Thursday, April 26, 2012

Report from #FutrChat

Last Thursday eighty-three futurists and museumers participated in #futrchat on Twitter, co-hosted by the Association of Professional Futurists (APF) and CFM. The tweets flew fast and furious (over 600 of them!) as our sectors exchanged views on museums and how they may change in the next 25 years.

A few highlights of the chat:

Participants suggested trends that may transform museums, including:
  • Augmented reality/metadata
  • High resolution 3-D printing
  • Rise of web-based lifelong learning media/content. professionals specializing in place-based experience design
  •  Pop-up culture, including pop-up museums  
  • People adopting & adapting museum content, as illustrated by the samizdat site Nipples at the Met. One participant noted this trend “humanizes” museums.
Some tweeters offered observations on how these trends might interact:
  • “Mobile devices+crowd funding= donate in the gallery. "I love that work. I'll drop $5 to conserve it!"
  • “aging population+ lack of $ resources = museums becoming more inclusive 3rd places in communities”
  • “economic pressures + online access to big 'global' museums = perception that local museums no longer worth funding?”
Taking the opportunity to pick some talented minds from other fields on an issue of pressing importance for museums, we invited tweeters to name a source of funding for museum they think will INCREASE in the next 25 years. (Though as @CygnetUpdates commented, “love that we're all RTing the question while searching for an answer :)”)

We did get a few suggestions, including:
  • Technophilanthropy (Tech millionaires endowing museums)
  • Energy Companies
  • Crowdfunding
  • The health care industry, which may invest in museum programming to help support aging populations
Moving from the practical to the aspirational, we asked “how might changes in your community drive change in what museums choose to do, and how they do it?” A selection of responding tweets includes
  • “End of the traditional work hour= 24-hour museum? Servicing different patrons at hours most convenient?”
  • "More social needs needing to be fulfilled on a local level - museums step up and provide more services to community”
  • “I think fragmentation of communities by value systems/interest areas... could challenge museums in building strong diverse base”
  • “2037...Millennials won't be going to museums to learn, we'll expect museums to come to our computers...will they?”
We also used this opportunity to explore what museums can do to become the “go-to” third place for people to hang out. The answers repeatedly cited:
  • Comfort: chairs and other seating areas being particularly important
  • Food and drink
  • Quiet places, but also
  • Places where it is ok to be noisy and have heated conversations
  • Wifi
  • Opportunities to do stuff (draw, craft, make)
  • Being welcoming to extended families (nannies, babies, nursing moms)
  •  Lots of social events of various kinds
We asked what technologies/trends are influencing our attitudes towards physical place v. virtual experiences (see the transcript for some interesting answers) and wrapped up with the question “If I could start one new museum for the future, it would be the…” Some of my favorite suggestions were
  • “A street art projection system based-- not physical- just walk the city and old layers appear”
  • “Like the store (sic?) #Story the museum theme would change. Art + artifacts about love/jealousy/trust/happiness/etc.”
  • "I think I’d just create a blank museum, invite 5 museums to launch pop-ups in the space." (Which elicited the enthusiastic tweet “That's a cool idea!”)
  • “The museum of lost and used futures - Jetsons, highways, and walks on the moon.”
  • A "playground for the mind". Hands on exhibits. Art. Nature. Books and discussion corners. Good design. Relaxed atmosphere.
Various fascinating side conversations developed about what constitutes “real” in a digital world, how museums can facilitate dating (and snogging), and the potential role of robots and holograms serving as personalized museum guides.

You can browse full transcript, and continue the conversation on Twitter using hashtag #futrchat
As one of the APF hosts, @jenjarratt, commented towards the end “Take-away: so much of our museum experience is about human comfort. Even high-tech discussions come back to couches.”

For me, the most important two take-aways for you blog readers could be:
  • Twitter is a great way to connect to people outside your usual circle of friends & colleagues. Mine the transcript for people you think said interesting, provocative things, go to their profile on Twitter to read more of their tweets, and decide whether to “follow” them.
  • Tweet chats are an interesting platform for these kinds of mixers. You might think about when this format would be useful to you in your work to brainstorm ideas, or introduce different groups to each other. 
So give it a try—and invite me to your next #chat!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Are Natural History Museums Ready to Become Superheroes?

Look at the tagline at the top of this page: “because museums can change the world.”

