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