Navigating the rough surf of museums in the digital age means not just understanding the guiding principles of user-centered design, but also being able to anticipate the next digital curve for which precedents do not exist. With undergraduate degrees in Anthropology and Communications and a masters in New Media Arts and Production, Australia native Renae Mason, Senior Digital Producer of the museum design firm Gallagher & Associates, has extensive experience with digital design and a unique finger on the pulse of the human element that drives digital trends. At the heart of her passion for communication is storytelling, examining the different ways human cultures, systems, and interactions evolve in and around different landscapes. Indeed, she views the “anthropological method” as part of the interdisciplinary lens through which large systems and user motivations can be understood in Web 2.0.
Her appreciation for disciplinary diversity in the development process reflects a shift of authority from traditional hierarchical bureaucracy to a more modern, team-centered approach that, as Renae puts it, recognizes that “good ideas and good solutions come from everywhere.” The opportunities for accessibility provided by the World Wide Web in opening the channels that allow this democratic exchange of good ideas was a huge draw to digital for Renae in her early career; “I loved the seed of the internet and how participatory it was.” Her feeling that the inaccessibility of academia prevented good ideas from being circulated within a broader audience pushed her further down the digital path.
With experience that’s developed alongside the evolution of Web 2.0, Renae has been a trailblazer in understanding the user experience. Although she has held many titles throughout her career, “Creative Producer” is the one she feels most aptly describes her role. From big picture inter-connectivity to technological minutia, creativity has been a key element to her success in responsive designs that address user personalization. Each project brings novel technological challenges, and she cites a passion for creativity as the inspiration that has allowed her to gain confidence as a leader in developing digital strategies.
Leading the charge of teams that conduct extensive testing to understand visitor motivations, she advocates heavily for examining ways to understand user behavior. “Start with words and paper and explain an idea,” she recommends. “There’s a lot you can do that’s very simple and very intuitive, and it starts with basic communication. Listening first.” This approach has allowed her to generate projects with seamless blends of human narratives and digital communication that utilizes technology as a tool for human outcomes rather than the outcome itself.
From anthropology to the Dalai Lama to drinks with cocktail historians in New Orleans, the range of our discussion exposed the diversity of human experience and emotion as the underlying current of the digital sea. Her “big picture” ideas and reflections carry valuable lessons for anyone in the museum sector seeking to improve the visitor experience, be it digital or otherwise.