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Page history last edited by Nancy Proctor 15 years, 10 months ago

What is better outsourced? 


In many ways deciding what to outsource in a mobile program is the same as for the museum website or any other digital program: if the museum (or department responsible for the program) feels the handheld project is important enough but does not have the resources to outsource, the team will prioritize doing the work in-house over other projects. But if resources are available for outsourcing, or if the museum's attendance is high enough to get a vendor to capitalize the program's development, outsourcing can both give the museum access to specialist skills it does not have in-house, and free the in-house team to work on other projects.  


Certain aspects of the project may benefit in particular from outsourcing - from getting an outside voice and pair of eyes to bring fresh ideas and perspective to the in-house team's work. There can also be political reasons to outsource: an external vendor can often make proposals and judgements on design, etc. which would be difficult for the in-house team to put forward without creating or exacerbating tensions with colleagues.


If resources are available for outsourcing, I would prioritize funding these aspects of a handheld project:


  1. Writing: writing for the ear and writing for a multi-sensory experience (one that combines listening, looking at exhibits, watching videos or seeing details and graphics on the handheld screen) for a mobile experience requires a different approach and tone than writing for wall labels, catalogues, or scholarly texts. Sometimes an accomplished print writer can make the move to mobile multimedia easily, but not always. The 'story' of the program is its foundation, and needs to be strong, so I'd invest first & foremost in a good script from a writer experienced in mobile interpretation.
  2. Post-production: a great sound engineer or video editor can work wonders, especially if the assets used in the mobile program come from disparate sources. A truly talented collaborator will not only ensure that audio, light and color levels are balanced across the program and that the individual assets are as 'clean' and individually clear as possible, but will also know how to combine them with the right amount of pause between elements, adding the right music or sound effect, for example, that fades up or down at just the right moment. "Timing is everything" and an experienced professional can ensure that your mobile program tells its story at the right pace for maximum impact. 
  3. Interface design: As we all have experienced, a poorly designed UI can make the experience of even great content frustrating and 'not worth it'. Good interface design is an art that comes from experience on the given platform. In other words, the ability to design for web interfaces does not necessarily translate into strong designs for a small, mobile screen, if the designer simply conceives of the handheld interface as a reduced version of a website. A good mobile interface designer will have worked with mobile experiences and small devices long enough to recognize their specificity, and design accordingly. Also, in my experience, interface design can quickly become a political hot potato in the museum, so it may be expedient to outsource in order to preserve good internal working relations with one's colleagues! 
  4. Research: I am tempted to list this as the first most important element of the project to consider outsourcing, because we shouldn't undertake such an expensive (in time and/or resources) initiative without understanding why we're doing it, and what we hope to accomplish - based on real visitor and museum needs. That said, research is so important that I think every museum should develop in-house resources for doing it: training the existing team and/or creating a new research-oriented position where possible. But the point here is, don't develop anything without reference to visitor research, or you risk ending up with a 'technology for technology's sake' program or a half-baked tour (how many of those have we taken?) that no one likes or takes, and which simply undermines your credibility when you next ask for resources for a new program's development. - Nancy Proctor, Smithsonian American Art Museum




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