I can make a credible argument that natural history museums have the greatest potential, among their brethren in art, history, science, to play global superhero, if only because the need is greatest.

Want an example? The Mapping the Biosphere project aims to document 10 million new species in the next 50 years. The project’s vision is nothing less than saving the planet’s biodiversity (and therefore, perhaps, our own species). Key players include museums, of course, The Natural History Museum in London among them.

But to change the world for the better, natural history museums must first change themselves. In the next century, they will have to adapt to shifts in traditional funding sources, increased demands for online access to their resources and changing tastes among visitors and donors.

To explore the selective pressures shaping the evolution of our natural history museums, I will be leading a day-long forecasting exercise on June 16, at the annual meeting of the Society for the Preservation of Natural History Collections in New Haven, Conn.

I’m trying to design the workshop to benefit the field as a whole, as well as being an immersive primer on forecasting for attendees. Participants will receive a lightning introduction to scanning & forecasting, and then flesh out scenarios (stories) illustrating potential futures that may face their institutions. These scenarios, and the reasoning behind them, will be disseminated by SPNHC and by CFM as a starting point for thinking, and planning in natural history collections around the world.

I’ve recruited a talented crew of natural history geeks (hints to their identities embedded in links) to sketch the beginnings of stories about alternate futures that participants will elaborate and explore, but I need your help to get our authors started.

Each proto-story will be built around a few specific drivers of change: existing trends or potential disruptive events that may shape the museum environment in coming decades. I would like your help in generating a list for authors to choose from.

I’ll prime your imagination by naming just a few of these drivers of change:

Trends Potential Disruptive Event
  • Rapidly decreasing cost of genetic sequencing
  • Increasing rate of mass extinctions
  • Increasing rate of digitization
Add your observations on important trends in comments, below.
  • Congress increases NSF research funding by 10x in 2015
  • Pandemic bird/swine flu virus sweeps the globe in 2020. Feared to reside in museum specimens as well as livestock
  • Massive “hack attack” in 2018 targets research databases of major US institutions, including colleges, universities and museums—erasing and changing data, inserting self-replicating viruses and worms.
Add your ideas for potential disruptive events in comments, below.

When thinking about trends, focus on things you see changing now, in a particular direction and at a particular speed: increasing or decreasing, slowly or quickly. For example, museums are ramping up digitization of records and specimens at an ever accelerating rate, which has enormous implications for accessibility and utility, and equally large implications on budget and infrastructure to support those databases over time.

When thinking about disruptive events, imagine newspaper headlines: you bring up the NYT on your tablet on April 24, 2015, and read “Congress votes to increase NSF research funding ten-fold.” Wow—gamechanger. How might this one stroke of a pen change our world? Imagine a specific event and give it a specific date (year).

When thinking about both trends and events, consider all the arenas in which important trends and events can occur: cultural, technological, environmental, economic and political.

Here is a short post illustrating how trends and events are combined to create the seed of a story of the future that can help us decide what actions we need to take now.

You can register to join us at the forecasting workshop.

And in any case, please use the comments section, below, to help me brainstorm trends and events that can jumpstart our thinking in June.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Futurist Friday: Short Glimpses

Two very brief videos to fuel your futures-thinking.

Project Glass presents a first-person view of a future in which locality-aware data is continually streamed into your line of sight—from the time you wake up for your morning coffee through a day of work and meeting friends. The video was created to introduce Google’s heads-up display glasses, which they intend to launch by the end of 2012. (If it works, will we see early adopters sporting geeky AG glasses at the 2013 AAM annual meeting?) But the transhumanists doubtless envision a time when this augmented capacity will be grafted into your corneas. (Run time 2 minutes, 30 seconds.)

Golden Age Somewhere by Paul Nicholls brings the Star Trek “holodeck” to life, showing us a future in which you can be anywhere, interacting with anyone, with the wave of a nanotechnogical wand. But system crashes get ugly. (Run time 5 minutes, 29 seconds.)

As with all the reading and viewing profiled in my occasional Futurist Friday posts, I recommend you take the 8 minutes it takes to watch these videos (ok, round up to 10 minutes to include reading this post) and ask yourself:
  • What would these futures mean for me, for my work, for my museum?
  • What opportunities would these technologies unlock, and what threats might they pose?
 Two specific questions that intrigue me are:
  • Short term: how will the integration of digital data into our perception of the real world change how we experience “place?”
  • Long term: when spot-on holographic immersive experiences (complete with appropriate smells and haptic feedback) become commonplace, what will be the additional lure that brings people to see the real thing?
Please weigh in below with your comments on these videos and suggestions for future reading & viewing,.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Drawing a Picture of the Future

Stories of the future are all very well, but sometimes illustrations are better.

