This week I’m highlighting three very different discussions of digital practice in the museum.
Did someone say technology and theory and museums?
Medium—for my non-profit money, the best long-form-content platform out there—has a series of very interesting essays exploring a host of questions on what digital can do for, and has done to, museums. Called CODE | WORDS, it so far has a total of six pieces from museum technologists in Dallas, DC, Chicago, Massachusetts, and Brazil. The idea is to tease out how multiple publishing and experiential platforms can be used to better understand the museum in the digital era. (The reverse, or perhaps the contrapositive, of the purpose of the Beyond the Printed Page blog.)
(Full disclosure: I found CODE | WORDS by way of being an astrophysics geek with an interest in the universe’s missing mass question and WIMPS [myself excluded], which led me to Dark Matter by Michael Peter Edson, the Smithsonian’s Director of Web and New Media Strategy, who lays out a compelling analogy between the increasing collective gravity of museum-related publishing in the digital era and the invisible mass that keeps galaxies from flying apart. Who says the soft and hard sciences aren’t related?)
Like everything good in Medium, these essays cover a lot of ground, from the siren song of the skeuomorphic and how ideas have to get it on, to the quest for a four-dimensional museum experience, to the museum’s evolving romantic relationship with popular culture (“cul-mance”?). Rob Stein, chief technologist at the Dallas Museum of Art, has a very interesting introductory essay on the project as a whole as well as a response to the debate over blindnesses both physical and cultural. And be sure to check out the links and references at the end of each piece.
More essays should be coming this fall (thanks to Ed Rodley for the info). Well done, long-form intertubes!
More from Design Thinking
In my continuing search for things that art book publishers should care about, I recently wrote about empathy as exemplified by Design Thinking. I’ve been following Dana Mitroff Silvers’ blog Design Thinking for Museums; her newest post is an interview with Shailoh Philips about the Rijksmuseum’s project Augmenting Masterpieces. Like all Design Thinking endeavors, there’s a lot of persona-building and prototyping, but also a mention about the importance in bringing all institutional parties on board.
For publishers, the idea of Minimum Viable Product is a hard one to contemplate—it seems rushed by nature, cutting corners by choice—but in an age of digital publishing, is the easy way always the worst way? When self-publishers are becoming book designers (not always good ones, but they’re trying) and reading up on the rule of thirds, can parts of the publishing process be more distributed, allowing publishers to take advantage of MVP ideas and get things (my preferred term) out there that aren’t huge printed catalogues or complicated digital productions?
If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice …*
Finally, like we need another article about print and ebooks (though if people stopped consuming content that had already been covered before, the entire global thought economy would collapse, and nothing epitomizes that better than Buzzfeed). Editor and writer Lincoln Michel, who curates Buzzfeed’s book coverage, has penned (byted?) an impressive rundown of the state of the state that lays out the strengths, weaknesses, and potential of print, digital, and all their many hybrids and combinations.
Michel doesn’t choose sides, which is encouraging. It’s good to see this:
In print, you will see more focus on design. In the last few years, we’ve seen an increase in special editions, beautifully designed and smartly curated series, and books that really have to be read on paper due to unique layouts or interior art.
These “beautifully designed and smartly curated series” sound like what we art book publishers do all the time, right? His next point is a valuable one:
In e-book land, I can see a lot of ways to exploit the advantage of digital files. A lot of self-published authors “bundle” short novels or stories together to let readers sample different authors. There is no reason that traditionally published authors couldn’t do that too. Maybe presses will sell cheap “samplers” of the writers on their catalog like music labels used to do. An e-book file can be as long as you want, so why not include bonus materials that would muck up a print book? (Here’s a more dystopian e-book vision: e-book apps that are free to download and start, but require in-app purchases to finish the entire narrative or get bonus material.)
Sure, he’s talking about novels and other texty publications to start, but even for art books, is bundling the future, or at least a future? Do curated reading lists with samples give visitors a chance to read parts of different books and relate them to a larger whole? For an encyclopedic museum, an easy bundling or book-building option, especially when digitally conceived and delivered, might be worth experimenting with. (Do I hear chants of MVP?)
More from the digital/print bleeding edge in future posts.
Until then, I will choose … Freewill!
Update: There’s a new post at CODE | WORDS! Mike Murawski, Director of Educations and Public Programs at the Portland Art Museum, writes that digital represents a mindset much more than a technology, and that museums must go “open” to adjust to profound changes in our audiences.