Travel Journal – Museum Next tech from Amsterdam!

Museum Next tech

Over the past decade, technology has disrupted every sector of the economy, transforming industries, creating new opportunities and devastating those who couldn't keep up...

I went to Museum Next tech in Amsterdam on the 5th of October, and there were lots of different topics discussed. Very different, and at the same time all aiming at the same goal: how to deal best with the museum’s digital strategy, with which tools, which members of the team, which means, etc.


The first presentation, « The Cost of Yes », by Shannon Darrough, Director of Digital Media, Museum of Modern Art, was very much ice-breaking. Mr Darrough always got back to the picture of a car full of elements, saying: if you are not being careful, « this is your digital project .» He focuses on how it is possible to learn how to say « no .»


Not doing something means that you can do other things! He advised to keep our goal from the beginning and to align the latter with the institution’s line. Dealing with the requirements so that the roadmap is about standard expectations is very important.

So the way the kickoff of a digital project will be organized is very important, and you need to be careful to whom you speak and how you present the project (to which department, who you want to get involved, etc.).

I noted some keys elements he suggested such as: enlist a champion, someone who will be at your side, a senior leadership who agrees with your ideas; have a plan to leave spaces for great ideas; ask visitors some questions to have their feedback as well; think of KPIs on the digital products to have some analytics in the end, have the possibility to react..

Also, he emphasized the fact that not everything needs to go into an app, and that an app is not to be like a « mini website,» because in the end, you do not go to apps as you go to websites!

So how do you organize all the data you get from the meetings, from the ideas, in the end? Well, two main way of working: a main one with stickies the places of which can be changed, and a Google doc, to be shared with people who take part in the digital project.   

An interesting remark he made was that the former « digital content » department is now named « content » only, since as he says, digital is everything, and it makes more sense to work on how to organize this content and the message you wish to share than otherwise…

Michael Geithner from the DDR Museum, Michael Geithner from the DDR Museum, a private museum with a small team, on the other hand, had a different vision. He considers himself as the « swiss knife » guy for making apps, and he says he tries to start some projects by choosing the technology first and then seeing which objects he wishes to put forward, how to tell their story.

“Top-Down-Design describes the design process beginning with the content and moving forward to finding the perfectly fitting technology. This is the common way of design, also for the DDR Museum. Bottom-up design works the other way around, from technology to content. This is a very unusual way, but it works like the proof of concept. For example: You design an installation top-down (What technology fits my content) and then you look at it from the opposite design perspective (Does the technology I chose fit my content I chose?). In the end, it is all about finding the perfect connection between technology (= mechanism, display…) and content (= object, subject, idea).”

He is aware that it usually goes the other way around. He wishes to show that you can also nowadays go top-down! He thinks it’s important also not to forget what the technology can do, how it can help you with your content? He also says that it is crucial to take emotions into account and that you should test your ideas as much as possible.

He gave the example of an exhibition they realized called including a vibrant content and people sit down to leave this immersive experience – although by doing this, they miss 25% of the content… which is not such a big deal but is still a problem if you have a limitation of the experience.

More generally, Mr. Geithner emphasized the fact that « the things that are the best are not from the museum,» and that he gets inspiration from elements that are not necessarily in the museum’s field.

Then there was Dave Patten, Head of New Media at the Science Museum, who presented us many of the games he built and developed for his young audience.

He mentioned taking into consideration the following: that with emergent technologies & long-term games, there can be an issue; that when testing it is important to try « the whole » and not only elements from a gaming strategy; and think about the children’s behavior + reaction.

Often, an exhibition is linked to some games facilitating the learning experience, thinking about the mechanisms and the goals: what makes a game educational?  

All those morning presentations were very interesting and very inspiring too… Also, I agree to say that the pieces of advice can be applied to other domains.