Back in June I co-wrote a piece in this very spot arguing for a greater focus on audiences in the development of mobile tools for the cultural sector. Even then, the unbridled optimism around mobile was fading. Certain organisations were having great success with very specialised, site-specific products (the oft-cited Museum of London StreetMuseum for example) but there was broad acceptance that this success wasn’t easily reproduced. “Mobile” wasn’t a product you could simply replicate and drop into any museum; to be successful it was necessary to design strategically with specific, well-researched audiences in mind.
Months on, this focus on audiences looks like it’s gathering momentum. There’s been a surge in the number of organisations taking a more proactive approach to understanding their audiences by gathering data and testing their digital products.
However, doubts around mobile remain and we can all see that we haven’t explored fully the true potential of what mobile can do. In part, this is down to a lack of funding, internal skills and resources. But to a certain degree, it’s because projects all too often start in the wrong place; time and time again, mobile products are built because a decision was taken to create mobile.
There’s a tendency among cultural organisations to think of mobile as a “thing” – a tangible product, desirable for audiences whether it meets their needs or not and worth using simply because it is mobile. This totally misses the point of the visitor-focused service that most museumsaim to offer and a principle that, from my experience, tends to be held dear by most museum professionals.
However, when you start from this point, even if you carry out research and collect data to support design, what you end up asking of that data is: what mobile product should I make? Often when a museum mobile product is designed, little time or money is given to how it will fit into the overall service the museum delivers. But adding a totally new platform on top of an existing service and integrating it across an (often siloed) organisation is difficult. If a mobile product doesn’t meet user needs and there’s no organisational support surrounding it, how can it be expected to thrive?
Unsurprisingly, the cultural sector isn’t unique in having to deal with this problem. Over the past couple of years I’ve learned a lot by watching the Government Digital Service (GDS) respond to the mammoth task of “leading the digital transformation of government”. Like museums, the GDS is striving to develop digital services that make sense as part of, and respond to, real world experiences – in this case, pretty much every aspect of a citizen’s life.
I’m a big fan of the approach, and one of GDS’ seven principles is increasingly relevant to the challenge museums face: design services not websites.
Our service doesn’t begin and end at our website; it might start with a search engine and end at the post office. We need to design for that, even if we can’t control it. We also need to recognise that some day, before we know it, it’ll be about different digital services again.
At the core of what GDS is doing is a recognition that platform and product should not be the start of good service design. Instead, what there should be is a determination to serve a user as and when they encounter a need. It’s this kind of thinking that has challenged our consultancy to focus and experiment with new tools to help that process along.
Over the last year, we’ve been collaborating with organisations as diverse as the Imperial War Museum, Van Gogh Museum and Lincoln County Council to see what happens when we shift the start of the design process and treat mobile in new terms; not as a product, but as a tool, and as part of a broader service.
“At the core of what GDS is doing is a recognition that platform and product should not be the start of good service design. Instead, what there should be is a determination to serve a user as and when they encounter a need. It’s this kind of thinking that has challenged our consultancy to focus and experiment with new tools to help that process along.” via @TanjaPraske
See on www.theguardian.com