Matthew Fisher is the President and Co-Founder of Night Kitchen Interactive, which produces educational interactives, social media solutions, marketing communications, interpretive installations, and online exhibits for museums. The company uses kiosks, touch-tables, mobile apps and websites to combine the vital storytelling functions of both picture and word. We asked Matthew about his experiences facilitating participation and collaboration between museums and the public.
What is Interactive Design?
Night Kitchen Interactive (NKI) uses digital media to put the visitor in an active role, blending information and instructional design. Regardless of the end-platform, NKI starts a typical design project by clarifying the museum’s goals and success metrics. The museum gains familiarity with web, mobile, and social media tools in this discovery phase, while NKI learns more about museum education and learning strategies. Then comes the design phase, where NKI works with the museum experts to structure the content, and the information designers work with the visual designers. In the final development phase, the programmers bring it all together and test it with users. If the museum doesn’t have an evaluation plan, sometimes NKI brings in outside evaluators; typically the museum provides beta testers but NKI also has their own pool. Success isn’t just based on the popularity of an interactive, it’s about creating a transformative experience — changing visitors’ attitudes, beliefs, and knowledge.
The Rise of Mobile
Mobile is simultaneously exciting and frustrating because, like the web in its early stages, there’s a great diversity of approaches and we don’t know what works yet. Many museums are enthusiastic about mobile without really knowing how or why they want to use it. Matthew sees mobile platforms as crucial components of collaboration and participation, since mobile tools allow people to connect with content (and museums) whenever, wherever, and however they want. People expect choice; by embracing mobile technologies, museums can better provide those options, and speak with visitors rather than to them. In Matthew’s view, the dialog between the museum and the visitor is the most interesting aspect of the museum.
Dialog starts within the museum. The web and social media in particular are excellent tools for making dialog within the organization transparent to those outside. Don’t use social media if you’re not willing to commit yourself to a two-way conversation, cautions Matthew. Even the smallest museums can – and should – be using social media to engage with their users. If they can’t afford the time/resources for social media, museums must shift their priorities so that they can participate. At the very least, museums should identify their messages and propagate them across as many platforms as possible.
The Future of Remixing
As remixing becomes more common, museums must scaffold the visitor’s experience in order to facilitate participation centered about more obscure topics. They also need to reward contributions to make the motivation for participation more clear.
Matthew considers the web to be the biggest bang-for-your-buck, with mobile-enabled websites being most optimal. When visitors use mobile sites inside the museum, it frees up kiosks to be used in interesting new ways.
Listen to the interview
Listen to the streaming audio above or download the mp3 file.
As we have been going through our project for this class I kept thinking to myself, ‘wow, there’s no way one single person can keep all of this straight in the real world.” I am glad Matt went over all of the different people who work on projects at Night Kitchen, I had no idea how many people it takes to develop successful projects at an interactive design company.
It was interesting to hear about the process of developing mobile projects from Matt’s perspective. I like how he compared it to the birth of the internet, with people experimenting and entering into ‘uncharted territory’. In my opinion mobile enables more chances for participation and interaction and it was great to hear Matt talk about how mobile breaks down barriers and the top-down approach to communication between museums and visitors.
This was followed up by Matt urging museums to adopt a more participatory and collaborative model of interacting with their visitors as a way of increasing relevance. I think Matt is right and when he said that all you need to do is identify your main messages and make sure you ‘multi-channel’ them through the web/social media was an excellent point. I couldn’t agree more. We don’t need to pile on more work for ourselves, we need to rearrange our work to incorporate the above in our day-to-day.
Since I work for a small museum organization it was great to hear Matthew’s advice for creating personal interactive experiences at small organizations.
His comment about shifting priorities to include more of a collaborative/participatory relationship with visitors through social media is something we struggle with a lot. Through Matthew’s interview and this class I’ve learned that, although a museum’s typical user/visitor base is spread across multiple social media platforms, it is actually a lot easier than you’d think to share messages across platforms.
