Monday, January 11, 2021

3 Networking DON'Ts


I was delighted to speak at the recent NYCMER (New York Museum Educator's Roundtable) Career Symposium on the subject of "Building a Network" alongside two excellent co-presenters, Kinneret Kohn and Leah Golubchick.

While we covered a number of great networking tips and tricks, my part of the session focused on 3 Networking DON'Ts


1) DON'T Hide Your Work

Make sure to share your work widely so that people can get a sense of the way you think and whether you might make a great creative partner for their next project.  No matter what sort of work you do, there are websites and apps that can help you promote your work and grow your professional network.

Is your work visual? Maybe Instagram is right for you.  Do you like to write? Start a blogYouTube for videos, Twitter for quick takes -- at the very least, you should spruce up your LinkedIn listing!

If you need some additional inspiration to put your work out into the world --  check out Austin Kleon's excellent book called "Show Your Work!







2) DON'T Forget Your Business Cards!

I tell every mentee and emerging museum professional I work with to not forget their business cards!  In our digital world, business cards might seem decidedly "old school" and yet there is something memorable in the tiny transaction -- especially if the recipient says "Great card!"

I use (and really like!)  MOO's "Printfinity" business cards -- the fronts stay the same, but you can add different images or designs onto the back of each card. It's like keeping a portfolio of your work in your pocket -- and is also a fantastic way to create a memorable interaction when you give someone your business card.  (Here's a discount link to MOO that will save you 25% on your first order!)




If you are still determinedly digital, then at the very least maximize your email signature!  In addition to contact details, you can include links to any of your online assets -- your blog, YouTube, what have you.

I use WiseStamp to help liven up my email signature (as shown below.)






3) DON'T Let Them (or Yourself!) Off The Hook

When you contact someone to ask about a job or to introduce yourself, don't just leave it at that.

Provide some additional value in the form of an article you've written, some information about a particularly interesting or innovative aspect of a recent project, or even a link to a Web article about the museum world that you found interesting.

Similarly, even if your primary purpose is inquiring about a potential job -- don't let them off the hook!  If you only ask about a job, and there's no job available, then that's the end of the conversation.  However, if you ask for some additional advice or ideas about your next steps, you might get some useful information that you otherwise might not have received.

For example, you might say or write, "Even if you don't have any current job openings, do you have any suggestions for colleagues I might speak with or recent books or articles I could read to expand my knowledge of the museum field?"  Most museum folks are generous and willing to provide a little advice -- and it sure takes the sting out of a rejection notice!  





I hope these three sets of tips inspire you to expand your own professional network.  

In that vein, I'm always happy to network with ExhibiTricks readers! You can connect with me via the Social Media links above, or feel free to contact me directly to introduce yourself.  Who knows?  We might be able to cook up a project to work on together!



Don't miss out on any ExhibiTricks posts! It's easy to get updates via email or your favorite news reader. Just click the "Sign up for Free ExhibiTricks Blog Updates" link on the upper right side of the blog.

Paul Orselli writes the posts on ExhibiTricks. Paul likes to combine interesting people, ideas, and materials to make exhibits (and entire museums!) with his company POW! (Paul Orselli Workshop, Inc.) Let's work on a project together!

Please note: I may earn from some links above, but at no added cost to you.

Monday, December 28, 2020

Finding Diamonds


As 2020 draws to a close, I keep thinking about the quote attributed to Thomas Carlyle:

"No pressure, no diamonds."


This past year was undoubtedly filled with stresses and pressures, but I will still take some "diamonds" (perhaps some still in the rough) with me into 2021.

Here are some ideas and projects (with links) drawn from this past year's blog posts that have stuck with me:

Motoi Yamamoto's "Saltworks"  It's always fascinating to me how humble materials (like salt)  can often yield works of great beauty and elegance.


Finding Inspiration Outside (While Trapped Inside)  I found much solace, and much to appreciate, in the outdoors this year.


Reading Recommendations  Looking for and finding new ideas and inspiration in a wide range of books ...


Pandemic Diversions  There were lots of great things to find streaming online and on TV, too.


"Feets-On" Museums?  It was written as a tongue-in-cheek response to the backward notion of "touchless museums" but there's still something there, not least of which the accessibility piece ...


And last, but not least, my "Pandemic Project" -- the Museum FAQ Conversations on YouTube with museum colleagues from all around the world.  Worth another look and listen, if I do say so myself. And COMING IN 2021 -- Museum FAQ 2.0!  Let me know about a topic or person (including yourself!) that I should include in the next batch of Museum FAQ videos.