Which is why I’m inviting you to join the Drawing Club at the AAM annual meeting Minneapolis, week after next.  Catalyzed by local artists recruited by the Walker Art Center, you will become CFM’s 2012 “artists envisioning the future of museums.” (Worthy heirs to the Pinky Show Cats and Tracy Hicks.)

This project also illustrates one of the cultural trends CFM is tracking—the increased desire, on the part of audiences, for participation. People want to “do as well as view.” (Or in the context of our annual meeting, perhaps “do” in addition to listening and talking and listening and talking and…)

How does Drawing Club work? We provide art supplies on tables in the AAM Showcase in MuseumExpo™. You will be invited to start a new drawing or select one in progress from the table. After you add your bit, put the drawing back into the pool, pass it around, and alter, edit or amend it until the group declares it complete. Drawing Club’s motto is “All ages, abilities, and aesthetics welcome.” We will digitize the finished works and display them in the Showcase and on the CFM Blog.

Modifying the usual format for Drawing Club (which is usually unstructured), CFM will challenge you to illustrate potential futures museums may navigate in twenty five, fifty or a hundred years. (We may even use your illustrations in future forecasting reports!)

To get your brain in a drawing mood—grab a pen and start doodling now. What springs to mind when you think “future?”
  • Living to be (a healthy) 110?
  • Exhibit objects protected by force fields? 
  • Floating, portable museums?
  • Robot docents? (Entirely plausible AND fun to draw!)
To prime your imagination, skim the scenarios in “Tomorrow in the Golden State: Museums & the Future of California.” Or look at the “Glimpses of the Future” board on CFM’s Pinterest page.

To learn more about the Drawing Club, read this post by Scott Stulen, project director for Scott is one of the programmers of the Walker Open Field Program—creators of Drawing Club—and a visual artist.

And check them out on:
flickr slideshow

See you in Minneapolis Saint Paul!


Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Museumers, meet Futurists; Futurists, Welcome to the World of Museums!

I have a new line on my resume—possibly the coolest one yet. I am now a proud member of the Association of Professional Futurists. In the spirit of CFM’s role as an über-connector for the museum field, I’ve ginned up a way to introduce you to some of APF’s 200-or-so members: a Tweet Chat on the future of museums. Mark your calendar for Thursday, April 19, 4-5 p.m. ET to join us for this meet-and-tweet.

You may have met some APF members already, at CFM events: Garry Golden, has taught museum forecasting workshops for the past couple of years and is now a member of the CFM Council; Peter Bishop was a founding member of our Council and organized the “Ask a Futurist” booth at the 2011 AAM annual meeting.

Some you may have met at intersections of different fields. Bryan Alexander, for example, studies the future of technology and education, and is a forecaster for the Horizon Report (you may be familiar with the Horizon Report, Museum Edition).

Through this Tweet Chat and subsequent CFM machinations, I hope to introduce you to many others APF members, such as architect Cindy Frewen (@Urbanverse), who led an APF Tweet Chat on Urban Design last July; Charles Brass (@aussiefuturist) of the nonprofit Futurist Foundation based in Sydney; Australia; and Emily Empel (@localrat), who is studying at the futures studies program at the University of Hawaii (and whose work has included forecasting the future of the commercial sex industry).

Quick primer on Tweet Chats:
  • If you don’t already have a Twitter account, visit and set one up.
  • Sign up to “follow” CFM (Twitter name @futureofmuseums.) Ok—you don’t have to do this to join the TweetChat, but do it anyway.
  • Before the Tweet Chat starts at 4 p.m. Thursday, April 19, sign in to the TweetChat site using your Twitter name and password, and enter the hashtag #futrchat when directed. This will take you to a “dedicated chat room” that makes it easier to follow the conversation, and will automatically attach the #futrchat hashtag to any tweet you contribute to the conversation
At 4 p.m. I will throw out the first question for discussion (Q1), and people will begin to respond. During the next hour, I will drop in four or five more questions to stimulate discussion. If you are responding to a particular question, prefacing your tweet with the corresponding answer number (e.g., A1), makes the conversation easier to follow.

