Saturday, September 27, 2014

Dieter Rams 10 Principles of Good Design



Dieter Rams is an important industrial designer whose work deftly spans both the 20th and 21st centuries. (You can see his influence on designers like Jony Ive at Apple, for example.)

I've kept bumping into articles and books (like the excellent As Little Design As Possible) about Rams recently, so I thought I'd share his 10 Principles of Good Design below.  The 10 Principles certainly seem like a good reference as we think about design work in museum (and non-museum!) settings.


Dieter Rams Ten Principles of “Good Design”

Good Design Is Innovative : The possibilities for innovation are not, by any means, exhausted. Technological development is always offering new opportunities for innovative design. But innovative design always develops in tandem with innovative technology, and can never be an end in itself.

Good Design Makes a Product Useful : A product is bought to be used. It has to satisfy certain criteria, not only functional but also psychological and aesthetic. Good design emphasizes the usefulness of a product while disregarding anything that could possibly detract from it.

Good Design Is Aesthetic : The aesthetic quality of a product is integral to its usefulness because products are used every day and have an effect on people and their well-being. Only well-executed objects can be beautiful. Good Design Makes A Product Understandable : It clarifies the product’s structure. Better still, it can make the product clearly express its function by making use of the user’s intuition. At best, it is self-explanatory.

Good Design Makes A Product Understandable : It clarifies the product’s structure. Better still, it can make the product clearly express its function by making use of the user’s intuition. At best, it is self-explanatory.

Good Design Is Unobtrusive : Products fulfilling a purpose are like tools. They are neither decorative objects nor works of art. Their design should therefore be both neutral and restrained, to leave room for the user’s self-expression.

Good Design Is Honest : It does not make a product more innovative, powerful or valuable than it really is. It does not attempt to manipulate the consumer with promises that cannot be kept

Good Design Is Long-lasting : It avoids being fashionable and therefore never appears antiquated. Unlike fashionable design, it lasts many years – even in today’s throwaway society.

Good Design Is Thorough Down to the Last Detail : Nothing must be arbitrary or left to chance. Care and accuracy in the design process show respect towards the consumer.

Good Design Is Environmentally Friendly : Design makes an important contribution to the preservation of the environment. It conserves resources and minimizes physical and visual pollution throughout the lifecycle of the product.

Good Design Is as Little Design as Possible : Less, but better – because it concentrates on the essential aspects, and the products are not burdened with non-essentials. Back to purity, back to simplicity.



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Thursday, September 18, 2014

Quick Creative Inspiration: Camera On A Car Wheel


Artist Dirk Koy had a simple, but great, idea --- stick a camera on a car wheel.

The results are hypnotic and a great reminder to creative folks that even simple materials can lead to spectacular results.

Enjoy the video here


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Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Museum Hype or Museum Hope?



How do you know if a trend lighting up the Web, or the latest issue of Museum magazine, will be something of lasting value,  or whether it's almost pure hype?

More importantly for your museum, and the people who visit your museum, can you tease out the actual "hows" and "whys" for implementing a buzzy program idea, instead of just the "whats"?

It's amazing (and a little disheartening) to me how often the real answer for doing something new at a museum is a combination of:

• everyone else is doing it

• we can lots of publicity out of doing it

• anything connected to [insert hyped topic here] can get us funding   (As an aside, the acronym STEM should really stand for "Simple To Extract Money")


So let's take two different topics that have been buzzing around the cultural sector for the past few years:  Maker Spaces and the notion of "Hacking The Museum."

Setting up a Maker Space at a museum (or increasingly often, the local public library) can readily veer into the "hype" zone:

• lots of places are doing it (I'm actually working with FIVE different projects right now that want to include Maker-type Spaces in their new buildings!)

• Media outlets love to do stories on cute kids and/or wacky nerd types making things

• Funders love Maker Spaces!  (Especially if you tie making to STEM.)