Don't miss out on any ExhibiTricks posts! It's easy to get updates via email or your favorite news reader. Just click the "Sign up for Free ExhibiTricks Blog Updates" link on the upper right side of the blog.

Paul Orselli writes the posts on ExhibiTricks. Paul likes to combine interesting people, ideas, and materials to make exhibits (and entire museums!) with his company POW! (Paul Orselli Workshop, Inc.) Let's work on a project together!

If you enjoy the blog, you can help keep it free to read and free from ads by supporting ExhibiTricks through our PayPal "Tip Jar"

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Revisiting 10 Principles of Good Design


The work of industrial designer Dieter Rams 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 revisit his 10 Principles of Good Design below.  The 10 Principles certainly are an excellent 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.



Don't miss out on any ExhibiTricks posts! It's easy to get updates via email or your favorite news reader. Just click the "Sign up for Free ExhibiTricks Blog Updates" link on the upper right side of the blog.

Paul Orselli writes the posts on ExhibiTricks. Paul likes to combine interesting people, ideas, and materials to make exhibits (and entire museums!) with his company POW! (Paul Orselli Workshop, Inc.) Let's work on a project together!

If you enjoy the blog, you can help keep it free to read and free from ads by supporting ExhibiTricks through our PayPal "Tip Jar"

Sunday, December 6, 2020

Design Site Rabbithole: Impeccable IP




Who knew that seeing the latest design patent images could be so compelling?

I suspect patent attorney Elizabeth R. Kendall did when she set up the website Impeccable IP.





Impeccable IP provides a slideshow of all the designs that were granted patents during the past week -- and an archive of design patent images from recent weeks and years as well.

When you click on an image, a PDF of the actual patent application pops up.


That's it. That's Impeccable IP. You should check it out.

There's a lot to glean from those design patent images -- future design trends, current fads, maybe even exhibit ideas?






Don't miss out on any ExhibiTricks posts! It's easy to get updates via email or your favorite news reader. Just click the "Sign up for Free ExhibiTricks Blog Updates" link on the upper right side of the blog.

Paul Orselli writes the posts on ExhibiTricks. Paul likes to combine interesting people, ideas, and materials to make exhibits (and entire museums!) with his company POW! (Paul Orselli Workshop, Inc.) Let's work on a project together!

If you enjoy the blog, you can help keep it free to read and free from ads by supporting ExhibiTricks through our PayPal "Tip Jar"

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Can Museums REALLY Change?


In the midst of an ongoing worldwide pandemic, many museum workers are wondering if cultural institutions can make the changes needed to move into the post-COVID era.

I recently wrote an article entitled, "Can Museums Really Change?" published in the Informal Learning Review that seeks to tease out some of the issues at hand. 

You can access the entire article for free here, but I'll touch on some of the key challenges (and possible solutions) in this excerpt.

I'll pose the same question here that I used to start my article, 

"If someone you knew and cared about (like a relative or mentee) asked whether they should pursue a career in museums right now, what would you say?"


What are the things museums and other cultural institutions need to focus on to become stronger, more equitable, and more community-centered organizations?

Here are five things that I've been thinking about:


1) Staff > Stuff

One of the first ways museums could begin to become more genuinely people-centered (instead of merely talking about it via their social media accounts) is to clearly prioritize staff over “stuff.” This requires museum management and boards and museum organizations to act as if they care more for the people working at a museum than museum collections or buildings. (Of course, you need trained staff to care for collections and facilities properly, but that’s an entirely different story).

Pay continues to be the most significant ongoing issue in the museum world. It is wrong, if not downright immoral, to hire someone for full-time work at a museum and to knowingly pay them less than a living wage. And many museum workers are woefully and deliberately underpaid. Let’s pause here to acknowledge that many museum administrators are master rationalizers and can spin stories to justify some of their staff needing to work one (or more!) jobs in addition to their full-time museum employment to make ends meet. 

So rather than relying on someone’s rosy notion of what a “living wage” means in different parts of the country, why not use a common yardstick? Fortunately, MIT has developed a free Web-based Living Wage Calculator (https://livingwage.mit.edu/) that anyone can use to determine what a living wage means in different parts of the U.S. All museums should commit to offering their employees a living wage. 



2) Flatten the Org Chart!

