Reading outside one’s field can be an idea booster. This month we zoom in on Fast Company (FC) magazine and their family of web sites. They are a constant source of innovative examples of successful business approaches and inspiring design advice. Sometimes sparks fly right away, other times thoughtful contemplation will ignite embers with the end result being new ways to look at interpretive design. The first example from the web provides a pertinent perspective on our field. The second example from their magazine format is a litle stretch, testing applicability to our field. Exposés on approaches that succeed because they resonate with people and enrich their lives are ripe with lessons. I shall have more in the months to come that really stretch your neurons to fire in new ways.
Apply your interpretive lenses and turn up your design radar to start the data mining process. It is time to search for crossover applicability in the heritage domain.
From Co.design, one of the Fast Company's family of websites, comes an article about a new exhibit at the Smithsonian American Art Museum (SAAM) curated from the eclectic Burning Man event held in the desert of Nevada.
This event is a cultural week- long phenomenon that becomes a temporary metropolis of 75,000 people replete with large- scale art installations. The event is billed as "an ephemeral experience designed to never leave a trace." Nothing remains and everything goes up in flames at the end of the week.
SAAM’s exhibit’s name "No Spectators: The Art of Burning Man" originates from Burning Man’s “no spectators” policy, which urges everyone to be fully present in the experience, and SAAM says they are encouraging everyone to fully participate within the gallery and grounds.
SAAM's website description of their gallery or walking tour sheds no light on how this “fully present “ might occur. To quote their invitation to register : "Discover the Golden Triangle neighborhood and the outdoor sculptures of No Spectators: Beyond the Renwick during this walking tour with Nora Atkinson, the Lloyd Herman Curator of Craft." Inspiring?
Fast Company states: " It’s hard to imagine how that philosophy could fully translate to an art gallery." Sadly, this is the prevailing attitude out there, challenging us to re-examine fundamental approaches and assumptions. EID strives to assist heritage sites to embrace a higher level of engagement and novelty to dispel conventional attitudes, while exciting the visitor’s level of anticipation.
To truly appreciate art or for that matter any heritage object/scene one gains immensely by exploring one's senses in different ways. So, how might one prepare a visitor to bring a truly open mind ready to embrace art and not just traditionally observe it or judge it? Well, EID fully subscribes to the concept that to change our perception we must vary our approach. The expression "to be fully present" reminds me of a delightful collection of natural awareness exercises presented in a book titled Acclimatizing written by Steve Van Matre (now sadly out of print). The exercises are broken down into 4 stages: sharpening senses, seeking patterns, perceiving wholes, and distilling essence. They are designed to help individuals capture "the illusive ability of being fully aware". These are meant to be done outside to enhance our tuning in to natural rhythms. I highly recommend them for that and to use as a catalyst for art installation engagement.
Let's choose vision, as an example. Here are a few ways to shake things up.
- Look at the subject from different angles
Position visitors at different vantage points so they "see" objects from above and below, behind and sideways, and …
Provide visitors with simple ways to use their hands and fingers to create “lenses” that focus, frame, squint, expand, and scrutinize.
The art of incorporating these various types of exercises to boost your level of alertness is fine tuned in the Earthwalk sets developed, designed and available through the Institute for Earth Education. http://www.ieetree.org/sourcebook_iee/
Check them out personally AND add them to your interpretive tools. With a nod to William Blake- have fun cleansing your doors of perception and those of your visitors as well. A whole new world awaits.
For our FC magazine idea generator here is something completely different - analyzing an infomercial, to discover what the excellent work productivity software company Slack can teach us.
The FC commentary is all about how Slack is successful at creating a more fulfilling work experience by making communication simpler, more pleasant, and more productive. Does that grab your attention? It grabbed me. I wondered if any of these were applicable to creating a more fulfilling interpretive leisure experience. Lo and behold, they were.
Time to adapt smart practices from the business communication world to the leisure interpretive design world! Let's see how SLACK’s user research molds their design elements and makes them applicable to heritage site situations:
Imbue your communication products with "more humanity, fun, and delight.
These should be some of the key operative items in your checklist when you design your next interpretive centre, exhibit, trail, gallery, or even a set of washrooms), etc.
Get users looking forward to using your communication products as much as their personal social media. What might this mean?
Social media integrates visuals (emojis, images, etc.) with text to add social and emotional context - what we all crave. So why do we continue to be so text obsessed? If we communicate more visually then visitors can more easily overcome language and social barriers enabling two-way communication and a desire to connect with YOU.
Enable users to communicate visually.
We need to open up channels of connection with visitors. One easy way is through image sharing. Parks Canada a few years back placed pairs of red Adirondack styled chairs in prominent viewpoint positions along trails to capitalize on the selfie craze and created a Twitter connection #sharethechair. This is just the beginning hook indicating you want to start a relationship; then you must keep the channel of communication open and feed it.
Create a community channel where users discuss their hobbies and life experiences to help them form bonds and strengthen connections.
Most visitors want to form bonds with site staff, living and non-living heritage assets and our interpretive sites. Review your entrance, building, landscape, display and program impressions -are you presenting a faceless, voiceless, humourless, static encounter or do visitors find dynamic examples of activity, character and colourful life with stimulating patterns and interesting textures? Designing opportunities to accomplish community sharing and bonding is essential.
Create a space for connecting people and ideas to build trust, rapport and cohesion.
Create the feeling of a team by sharing with visitors the site’s current “to-do“ lists along with the annoying snags that get solved in the process of successful project completions. Then actively encourage visitors to celebrate those successes, along with staff, to instill visitor pride in OUR site. Encouraging these open channels can progress to encouraging visitors to weigh in with their own solutions. If we are fortunate, that can result in inspiring new ideas and even produce new collaborations shared by visitors, with potentially large benefits for the heritage site.
Design the communication interface to feel like face-to-face communication.
Imagine if your site defined and developed an organizational personality that was human, fun and delightful. AND expressed it to your visitor in a design sense.
The goal is to help the visitor feel more comfortable with your site and engender a desire on the visitors' part to get to know YOU as a unique park, garden, zoo, museum with personality. This is why a frequent review of your welcome, orientation, and non-personal approaches will help a site avoid the impersonal, authoritative, and even cold tone many of us have experienced.
Stretch your reading horizons and delve into new fields. Brush off those interpretive lenses and start mining for crossover potential.