Matthew’s comments about encouraging participation (which can lead to transparency was also interesting to listen to. One thing a lot of organizations need to remember is that they are going to need to respond to comments/questions as much as possible; however, the more platforms you engage with, the more time consuming it will be! But again, it’s something we need to prioritize for brand recognition and more.
I appreciated Matthew’s synopsis of the process and team with the various roles that it takes to manage a large project. This is what I do everyday for the e-learning firm where I work. The process he described is very similar to ours: we start by doing a content outline, which is basically a Q&A with the client done over several days along with some in-depth subject matter expert interviews. The deliverable is a Creative Brief which marries the instructional designers content with the graphic designers vision. The client signs off and we move onto a storyboard phase (equivalent to Matthew’s discussion of wireframes). Once that is signed off, we start content development where we shoot video, develop animations, record audio, add in still photography, and generally create all of the interactive components that lead us to an alpha review…then a beta review…and then final verification to package for delivery.
Since our topic last week was participation and collaboration, this process is the perfect example of collaboration with the client. If the designers went off after those initial conversations and designed in a vacuum only coming out when they were done, it’s very likely that the project would not be successful. Having the client partner with the team is vitally important to keeping the project aligned. Collaboration isn’t just doing what the client wants; it’s really trying to understand the client’s goals and wishes for their audience.
Matthew Fisher’s interview was enlightening in a pragmatic as well as philosophical way about conceptualizing and integrating interactive media projects in museums. One point that particularly resonated with me was his statement that institutions should realize that, in a Web 2.0 climate, “the dialogue between museums and the visitor IS the museum.” The ongoing debate about what role the museum plays in society and what it must do to stay relevant, has been raised this class, as well as across the profession, and this is another contribution to that discussion. The idea that the collection-centric paradigm, or museum as a “temple of knowledge” is becoming more obsolete, as Matthew suggests, is not a new one, but his statement about the need for institutional transparency and genuine attempts to solicit user feedback in order to make social media a success is well taken. Social media can’t or shouldn’t be reduced to a particular technology or even a strategic plan but must be part of a transformative institutional commitment to openness and dialogue with its audience.
His more practical advice to re-purpose and repackage pre-existing content like event images or symposia audio, and to amplify it using multichannel social media dispersal also resonated. Most museums will ever have enough staff or a budget to implement an ideal social media plan. However, repurposing content is a great way to save staff time and maximize resources so that even the smallest museums can participate in social media on some level without reinventing the wheel and more effectively communicate with their audiences.
Megan, I too loved Matthew’s comment that the dialogue between the visitor and the museum IS the museum… and then I thought about it a bit harder and realized it’s a tad tautological, and doesn’t explain why the visitor would want to have a dialogue with the museum in the first place. I do think that more and more, people are hoping/expecting to have a more personal relationship with the institutions/businesses they interact with. But you still need a reason to interact with Organization X in the first place. So, yes museums need to work on facilitating dialog, but they also need to maintain the foundation around which the dialog centers. I was reminded of an article about creating a business proposition – you need to think “what is this [product/experience]designed to do?” You can think of the product or the experience like a job applicant: they can’t just be interesting, they have to be able to get a job done. So in the case of a museum, you have to offer something that people will want to experience and talk to you about.
I also really enjoyed Matthew’s talk, notably when he goes over the complete team that is involved in these processes. It is one thing to read about the teams in a book, and another to hear that these roles are being used by an active company, and it isn’t a few people taking on all of the roles. I agree with Matthew that social media does need to be used for more than just marketing. He got it right in saying that people enjoying seeing what is behind the curtain, and social media is a great way to give that to visitors. I think his suggestion of using multi-channels is very feasible for museums, and is a great way to reach a wider audience.
Another aspect that seemed to crop up several times was the inclusion of the client. Using the metrics discussed at the outset of the project with the client is a great practice. I’m glad that numbers alone aren’t the only metrics of success. As Matthew puts it, the “what opportunities does the project provide to create a transformative experience.” The projects should not only transform the visitor, but the museum. Ensuring that the project is having an effect on the users is more important than just how many are using it.
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