The traditional “top-down” hierarchical business structures of most museums contribute to the isolation of museum departments and functions. Instead of creating collaborators moving toward common goals, most museum org charts create multi-level “silos” that compete for limited resources – often pulling in different directions. Front-line and public-facing museum workers often feel that decisions handed down from the “higher-ups” are arbitrary or “out of touch” with the operational realities of running the museum.

Worse yet, museum employees facing severe issues such as the reported instances of sexual harassment or even physical abuse(!) from managers at the Philadelphia Museum of Art were routinely ignored or dismissed, (https://hyperallergic.com/579531/philadelphia-museum-of-art-concludes-workplace assessment-after-allegations-of-abuse/). The museum management hierarchy simply sought to protect itself. 

Hierarchical structures in museums also contribute to pay inequities across departments. Shouldn’t the roles of Education, Exhibits, and Development departments be viewed as equally important to museums’ purpose and function, and therefore compensated equitably? Museums can systemically change staffing and management approaches by “flattening” their org charts and promoting workers’ and departments’ true interdependency.

What would a museum system built on self-organization principles look like in practice? At its core, “self-management” means knowing what you are responsible for and having the freedom to meet those expectations however you think is best. “Self-organization” is being able to make changes to improve things - beyond what is required of you. Simple in theory, but everyone has to truly commit for it to work!

Examples from the for-profit world include the company Zappos, which details the approach it took in successfully changing to a form of a self-organizing structure called a “Holacracy” in this Web article: https://www.zapposinsights.com/about/holacracy.



3) Communities as True Creative Partners

Whose stories are museums telling, and who is visiting museums to experience the exhibits, programs, and events related to those stories? As researchers like Susie Wilkening have shown (http://www.wilkeningconsulting.com/data-stories.html), museum visitors are concerned about a broad range of issues, but can museums provide what their communities want and need – and in a timely way?There are large groups of people that museums are simply not reaching. Visitors to cultural arts organizations, including museums, continue to trend older and whiter than the demographic directions the U.S. general population is heading.

How can museums counteract the notion that “museums are not for me”? I would contend that rather than trying only to present stories, museums also need to engage with their communities as real creative partners. That way, museums no longer become the only authorities and sole judges of the value of certain stories over others. This systemic shift to co-creation with communities may well upset museums with a “Curators Uber Alles” approach, but the realities of demographics point in a different direction.

An excellent example of a museum that sought to reinvent itself with a more community and visitor-centric approach is the Oakland Museum of California (https://museumca.org/). A free PDF of a book outlining their work, “How Visitors Changed Our Museum” is available through the OMCA website: https://museumca.org/files/HowVisitorsChangedOurMuseumBook.pdf.

Another way museums could become more community-minded is to foster more cooperation and resource-sharing between museums in the same geographic area. A great example of exactly this kind of local cooperation is the Chattanooga Museums Collaborative: https://www.nten.org/article/sharing-back-offices-in-the-cloud-the-case-of-the-chattanooga-museums-collaborative/.



4) Money Changes Everything

Given the continuing mismatch between cultural institutions’ operational needs and the available funding sources; the COVID-19 crisis has made even more evident the weak financial positions of so many museums.

This raises a sort of “museum lifeboat” question – should unsustainable museums be allowed (or even encouraged) to go out of business so they don’t take away limited resources from more vital institutions?

This is a tricky proposition since many museums really can’t survive without constant (if erratic) infusions of cash from both private and governmental sources. The long-term systemic solution here is to create reliable public funding streams for all museums through political pressure, both at the local and national levels. We should support and vote for politicians that view museums as necessary to civic life as libraries, police stations, or garbage trucks. A politician that continually tries to eliminate organizations like IMLS, NEH, and NEA is no friend to museums.

More systemic public funding of cultural organizations would also reduce the dependence of museums on wealthy donors and reduce the systemic and ethical dilemmas caused by balancing selling objects from the collections versus preventing the firing of staff -- which brings us back to “staff versus stuff” again. Although in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, “stuff” seems to be winning the battle -- if you consider examples such as the Museum of Modern Art (with an endowment of over one billion dollars) terminating every single contract of all 85 of its freelance educators in April 2020 or the Royal Academy in the U.K. that is refusing to sell one Michelangelo statue to save the jobs of nearly 150 museum workers in September 2020.



5) Leaving the "Numbers Game" Behind

Ultimately, to change the current museum “system,” we need to leave the “numbers game” behind. The notion that admissions numbers are an accurate measure of a museum’s worth or a way to measure the value of a museum visit to a visitor may be a more severe sickness impacting the museum world than even COVID-19.