Be prepared for the conversation to fly fast and furious. Cindy said of the Future of Design #futrchat she led, “It's hard for me to describe the onslaught of asynchronistic, collective intelligence experienced at this firehose wide-open pace. You simply cannot digest it all during the chat.” My advice is to skim the tweets and focus on ones you want to respond to/answer/follow up on. We will publish a transcript later, enabling you to catch up on any tweets you missed.

If you want to catch the attention of a particular participant, start your tweet with their Twitter name (such as @futureofmuseums) to show you are directing your remark to them.

Whether or not you weigh in, watch the conversation to spot Tweeters you may want to “follow” on Twitter. I am monitoring the tweets of a dozen or so APF members now, and mine their tweets for interesting news to include in CFM’s weekly e-newsletter Dispatches from Future of Museums.

Quoting Cindy again, on the usefulness of these chats, “relevant, useful ideas emerge. You can find patterns and threads. It's a window into many other worlds through links and exchanges. And ultimately, it simply gives you insights and perspectives from so many people that would be otherwise impossible to access without extreme effort.” So I hope you join us, as well as recruiting as many other interesting people as you can (in and out of museums) to tweet in and contribute to this fertile collision of fields.

While no preparation for the chat is required, participants may want to do a little reading ahead of time. If you are a futurist, you may appreciate an introduction to issues facing the museums. If you are a museum professional, you may want to bone up on future studies and trends shaping our field. Recommended reading:

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Digesting the Future of Museum Ethics

I’m suffering from a bad case of “be careful what you wish for.”

The Forecasting the Future of Museum Ethics project that CFM has been running with the Institute of Museum Ethics at Seton Hall University yielded such a huge number of comments from our Oracles and from the public, that the project co-conspirators* are having trouble wrapping our brains around the input.

So if you are attending the AAM annual meeting later this month, we want to draft you to help.

Sally Yerkovich has recruited a stellar group of facilitators to lead an Idea Lounge discussion on the forecast on Monday, April 30, from 5:15–6:15 p.m. Our not-so-hidden agenda for Writing a Museums Ethics Code for the Future is to shake loose the first pebbles in an avalanche that will sweep in the next revision of the AAM Code of Ethics for Museums. Plus, we really need help making sense of the mass of details in this document—our first stab at compiling the results of the forecast. Even this crude distillation clocks in at 46 pages. Urk.

Of course, you can join the Idea Lounge discussion without wading through the semi-digested results, but reading the compilation might jump-start your thinking. And earn you my undying gratitude.

The forecast focuses on six issues:
  • Accessibility
  • Conflicts of interest
  • Control of content
  • Collecting and deaccessioning
  • Diversity
  • Transparency and accountability in governance, operations and finance
In our first pass through the data, we crunched the numbers for responses to questions such as “will museums will deal with [this issue] more or less frequently in the future?” Then we selected and grouped (copious) narrative responses, especially regarding the changes in the environment relevant to each issue—and or how the museums might respond to these changes. 

But we still have more work ahead to clarify the big picture emerging from these pixilated data points. After poring over the results, I’m just beginning to get a sense of “so what?” And I’m seeing interesting connections between different issues.

For example, some of the comments in the “conflict of interest” section coalesce with comments in the collections section, especially around the issue of donor intent. (Recent news items and conversations I’ve had with museums seeking input from AAM reinforce the connection.) There seems to be a strange dichotomy regarding a museum’s ethical obligations to a donor’s intent. On one hand, a number of people seem to hold that, once a donor is dead, a museum should do all it can to try to determine and adhere to what the donor would have wanted, even in contemporary situations that the poor old soul could never have foreseen. However, living donors may well be given a slap on the wrist and chided for having inappropriate expectations regarding the influence they can wield as a result of their support. How do we reconcile these attitudes?

In the Idea Lounge discussions, we hope you will help us discover more connections between remarks, significant patterns and emergent meanings. 

You can read past posts relating to the Forecast here and about the project in general on the CFM website.
See you in Minneapolis Saint Paul!

