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.