Sarah Wambold, Director of Digital Media at Clyfford Still Museum

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 in to 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 in to 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.


One Comment Add yours

  1. wendytribaldos says:

    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.

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