*my co-conspirators being Sally Yerkovich, director of the Institute of Museum Ethics, Seton Hall University; Erik Ledbetter, founder of Heritage Management Solutions; and Philip Katz, who directs AAM’s research program.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Planning A Phenomenon: The Benefits of Consistency

Readers of this blog may already be familiar with the Philbrook Museum of Art and its savvy use of social media, via this popular post on their Cat Cam. Today Jeff Martin, online communities manager for PMA, gives us an update on their cultivation of online communities.


Noun: A fact or situation that is observed to exist or happen, especially one whose cause is in question.

In less than three years time, Philbrook Museum of Art in Tulsa, Oklahoma has grown its online communities by more than ten fold. This growth is due in large part to a more concentrated institutional focus on this area while providing a steady stream of exhibitions, public programs and other offerings that keep the public engaged. But more than anything else, the success can be boiled down to a single word: consistency.

We recently experienced what can only be referred to as a “phenomenon.” The term viral gets tossed around often, most of the time for things that haven’t truly earned said status. On November 28 of last year, during what seemed like any other Monday morning, Philbrook’s director of communications forwarded me something that “might be fun for Facebook.” Originated by the Detroit-based College of Creative Studies, the images were part of the campaign to recruit students for art school. Using the “Just Say No”/1980s anti-drug style, the pieces feature worried parents and their “rebel” children under captions such as “Know the warning signs of art,” “Doodling is a gateway to illustration,” and best of all, “1 in 5 teenagers will experiment with art.” I found the campaign both funny and on point. I knew right away that our Facebook audience would love it. I just didn’t anticipate how much.


Did you know that "1 in 5 teenagers will experiment with art" or that "Doodling is a gateway to illustration." This is just hilarious. Share. Share. Share.


For a popular post, we sometimes get as many as 100 comments/likes. Within the first hour, that number had been surpassed.  By the next morning, the piece had been liked and shared more than 1500 times. By the end of that day, the numbers were approaching 5,000. Industry blogs and trendsetting websites were picking up on this, attributing it to Philbrook. At this point, the post had gone beyond our control. It was truly “viral.” For a brief but glorious period (about 24 hours in all), Philbrook Museum of Art’s Facebook page was the most viewed of any museum in the world according to the tracking site It was quite a site to see us ranked above MoMA, The Louvre, The Met and other industry giants.

It didn’t take long for the College of Creative Studies to contact us about the post. Obviously, they were thrilled. As it stands now, more than three months later, the post on just our Facebook page alone, has been liked nearly 25,000 times, shared more than 23,000 times, and features more than 2,200 unique comments. At the height of this frenzy, our page was gaining more than 150 new likes a day. The College for Creative Studies did some digging in the back-end analytics and confirmed the virility of the post, finding a reach of “more than 1,000,000 hits and shares on various social networking and blogging sites including Facebook and Twitter.” And while all of the credit for creating such a funny, engaging, and ultimately compelling piece belongs to CCS, the school was quite gracious in recognizing Philbrook’s role in the phenomenon. “(The campaign) went viral due to a post from the Tulsa, Oklahoma-based Philbrook Museum of Art's Facebook page.”

Did we know this would happen? Had we planned for such response? No. That would be impossible. But what we (and you) can do, and practice on a regular basis, is to post engaging, relevant, conversational content that creates the best possible environment for something like this to happen. You just never know!

Reference sites:

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Essays Exploring the Future of Museums

The journal Museum/iD is hosting an ongoing project soliciting brief musings on the future of museums. It’s a truly global conversation, with entries so far from Poland, South Africa, Nigeria, Norway, Colombia and New Zealand as well as across the United States. The concerns of the essayists are strongly influenced by their home environments, from the UK where government budget cuts have left museums gasping for support to the United Arab Emirates where the government is supporting an unprecedented boom in museum creation.

Despite the fact that these writers come from vastly different museum environments, a number of themes emerge, including:
  • Personalization of content
  • Engagement in contemporary social and environmental issues 
  • Increased audience participation through social networks and crowdsourcing; sharing of museum authority
  • Adaption to the expectations of the “born digital” generations
  • Backlash against multi-tasking and über-connectivity, causing a renewed appreciation of the “real” and quiet contemplation
Word clouds seem very 2011, now, but I couldn’t resist generating one from the essays that have been posted on the Museum/iD site so far. I think it is rather intriguing.