The good news is that there actually is some long-lasting value in Making and Maker Spaces underneath the hype, especially if the institution creating a Maker Space is committed to being thoughtful about staffing, community engagement, and appropriate tools and materials (it's not all about 3D Printers!)

The further good news is that thoughtful, and readily available information exists online about the qualities that constitute a great Maker Space.

The slight bit of bad news is there are still plenty of museums merely rebranding their existing "recycled crafts areas" (filled with cut up magazines and cereal boxes and glue sticks) as Maker Spaces to latch onto funding.

That doesn't mean Maker Spaces are just hype, but it does mean those particular museums are as bogus as their pseudo "Maker Spaces" are.  In a similar vein, my jaw dropped (literally!) at a recent Science Center conference session where at least a dozen folks admitted that they received funding for creating a Maker Space, but had no real idea of how they were going to go about doing that!

In sum, even though there's much righteous hype surrounding Maker spaces, there's a long-lasting, meaty core of programming, content, and philosophy there that thoughtful museum folks can build upon.

Unlike "Hacking The Museum" which is 99% hype.


What does the term "hacking the museum" even mean beside being naughty or transgressive?  As the late great Steve Jobs would tell upstart software developers before crushing them, "that's a feature, not a product."

And the hopeful "feature" that makes the 1% non-hype aspect of "Hacking The Museum" worth your attention is the piece that gets you to think about re-examining the way of doing business at your institution. Not merely with the aim or being shocking, but with the aim of adding programs or approaches with lasting value to visitors.

And that should always be the core "product" behind our work, not just some buzzy "feature."


What do you think?  Where's the line between hype and hope in the museum biz these days?  Let us know in the "Comments" section below!



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Tuesday, September 2, 2014

12 Museum Theorists at Play



Graduate students from the Museum Education program at Bank Street College of Education, under the direction of Professor Marian Howard, have released a great new iBook called 12 Museum Theorists at Play.

The iBook connects the educational theories of titans like Dewey, Vygotsky, Gardner, and Hein with the practical concerns of both museum goers and museum educators. 

From the iBook's Introduction by Lauren Appel:

“In the field of museum education, we come from a range of training, backgrounds, and experiences. While no single model of education fits all communities and contexts, there is value in museum educators having a shared grounding in educational theory to strengthen our work with the diverse audiences we serve. This book aims to provide that shared foundation of educational theory combined with contextualized examples of work relevant to key theorists in the field of museum education, spanning numerous settings and perspectives from generations of educators and students. ”

I found 12 Museum Theorists at Play an excellent way to reflect on my own practice as an exhibit developer and teacher, but also a way to think more deeply about the possibilities that can be found in visits to a museum.

Click on over to iTunes to pick up (digitally speaking) your own copy of 12 Museum Theorists at Play.

As an added bonus, all proceeds from the iBook go to the scholarship fund for Museum Education students at Bank Street College of Education.


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Monday, August 25, 2014

What Makes an Exhibit Designer a Great Creative Partner?



I love the Venn diagram at the top of this post.  It comes from this article from Jeff Weiner, the CEO of LinkedIn.

Weiner's article made me think about the qualities I look for in the best collaborators, folks I think of as great creative partners.  I definitely agree with the three qualities that Jeff Weiner highlights, but
here’s a short list of questions that can help you get a sense of whether an exhibit designer might be a good (or great!) partner for your museum’s next project:


1) How do you prototype exhibits?

Every aspect of an exhibition, including labels, can be tested out with visitors before the “final” version is produced. This does not have to be a horribly expensive or time-consuming process. As a matter of fact, masking tape, markers, and cardboard can go a long way in creating simple prototypes.

Avoid anyone who says things along the lines of: “We test out everything in the shop...” or “ We don’t need to prototype, because our stuff never breaks.” You need to turn real visitors loose on exhibit prototypes to avoid the dreaded “I never thought they would do that with our exhibit!”

