The Clyfford Still Museum is located in Denver, Colorado and houses the collection of American Abstract Expressionist painter Clyfford Still. Sarah Wambold serves as the museum’s Director of Digital Media.
Sarah spoke to me about the challenges and opportunities of working at a small museum with a singular focus. One of Sarah’s main tasks is ensuring that the museum website communicates the experience of the museum. Sarah stated that her main challenge is making sure the experience is always fresh since she has to draw on the same collection.
In order to communicate the experience of the museum to a web audience, Sarah explained that the first step is to figure out what the audience wants. This can be done through a community archive, crowdsourcing, or other initiatives that will give the voice back to the community.
Sarah and I both agreed that the main point of a museum website is to facilitate a visit to the museum. But how do we get visitors from the website into the museum? To do so, we have to understand visitor motivations in order to convert online visitors into on-site visitors. Sarah tackled this topic along with Marty Spellerberg in a Visitor Motivation Survey research study that focused on John Falk’s Predictive Model for Museum Visitation. The study used Falks’ identifications as User Personas which had not been done before.
Several times throughout the interview, Sarah mentioned not getting bogged down in data. In the Visitor Motivation Survey as well as in the regular reporting of web analytics, Sarah stressed the importance of viewing data as a whole, rather than as a singular factor, in order to see the larger picture.
Even though she has a background in graphic design, Sarah does not design the web content and website for the Clyfford Still as she takes on a project management role. The museum does not have an in-house designer and so Sarah taps into freelance designers. This process is made easier with the use of the museum’s identity guidelines and brand standards to create a cohesive look and feel, no matter the project or designer.
I agree with Sarah´s take of a holistic, gestalt view for data; it should be used in conjunction with other qualitative measures to figure out audience needs. I also think small museums such as Clifford Still strongly benefit from third party contracting to keep costs down while producing quality material, as long they receive in house guidance. I also agree with her that apps are dead (or should be); I enjoyed when she said that audiences don´t necessarily need them, but rather the institution to sort of “show off”.
The pairing of Falk´s research with user personas was quite interesting to try to fill in the gap between site and web visits. I was surprised, though, that she does not manage social media as I would think a digital media director for a small museum would be overseeing it.
Contrary to Sarah, I believe museum websites should be a destination by themselves with complementary information to facilitate the visit to the physical museum. I take more of a global approach, probably informed because I hail from Panama. I cannot visit her museum, but digital outreach allows me to experience it; for that I am thankful. Of course, I do agree with Kirsten that it all depends on the museum´s audience and the institution´s particular mission.
Lastly, I enjoyed her take about small museum´s websites. For Sarah, the most important thing should be to figure out who your community is and who is your audience, which will then inform the type of website you create. Museum websites should be created to communicate with this community.
I really enjoyed listening to your interview with Sarah and hearing about her experiences as a museum professional in Chicago, as a contractor, and now as the Director of Digital Media at the Clyfford Still Museum. I appreciated Sarah bringing up the use of a document called Identity Guidelines, and how important it is to create documents like this to establish parameters that can help communicate expectations of a project to vendors. I also value that you asked Sarah her opinion on how museum websites should be utilized; complementary to the museum or a destination itself? Although Sarah responded that the museum’s website should help facilitate a visit, I appreciated her struggle to answer the question since its a compelling debate based on the type of museum.
Lastly, I agree with Sarah’s response that apps are on a downward trend or “dead” as she put it. I admire that she’s spent a lot of time thinking about creating “app like experiences” using web standards. I would be interested to learn more about this and see it come to fruition. My only comment is that I wish you had time to ask your interview question, “what is the best way for a novice of digital media to gain applicable skills?” I think this information would have been very helpful to our class.
Luckily Sarah was kind enough to answer this question for me via email, since I didn’t get to it during the interview. For gaining experience in the sector, Sarah recommended attending the Museums and the Web and Museum Computer Network annual conferences– they both offer scholarship and internship opportunities as well. She also suggested following significant hashtags on twitter (#musetech) and engaging in conversation on that platform in particular, as well as applying for internships pertaining to digital media. Sarah also shared with me a “syllabus” that Greg Albers at the Getty put together for those in digital media- I’ll send it your way!
I was very curious as to Sarah’s opinion on whether a museum website should function as a complement to the physical museum so I appreciated her response to that question. Sarah’s struggle to answer the question, as you pointed out, is indicative of the larger issue that museum professionals are facing in terms of technology enhancing or hindering the industry overall. I think that in general, technology is advancing and improving the ways in which we engage with museums but it’s also proving to be another dividing factor between the “have” and “have-not” museums.
Hi, just this week I was talking to a friend of mine that is a tech wizard and he asked me to check out progressive web experiences, which deliver an app-like experience in a web based environment. I still have not checked them out, but it might be an interesting hybrid between the best of both worlds.
Hi Kirsten, your guest expert worked with my guest expert..cool! I think it is very interesting that Still had stipulations on who could show AND buy his work. Also, I can imagine that since visitors cannot see much of this work elsewhere that the museum benefits in visitorship and membership….I wonder how this fact lends itself to the digital experience.. Do they take extra precautions so that website visitors cannot copy and paste the digital renderings of the works?
I also like her mindset that she is building on a long-term platform rather than having a constant flow of changing and evolving work that maybe does not lead up to anything in particular. You would think that one would not want to work with the same artist and work all the time, but I like the way she thinks of it.
I don’t have an answer as to protecting the digital works from being copied- I wish I had thought to ask Sarah that question. I was taken aback somewhat when I started researching the Clyfford Still and realized the collection only contained his works. The way that Sarah approaches this challenge is refreshing and serves as a great example that there are always new ways of seeing the same thing.
Ms. Wambold had some great comments on website analytics. These analytics and the data that they provide can give museums only so much information. The numbers, as she puts it “can’t determine what they are doing or what their needs are.” While I would suggest that we could probably infer what audience’s needs were it is interesting to think about what the numbers are actually telling us. It is important to keep this data in context and use other sources of information to make the best impact.
Comments are closed.