Randi Korn’s book, Intentional Practice for Museums: A Guide for Maximizing Impact, offers meaningful alternatives to the museum admissions figures “numbers game.” Many museum leaders and boards continue to be deluded by an “edifice complex.” The reckless rush to build larger and grander new museums without considering whether we can sustain those new buildings has to stop. If we cannot sustain (parse that word in as many ways as you like) existing museums worldwide, should we really be adding to the number of new museums?



Final Thoughts

All of the challenges and possible systemic solutions highlighted above bring us back to the original question: Can Museums Really Change?

Can we bring the required sense of urgency and the necessary hard decisions to the tasks ahead? Museums have talked a great game for years (even decades!) about systemic inequities and failings in the museum field – often with little, if any, real change. The current moment requires not just talk but timely, and creative, actions.

Are we prepared to leave people behind (whether directors, board members, or staff) who cannot evolve and adapt to the changes needed in the museum field? No matter how much you like an individual personally, or how well they may have fit their role in the past, sometimes folks just don’t grow along with your organization. And then it only deepens the pain to delay conversations about moving on.

Perhaps everyone in the museum field should take a lesson from the dinosaur skeletons on display in so many of our institutions – if you don’t adapt, you will surely become extinct!



Don't miss out on any ExhibiTricks posts! It's easy to get updates via email or your favorite news reader. Just click the "Sign up for Free ExhibiTricks Blog Updates" link on the upper right side of the blog.

Paul Orselli writes the posts on ExhibiTricks. Paul likes to combine interesting people, ideas, and materials to make exhibits (and entire museums!) with his company POW! (Paul Orselli Workshop, Inc.) Let's work on a project together!

If you enjoy the blog, you can help keep it free to read and free from ads by supporting ExhibiTricks through our PayPal "Tip Jar"

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Rewind: Are Exhibit Timelines So Boring Because of the Lines?




I've been thinking about time a lot these days -- how to display it, how to put events in perspective, and in context, with each other.  So I thought I would share an "encore" version of this post about exhibit timelines, one of the ExhibiTricks blog's most popular posts from 2019. Enjoy!


A while back I wrote a post asking for examples of interesting timelines in museum exhibitions.  Since then I've been wondering if the negative impressions so many visitors (and exhibit designers!) seem to have about timelines are actually a function of the flat, straight lines themselves.

Think about how daunting a seemingly endless line of jam-packed text and images seems when you are standing at the beginning point.  And now with the use of ever-cheaper screens and digital storage devices, there is a proliferation of what one designer called "the promise of the infinite label" (as if that was a GOOD thing!)

So here are four different ways (with images) of rethinking, or replacing, the standard linear "encyclopedia pages on the wall" approach to exhibit timelines.



SPREAD OUT!

Instead of marching tons of text and images in a line across the wall, why not break the information into manageable chunks and spread it out around the space?

A hub-and-spoke approach to spreading out information.



Movable "thought bubble" units.
Provocation on one side visitor response on the other?

Spreading out information with a map motif.



LISTEN UP!

Could we engage other senses (like hearing) in information-dense exhibits?


Historic figures speak.


Listen Up! Text and sound.




LOOK UP!

How can we use all the space to have visitors look for information in unexpected ways and places?


Cubes -- look up and all around to approach text/images in non-linear ways.


Changing the space to change visitor expectations.


Look up -- and around!



EXCHANGE

Are there ways to exchange information by encouraging communication between visitors and the museum or interchange between visitors?  How can visitors change the information or the physical exhibit elements?


Exchanging information through flash drives.



Color-coded talk tubes to discuss different subjects?

Visitor-changeable low-tech data display


Hopefully, this ExhibiTricks post has given you some inspiration to scribble outside the (time)lines a bit.

Do you have some other ideas or images/links to share that don't follow the typical timeline?  Let us know in the "Comments" section below!




Don't miss out on any ExhibiTricks posts! It's easy to get updates via email or your favorite news reader. Just click the "Sign up for Free ExhibiTricks Blog Updates" link on the upper right side of the blog.

Paul Orselli writes the posts on ExhibiTricks. Paul likes to combine interesting people, ideas, and materials to make exhibits (and entire museums!) with his company POW! (Paul Orselli Workshop, Inc.) Let's work on a project together!

If you enjoy the blog, you can help keep it free to read and free from ads by supporting ExhibiTricks through our PayPal "Tip Jar"