However, I digested the essays the old fashioned way as well, too, reading through all of them to find threads of commonality. Here is a sampling of some of the observations and forecasts on key themes:

Role of the museum of the future

Tony Butler, director of the Museum of East Anglian Life contends that the core function of museums will change, with their role as activists in civic and global affairs becoming as important as their traditional roles as preservers of collections and places of learning. This sentiment is echoed by Camilo Sanchez from the Museum of Independence in Colombia, who “would love to see museums become important for communities…because they lead social change and become places that help to effectively solve problems…that are becoming sadly recurrent, like economical global crisis, terrorism, rapid climate change, racial discrimination, increasing poverty and crime.” David Fleming, director of the National Museums, Liverpoole, has a more focused view—that “the most exciting and valuable role that museums should develop is fighting for social justice.”

By contrast, Alex Saint and Steve Conno,  co-authors of Rethinking The Museum, argue “the desire to create a developed capacity for human empathy should [be] the principal purpose of museums.” They contribute what has to be the most far-out vision in this collection of essays, that of a future in which a visit to a museum is the equivalent of “getting a rush of the hormone oxytocin - the cuddle chemical or empathy-drug - and deliver an extraordinary group hug.” Timothy Leary, are you listening?

Carlos Alejandro López Ramírez, director of the Salsa Museum (the dance, not the condiment, I believe) in Cali, Colombia opines that if museums in his part of the world don’t embrace their roles as entertainers, they will be extinct in 15 years.

Sharon Ament, director public engagement at The Natural History Museum (London), points out that given the current focus on the environment and climate change, natural history museums are going to take center stage in political discourse. (She notes “we must continue to guard public confidence in our objectivity, whilst putting forward strong views on evolution, climate change and biodiversity loss,” though as I have pointed out, it may be impossible to do both.)

The growing tension between the virtual and the real

Many essayists affirm that the rise of virtual experiences will only increase people’s desire to experience “the real thing.”Adam Reed Rozan, audience development manager at the Oakland Museum of California, predicts that the ongoing tension between focusing on objects and focusing on visitors will resolve as a “working relationship in which collections become the ‘all-stars’, used as entry points for visitors, including those who may only participate online.”

The erosion of boundaries

Linda Duke, director of the Marianna Kistler Beach Museum of Art, Kansas State University, identifies the next big challenge for museums as that of breaking down the boundaries between disciplines and becoming places “where wholeness can be glimpsed” so that “so that our science, arts, and history may bring us insight, not simply knowledge.” Steph Mastoris, head of National Waterfront Museum, Swansea believes this erosion will be acceleration by the digital interpretation. Nick Poole of the Collections Trust goes Linda one better, envisioning a blurring of boundaries between museums and other kinds of institutions “with an increasing number of heritage attractions and public-facing services which package heritage in new ways.” (Which, he points out, will provide more jobs for people with museum training. Happy forecast!)


Ailsa Barry, head of new media at The Natural History Museum concedes that generations brought up on Facebook and gaming “will expect to be able to enrich and layer their experience by seamlessly accessing multi-dimensional experiences about the objects around them through a plethora of personal mobile devices. Data about their visit will be captured and analysed in real time, giving a dynamic experience that responds to their needs. And they will want to respond, participate and share their experiences with a global audience as the mood takes them.”

Lin Stafne-Pfisterer, museum educator at the Munch Museum in Oslo hopes we are approaching the era of robot-guided museum tours, as well as looking forward to the potential for museums use digital assets to recreate the past: “virtual versions of destroyed buildings, sculptures and artist’s homes that are materially lost.”

The Physical Museum

Reflecting on the history of museum architecture, Ulf Grønvold, senior curator at the National Museum of Art, Architecture and Design, Oslo, envisions a future in which architects design museums “that belong to their location and their community, not the ego of a Star architect on a brief visit.”  Christine Conciatori, content project manager at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights forecasts the era of the virtual museum, in which much of what a museum does transcends its bricks-and-mortar identity.

The site invites readers to “Join the project and add your thoughts on the future of museums.” Essays of  approximately 250 words can be emailed to I look forward to seeing what you have to say! Now, if you will excuse me, I have an essay to write…

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Experience Design & the Future of Third Place

Today’s post is by futurist Garry Golden, who frequently collaborates with me on CFM projects. Garry is co-author of Tomorrow in the Golden State: Museums and the Future of California, and is currently the lead instructor for the California Association of Museums with its Leaders of the Future program.

The creation of Third Places—those not home, not work public-private gathering places—is now widely embraced by institutional leaders, urban planners and elected officials as a way to design livable communities and welcoming civic institutions.  

