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

Listen to interview


  1. Nicholas Griffith says:

    Great questions! Her approach towards user testing at SFMoMA, incorporating qualitative/quantitative feedback into an iterative program, makes nothing but sense. Sounds like she really believes in letting projects evolve on their own, listening deeply to qualitative/quantitative data. Her reference to the creative benefits of working within a temporarily closed facility provided some interesting food for thought. Best takeaway: “digital natives” have irreparably changed the responsibilities of museums, making the intertwining of digital and analog imperative for a collaborative reality.

  2. Kate Skelly says:

    So exciting to hear about the mobile projects SFMOMA is currently working on! The commissioned responses to artwork was especially intriguing to me. I’m always interested in the various ways different people respond to a single work of art, so I could see this being a really compelling mobile experience.

  3. Leslie Walfish says:

    In this interview Stephanie Pau stresses the importance of paying attention to different types of audiences. To find out what audiences really need she suggests performing interviews and using other evaluation tools. This is of course challenging when your museum is closed due to construction as is the case with SFMoMA, but Stephanie sees the closing as an opportunity. This is a chance to not be bound to doing things the way they have always been done. Instead she is thinking about new uses for digital and web based technology at the museum. She sees using it to engage the Bay area arts community, thinking of ways to create intergenerational content on demand, building ways to allow people to have closer encounters with the museum, presenting the mobile space as a 5th wall, and opening up the museum authority to allow other voices to have a say. Listening to Stephanie gets me very inspired to think of all the different ways digital technology can be used to make more and deeper connections with audiences. It will be exciting to see how all these ideas will come together once the museum reopens.

  4. Liz McCoy says:

    I enjoyed listening to an interview with another person associated with SFMoMA – I was part of the group that interviewed Dana Mitroff Silvers, who was head of the web at SFMoMA when they redesigned their website (and most of the papers we read on that relaunch were authored or co-authored by her). After hearing from both Dana and now Stephanie, it is not hard to see why the web/digital projects created by SFMoMA are so universally renowned! I appreciated her referring to the digital sphere as the museum’s “fifth wall,” which I think really gets to the heart of why the SFMoMA projects are so successful – the digital world gives them an opportunity to explore how their collections can be presented – and which allows for visitor participation – in ways not possible in a gallery. Since the digital world is the only place SFMoMA has existed of late, I will be interested to see how the museum’s digital presence evolves as the onsite museum reopens.

  5. Thomas Williams says:

    Great interview, it seems that Stephanie focuses a lot on integration and collaboration, especially between different fields and museum departments. She makes a great point about taking advantage of the expertise that is available to you. Her description of the MOMA development workshops was particularly interesting. Staff members were pulled from different departments and given user personas to test out certain things. This gives the project team so many user perspectives in addition to the ones coming from real visitors.

    I’m excited to see all of these new projects put into place at SFMOMA, especially the photography exhibition space and learning center. I currently intern at the Museum of Photographic Arts and they are going through a similar process of creating a learning center filled with technology.

  6. Claire Badgley says:

    One thing I’ve noticed after listening to each of the interviews, Stephanie’s included, is that each Guest Expert has an interest or background in storytelling. This link between storytelling and digital content is indicative of web and mobile’s ability to serve as successful mediums for storytelling and interpretation. As Stephanie mentions, the arrival of location sensitive technology will enable educators to design Just In Time learning experiences that better serve the interpretive needs of visitors. It sounds like an exciting time to be producing mobile apps! Stephanie’s last point about no longer thinking of digital or mobile in isolation of galleries is a great way to summarize, what in my opinion, is one of the main takeaways from this semester. Digital can no longer be the responsibility of one team or department, it should be an interdisciplinary as well as organization-wide endeavor if museums are to remain relevant among digital natives and generations beyond.

  7. Alison Heney says:

    Great interview! I’m particularly interested in some of Stephanie’s later points regarding the integration of digital and physical space. It seems that many museums are starting to recognize and take steps toward realizing such a holistic approach to exhibition and education. I would be interested to hear her thoughts on how such a complex (and worthwhile) shift in focus would impact issues that have always nipped at the heels of museum professionals (such as cost and sustainability) and what she perceives as the major obstacles we might encounter in the future as more and more institutions try to get such initiatives off the ground.

  8. Rachel Myers says:

    Like LIz mentioned, it was nice to hear Stephanie speak about many of the design thinking strategies that Dana Mitroff Silvers mentioned in her interview. It’s a great way to cement the strategies like user personas and wireframes that we’ve been using this semester.

    Being at an institution that is in transition, Stephanie’s sentiments about the freedom to move beyond legacy systems resonated with me. It’s a scary venture, but she made the move seem like a great time to foster creativity and look outward into the community for inspiration. I’m glad to hear that they will continue the SFMOMA on the Go program. This was such a timely interview, hearing from Stephanie about the projects that they are planning for the SFMOMA is a great sneak peak into new museum innovation. She touched upon a lot of themes we have been discussing in this course, with mobile, location based and responsive technology rising to the forefront of the field.

  9. Clay Williams says:

    Dana and Stephanie both noted how important it is to augment quantitative data with direct interviews. Even with all the technology at our fingertips and the vast databases we can access and create, directly asking the people “why” type questions remains critical (and relatively lo-tech and inexpensive). It occurs to me this may have another kind of advantage. When a questionnaire pops up while the visitor is actually on a website or when they’re interviewed while in the exhibit the answers they provide will be more immediately relevant and nuanced. After all they’re offered while the interviewee is physically participating in the activity in question. Impressions are fresh. These may be somewhat different and more informative than responses captured at the end of a visit or days following a visit.

  10. Meg Thompson says:

    What stuck out to me during this interview was Stephanie’s passion for her projects. It’s clear this isn’t just a job to her. She is so excited to bring her ideas to fruition, and she’s invested in the work of her colleagues and the museum community. I hope to bring that type of passion to my career as well! Thank you for taking the time to speak with us, Stephanie!

  11. Carolyn Bevans says:

    Such a great interview and post! Thanks so much Stephanie, Julia, Jessica and Meg! The intergenerational gaming component of SFMOMA’s mobile media sounds really awesome! As centers of informal learning, museums are particularly well suited to provide meaningful intergenerational learning experiences, thus, it is definitely something to capitalize on! I also really enjoyed Stephanie’s comments on digital trends and how have digital technologies disrupted the museums’ culture and, consequently, internal structure.

  12. Emily Baker says:

    I was really glad to hear Stephanie mention in situ interactive technology instead of keeping people tethered to their mobile phones. As I know I’ve mentioned before, my phone battery is pitiful and I don’t want to depend on it for a great museum experience! I think this is also important so that you can make sure that those without mobile phones have a similar interactive experience.

    I also love how they’re engaging the SF Bay area community to create responses to art and that they allow it to come in any form, be it a poem or song instead of the normal curator’s paragraph. It takes a lot of trust, but will show visitors that the museum knows the art is for everybody not just “art people”.

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