You can find a free downloadable article on exhibit prototyping at the POW! Website.



2) What’s your favorite exhibit?


If your response to this question is either a blank stare or a glib sales pitch --- RUN! Ideally, the designer can report on why specific aspects of an exhibit component or entire exhibition interested them or moved them in some way.

For example, I loved a large scale interactive based on one of the scenes from a children’s book by William Steig. There were magnet-backed creatures and plants that multiple visitors could move around a room-sized jungle scene. This was part of a larger exhibition of Steig’s drawings in a normally “hands off” museum, The Jewish Museum in Manhattan. It was clear through this area, and a few others in the Steig exhibition, that the designers wanted to provide some colorful, open-ended experiences for families.



3) Will you let us directly pay subcontractors?

Money changes everything, doesn’t it? The financial aspects of your exhibit process should be as transparent as possible. The best designers allow you to see “the books” so you can be assured that the maximum amount possible of your project resources are being spent on items that will show up in your exhibit galleries.

Beware of too many miscellaneous fees, or excessive charges for things like FedEx. It is reasonable for any designer to cover their overhead charges, but it is just as reasonable for you to ask to contract directly with specialists serving as subcontractors to avoid excessive “markups”.



4) Can we use green materials?


No, I don’t mean Kiwi Corian! Your exhibit designer should have an increasing familiarity with environmentally friendly materials. Even if your potential design partner is not a “green expert”, they should be willing to work with you to create designs, and employ solutions, that are sustainable.

A great resource is the greenexhibits.org website.



5) Have you ever worked in a museum?

While this is not a complete deal-breaker, a design solution from someone who has actually had to fix an exhibit after 600 fifth graders have pummeled on it carries a lot more weight with me than a beautiful computer rendering from a recent design school grad.

Don’t be afraid to ask practical questions like, “How will this work with large school groups?” or “Will this computer interactive automatically reboot if it freezes up?”



6) Who are some of your repeat customers?

At the end of every crazy exhibit project and installation, after everyone has had a few days to obtain the requisite amounts of food, sleep (and showers!) you ask yourself an important question: Would I ever work with (fill in the blank) again?

The people whom you continue to work with, and who continue to work with you speaks volumes about your work ethic and the ability to get the job done. The mark of a great museum exhibit designer is how they overcome unexpected challenges related to timing or finances or the other hundreds of things that could cause a project to become unhinged.


What are some of the questions you ask potential creative partners? Let us know in the "Comments" Section below!



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Monday, August 18, 2014

Breaking Free From The Tyranny of Numbers.

The Gross National Happiness (GNH) Index was developed as a way to  measure a successful quality of life for citizens of Bhutan in more holistic terms than only the economic indicator of Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

Many, if not most, museums base their success primarily on attendance numbers ---- which seem to be the equivalent of the Museum GDP.  And attendance numbers are certainly a quick way to gauge success, but not the only way.  

I've been thinking about this a lot in the context of several Maker-related projects I'm working on.

The trick in a Maker-y environment is that the level of engagement (with staff, with projects, with tools and materials) isn't really conducive to "throughput."  But while you aren't always moving big numbers through the Maker Space in your museum, you are (at least in theory) making big, deep impacts on your visitors in ways that justify that extra staffing, and tools, and materials ...

It takes a certain level of institutional resolve to break free of the tyranny of numbers and commit to a range of visitor-centered experiences that can't only be measured in one way.

So, I'll continue working and thinking about this, but I also wanted to share a couple online resources that I've found useful:

Measuring what matters in nonprofits.  A report from McKinsey & Company

The Happy Museum Project.  A group based in the UK looking at how the museum sector can respond to the challenges presented by the need for creating a more sustainable future.

This article from the Museums and The Web 2013 conference about nurturing engagement.


And, as always, feel free to share your thoughts (or additional resources) about this topic in the "Comments" section below.



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