Renae Mason, Senior Digital Producer, Gallagher & Associates

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.



  1. Elizabeth G. says:

    This interview was full of wonderful insights and you can tell how passionate Renae is about her work. An important reminder for me was her idea about working with other teams within the museum setting to gain new perspectives on your audience. She also mentioned that people need to step outside their cubicle to observe people in the museum space; this is simple, but so often forgotten.

  2. Jenna Stepp says:

    What a fantastic conversation! There are plenty of great tips for user research and evaluation. I particularly appreciated the discussion of some interviewees being hesitant to share candid feedback out of admiration for the institution and/or possibly saying the wrong thing.
    Something to really take to heart with this was sharing how getting user research up front and guiding the project’s strategy and plan can save time and rounds of back and forth caused by relying solely on internal opinions. This research won’t just lead to better results and a solid project that solves a real user need – it helps make projects run more efficiently!

    1. Robin Reif says:

      I agree with user research guiding a project. Internal opinions lead to ranking and seniority thinking which doesn’t create an environment of external thinking.

  3. Mary Mathias says:

    Like Elizabeth mentioned, it is obvious in this interview how much Renae loves the work that she does, which was wonderful to hear. I appreciated her advice for museums and digital teams to not take on more than they can actually achieve. It is tempting to shoot for the moon when planning a project, but it is important to base the actual plan in reality in terms of what the museum, staff, and budget can handle.

  4. kpolesky says:

    It was interesting where Renae recalls the different types of testing from the very high-end full budget testing to the low budget down and dirty testing. Very much real life how many different types of clients and budgets you’ll encounter in your career. Jenna, I agree about the part where the interviewee was not totally honest in recalling their reaction and how Renae knew this and worked to get the truth out and the real reaction like/disklike.

  5. Christopher Martinez says:

    Renae really has a well rounded perspective on things. I really feel like my perspectives have been opened up in terms of thinking about things visually and intellectually, just on that discussion of the Dalai Lama production. It seems to have really informed Renae’s ideas on the design and tone of the project just by being open-minded and trying to see things from a different perspective.

  6. There were so many nuggets of useful information here! I enjoyed hearing her thoughts about a our field’s general aversion to risk-taking and thinking through institutional strengths before beginning a project – what unique thing can we offer and who will find it useful? Considering and connecting back to institutional mission was only one of many valuable recommendations for project planning.

  7. Andrea A. says:

    Such a great conversation that was really full of helpful insight! I love her discussion on the challenges of getting genuine feedback when performing user testing. Its interesting how some users are not afraid to speak their mind while others are extremely tight lipped because of their fear of saying something wrong or being insulting. In the end, them skirting the negative doesn’t help the museum in the long run. Her comments on how she coaxed the truth out of the visitor were great. You want them to feel comfortable and that by being honest they are essentially doing more help then holding back. Honest user feedback is so necessary!

  8. Zoey Washington says:

    Great interview and I love how she really underscores how a varied background can aide in creating a dynamic activation and content. Part of it is being able to focus on details and really excelling as a project manager, which is exactly what her experience has prepared her for.

  9. Kelly McKenna says:

    It’s clear that Renae enjoys her work and is motivated by creativity! At the same time, she has a really pragmatic approach to project management. I appreciated what she said about sustainability, and making sure you don’t bit off more than you can achieve. As she describes, it can be exciting when you have a lot of creative ideas, but it’s important to narrow down to a sharper focus and prioritize what needs to be done. I also like what she said about challenging the assumptions you’ve made as a group, and have a “reality check” to make sure the project is not off track.

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