnerships Director, Historypin

Jon Voss is the Strategic Partnerships Director at Shift Design, mainly working on the project, Historypin. He is responsible for U.S. fundraising initiatives, and client/community development, as well as managing the U.S. based Historypin projects and community officers. He is also co-founder of the International Linked Open Data in Libraries, Archives, and Museum Summit, which gathers digital humanities experts to discuss, debate, and share their case studies, experiences, thinking, hack skills, and data management methods. He has also received an Outstanding Citizen Archivist Award from the National Archives for his promotion of citizen participation and digital solutions to providing access to historical records. His participation in this interview provided a look into the world of geotagging historical data and content to create cross-institutional collections that promote community involvement.

Voss explains a personal goal that he has engrained into each of his projects, the ability to cultivate inter-generational and inter-cultural conversations for history, which ultimately create communities around that local history. This stems from both the citizen historians and cultural activists up to cultural heritage institutions. The trick to cultivating these relationships has been looking for willing participants and then helping them to develop these cultural collections to be shared.

The largest challenge to these projects is never within the participants or the content, but rather the understanding of policy. The controversy that exists within cultural projects that Voss deals with is cultural property and copyrightable content, and giving permission to put that data into the public domain to be accessed through these projects. Historypin and his other projects have focused greatly on utilizing metadata to produce the large majority of information, as metadata is considered by most to not be copyrightable data.

How to make this data so accessible, however, is by creating a data normalization standard that institutions, individuals, groups, and communities can easily upload their data and content into a searchable structure. This is really the key to structuring these different projects, as it allows users to build their own archives the same way cultural institutions are building their archives on sites like Historypin.

The key to success with these projects is by promoting community involvement. Developing a platform for community conversation to exist, and then helping to move that conversation forward is essential for such a wide-reaching project. This creates the dichotomy of subjective and objective history that can be created from user-generated content. The objective history comes from figuring out the who, what, and where that exists with all of these cultural objects being shared, and then the subjective history follows with the why, the analysis of the cultural objects that happens when the conversations start.

Voss is dedicated to creating digital platforms to share cultural information. There exists a wealth of knowledge and content within every community and institution, but that wealth has yet to be shared in a lot of circumstances. Voss and Historypin are utilizing their geographically centered cultural archives as a platform for these conversations to take place.

Jeffrey Inscho, Creative Technologist, Innovation Studio

Jeffrey Inscho, Creative Technologist, Innovation Studio

Jeffrey Inscho is a creative technologist based in Pittsburg, PA. He currently leads emerging media initiatives at the Innovation Studio, the research, design, and development laboratory at Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh. His professional work lives at the intersection of technology, cultural narrative and interaction. Our interview focused on his work on the Warhol Museum’s digital strategy, the successes and challenges of digital engagement, and his work at the Innovation Studio.

The conversation began with the Warhol Museum’s digital strategy and despite it being a “solid document”, Jeff considers it one that is also a challenge in that it “needs to be shepherded by someone, “ says Jeff who recently left his position as the digital strategy shepherd to the Innovation Studio just a few months ago. His warning indicates that though museums might want to be digital, it is easy to fall into old habits. The Warhol Museum is only a few dozen employees, their enthusiasm and innovation (perhaps well-aligned with Warhol himself) needed to be streamlined to maximize the possibilities, hence the creation of a digital strategy that tried to make the most of the museum’s limited resources. Though Jeff believes that digital cannot replace the physical, the potential to “inspire, connect, and delight” users is undeniable.

Our conversation shifted to broader issues of museums and technology, particularly around openness, which is a pillar of the Innovation Studio’s mission. He advises museums to think openly. He understands that licensing might be revenue for museums, but opening access allows museums to be open to information in return. One example of this information sharing is modeled through the Innovation Studio’s Innovation Salon talks that connect museum professionals with technology experts (of which there are many in Pittsburgh) to discuss the role museums can play in areas of innovation and emerging media. The fact is, museums do not have the resources to do everything alone, but openness provides opportunities to pool resources for effective results. He believes museums have a lot to learn from the tech world and why creative partnerships are another pillar of the Innovation Studio.

Our conversation concluded with the future of museums and what changes he sees on the horizon. His comments were not about specific technologies, but about the people within the organization. Again, perhaps why the Innovation Studio includes digital adaptation as another pillar. When discussing adaptation, Jeff says this is the hardest, “because it’s not technology, it’s not code, yet it’s the most important.” He suggests that museums start to take more cues from the technology industry. Consider hiring coders or data architects. And start moving faster, “not to suffer the attention to detail or scholarship”, says Jeff, but he does see museums as slow to change. The idea of “fail fast” is well understood in the technology world and is something museums need to consider adopting on some scale if they want to keep up with the changing pace of our society.

You can follow Jeff  @StaticMade and the Innovation Studio’s @CMP_studio or check out his podcast, Museopunks.

Sarah Lumbard, Digital Curator, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

Sarah Lumbard, Digital Curator, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

Sarah Lumbard is the Digital Curator at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) and has been in her position for about a year. She leads the digital vision, strategy, and operations for the museum. Prior to joining the USHMM, Sarah worked at NPR for nearly five years leading the news giant in content strategy. While at NPR, she implemented “Serendipity Day” to encourage staff to take time to explore areas of their work for which they may not otherwise have time. I spoke to Sarah to get her thoughts on museums and their roles in the digital world. These are some of her key points:

Digital is a team sport
Sarah uses the analogies of soccer or playing in a chamber orchestra to show that it takes many people, all playing different parts, to develop a digital experience. “People are playing together and bringing their talents – different people lead at different times, and it’s all about interpreting your subject matter and understanding where you stand with that.” She sees her role as digital curator to envision the digital experience, and to lead the voices and attitudes toward digital.

Museums are competing for people’s time
In comparing her roles at a news organization and at a museum, Sarah explains that the common thread is storytelling. Museums need to focus on their storytelling and content because, like many businesses, museums are competing for people’s time: “Every single minute someone spends with you is a gift and it should be treated like that.”

The greatest strength of a museum is its mission and its focus
In contrast, Sarah feels that the weaknesses of museum websites lie in that too many try to replicate the brick and mortar experience online. She explains that, “Our digital presence must be treated with the same love and care as our curated exhibits.” Sarah also warns that we should not use the web as a “dumping ground” for the things that don’t quite fit anywhere else.

Know what problems you are trying to solve
With new digital tools appearing everyday, museums need to experiment with what makes the most sense for the project. Sarah says that museums must consider “what problems are you trying to solve, what the solutions look like and how will you know when you’ve solved it” and don’t be tempted to build beyond solving that problem because it’s impossible to make everyone happy.

Happier teams make better experiences
While meeting audience needs should be a museum’s priority, museum staff should not get lost in the mix. Sarah discusses “Serendipity Day,” which she implemented at NPR and hopes to implement something similar at the USHMM. Sarah described success to her boss at NPR as “Staff satisfaction, happiness, joy – all internal metrics; we’re doing this for us.” These are things she wants to build into the process at the USHMM.

Finally, Sarah leaves us with this parting thought: Be bold, the audiences we serve deserve it.

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 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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