The mainstreaming of third places occurred in the 1990s as architects, urban designers and evangelists of reviving civic culture popularized the phrase to encourage investments in community places. Starbucks and Barnes & Noble built their fortunes and brands on the quality of place-based experiences and institutions such as the Rubin Museum (Friday night K2 Lounge) and Walker Art Center (Open Field) have created compelling placed-based experiences that exist outside their traditional exhibit halls. Now the model is spreading in ever more creative ways—for example, the Winnipeg Free Press set up a cafe to encourage the public to hang out and interact with its reporters.

Looking towards the future, third places are being re-shaped by a growing community of designers who merge principles of architecture, social ergonomics and technology-based experiences to reshape our relationships.  

The Pull to Third Places: Mobile & M2M Communication

What are the trends we expect to converge around mobile users and location based services?

As you’ve heard, ‘the mobile Web is here’—but culture has been lagging and we are only at the beginning of seeing an advanced user culture that is more open to managing their identity on-the-go while indoors or outdoors.

Technology and telecommunication companies are now promoting a vision of ‘machine to machine’ (M2M) based communication platforms that allow devices to communicate with other devices and then relay information to the user. It is seen as a way to automate relevant information based on location and create a compelling ‘pull’ that attracts people to third places.

Imagine this pull scenario in 2015:
As Susie leaves work, she updates her status: “Looking to have a cup of coffee in an interesting place” and opens her geo-fence permissions to local businesses and institutions to make a connection. The local museum picks up the message via its Facebook and Twitter feeds, and notices that Susie’s friend John is only a short distance from the museum. The museum sends John a text message with a two-for-one espresso offer and John calls Susie to set up the date. Susie is thrilled—she hadn’t been to the museum in over two years! When John and Susie enter the museum a Google-map based indoor location service notifies the barista to prepare their drinks (per the preference settings in their social media profiles) and they are guided to an open table that overlooks the new exhibition. A live jazz trio plays quietly on an adjacent balcony as overhead speakers adjust volume based on John’s preferences stored on his phone. On the way out, Susie receives an open offer from the museum to return at a special discount admission price. Meanwhile John gets a second notification—another friend has just arrived at the museum, and they spend an hour together in the new exhibit before heading home.
In this scenario museum marketing and engagement department is connected across various social network and machine-to-machine (M2M) ecosystems—in order to send out digital beacons that pull their community members to the cafe. 

Third Place: From Coffee to Sensory Explosion

The future of third place experiences will go far beyond good coffee and live music! Interaction designers are re-imagining place-based experiences around expanding ecosystem of technology interface such as:
  • Gesture based experiences: How might your third place become associated with physical movement?  Imagine a group of seniors using an application build upon Microsoft Kinect that allows them to “paint” digital copies of masterpieces from your museum. Or
  • Audio and Sound-based experiences: Not everyone wants to mix art with music—perhaps your third place should have spaces for peace and quiet. Sound specialist company Silentium has demonstrated a chip that could effectively create a noise-free zone! (Think Get Smart’s “Cone of Silence.”)
  • Projection Systems: your third place could have ceiling-based digital projectors that turn any surface into an interactive visual experience. Imagine your education team developing new ‘surface computing’ lessons that support your collections and exhibits.
  • Wearable: your third place experience might be shaped by digitally enhanced textiles. Could you recreate textile collections and develop a reputation around touch-based third place experiences? Try this one!!! Might museum visitors receive wearable storytelling gloves for certain exhibits? 
  • Rapid Prototyping/Additive Manufacturing: museums’ third places may quickly become gathering spots for Maker Culture. (For example, the New York Hall of Science just unveiled their new Maker Space.) Leveraging low cost desktop rapid manufacturing devices, you could imagine your museum experience including real life replica of exhibit collections that ‘printed’ layer by layer onsite!
In this future, museums bring the high standards of user experience design now often reserved for exhibitions into the third places they create for their communities, becoming more convivial and welcoming. Third Places will continue to expand as a fixture of life in the modern world, as neutral gathering places for social interactions or as quiet escapes from the fast pace of life. Museums that build compelling third places will likely reap the rewards of healthy civic engagement and the creation of cultural commons that bring communities together. 

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Also, you can access stories I have tagged as relating to ‘Third Place’ here.