Thursday, May 21, 2009

Wanted: Your Advice (Guest Post)

This guest post was written by Nicole Robert, a graduate student in the course I’m teaching at the University of Washington on social technology. Nicole and her classmates are building a rapid-fire, user-generated online and physical exhibit which will be open June 6-8 in Seattle. This post shares some of the development story, and most importantly, issues a call to action to add your two cents to the exhibit.

Designing an exhibit, the first questions are usually: “what is this about? What’s the content? What’s the message?” As a graduate student in a museum studies program, I have learned how to develop an exhibit based on a collection of objects or a specific story. Now, I and thirteen other students are creating an exhibit designed not around content goals but social action goals. Instead of asking, “What is this exhibit about?” we are asking, “What do we want visitors to do in our exhibit?”

The University of Washington Museology Graduate Program invited Nina up to Seattle to teach a course on using social technologies in museums. Nina challenged us to create an exhibit in 6 weeks that would get strangers to talk to each other. So, instead of figuring out what collection to feature, we brainstormed themes that would guide interactions. We knew that the exhibit would run in the UW student center during the week leading up to graduation, so we wanted to develop something that would be relevant to students at the end of the year without being cheesy. The result is an exhibit about advice. Our “big idea” is:
Advice: give it, get it, flip it, fuck it.
The idea around advice is that we all experience it—some people like to give it, some get it, others pass it on and we all have occasionally gotten advice that we chose to forget. Advice necessarily involves a transfer of knowledge from one person to another—an interpersonal interaction—so both the format and the ubiquity of advice make it a great structuring concept for our goals.

In this design experiment, we are inviting individuals far and wide to give us advice. Visit our website to find out how you can contribute video, photos, voice recordings or written advice. We're taking a multi-platform approach: you can call in advice from your phone, add advice images to our Flickr pool, email advice to us, or even send advice via Twitter. And tell your friends! Your advice will literally shape the physical exhibit, which will be displayed on the University of Washington campus in the Husky Union Building from Sat. June 6 to Mon. June 8, 9 am to 6 pm.

In addition to the content collected online, the physical installation will feature an advice-giving booth where “expert” advice-givers will volunteer to share their knowledge. You might be able to ask a single mom or a physicist for a gem of advice. Then take what they tell you and pass it on in other interactives, or leave your own contribution on the “Questions of the Ages” board. Good or bad, your advice—and the interactions that advice creates—takes center stage in this exhibit.

Other interactive exhibit components include:
  • ADVICE-LIBS: Visitors will create advice Mad-Lib style, by vetting requested sentence components (noun, verb, adjective) and then having these placing these into well-known adages (i.e. "always ______ before you _______" or "a ________ in the hand is worth two in the _________.") These wacky 'remixed' adages would then be pressed into buttons for visitors to wear/take home.
  • THE BATHROOM WALL: Visitors will write advice to the masses onto either a real or contrived "bathroom wall." They will be encouraged by signage to share great/horrible advice and to cross-off, comment upon and remix others statements-- just about what people do on normal bathroom walls.
  • QUESTIONS OF THE AGES: Visitors will write advice on glass cases in which we have posted pre-selected questions that would be relevant to a wide population including: "What should you do for a broken heart?" "How do you break the ice when talking to a stranger?" "How do you tell a friend something that might hurt their feelings?" etc.
  • GIVE ME SOMETHING TO GO ON: Visitors will be able to post questions that they want responses to in available free spaces on glass cases and other visitors will be able to cluster responses around these questions. Exhibit attendants will be the only ones allowed to remove/delete questions, and this should happen once room to respond runs out. Attendants will also photo-capture images of these displays for the website. Signage should encourage people to leave questions in the free spaces and respond.
During the three-day installation, we will observe and evaluate the success (or failure) of our designs. We plan to modify interactives that are not working and see if we can get better results. The whole experiment will provide all of us with valuable information about how museum exhibits can become a foundation of social interactions. At the end, we will publish our evaluation report and our development wiki (where we’ve been designing the exhibit) will be open for you to peruse.

Nina has asked our class to create a project that “will help move forward museum research on developing exhibitions that serve as platforms for social engagement.” An exciting challenge! But in order to meet it, we need your help. We want your advice. Advice you love, advice you hate, the strangest advice that you ever heard—whatever you choose, tell us about it.

5 comments, add yours!:

Fellow Young Designer said...

I would really think twice about using "fuck" in your big idea. It may not be offensive to you, but it is to a lot of people and also comes off as unprofessional. Profanity is really unnecessary in this circumstance.

How about:

Advice: give it, get it, flip it, forget it

Other than that this project looks fantastic and I look forward to participating!

Jason Herrington said...

Thanks for the comment, Young Designer, and thanks for participating!

We considered a whole range of words to use in the big idea, including "forget it". We were very careful and deliberate with our choice of language, we wanted to pin down how people forget, reject, deny and diminish advice given to them, and there aren't many great words that encapsulates those ideas. We chose "fuck it" because it has broad meaning, because it evokes particular emotions, and because we think it will resonate with the undergraduates at the University of Washington who are our largest audience.

TD said...

This is a project that has clearly defined its audience and knows that words have power. Thanks for not being afraid of the puritan cringe and clinging to honesty. It's not unprofessional, its relevant.

Albert said...

I like that you aren't shying away from the profane, I think you are right about it resonating through your audience. I just hope it isn't misleading, because, well I don’t believe I have a particularly dirty mind, but, when I heard those verbs, I had a hard time trying to move my mind away from the first thing I thought of. So it took me a moment to understand what you were talking about. Maybe some repetition in the slogan isn't bad thing, for example:

give advice
get advice
flip the advice
fuck the advice

Otherwise, I think you guys are on to something great. I know nina said a while back that the questions you ask an audience should solicit responses that you care to hear the answers of, and I think you guys are doing that well. So great job, I'm really looking forward to the results.

Also, I love the bathroom wall idea. Bathroom graffiti is special because it’s written when people have time, anonymity, no specified format, and a wide audience that can be easily provoked into a response. I think capturing those conditions would be critical.

bryan said...

fuuuUUuck that!

Profanity is awesome and obviously while it would need to be omitted for certain environments (like most museums) I think it helps get across the spirit of your idea (which might be better suited to a less institutional settings).