Wednesday, March 07, 2012

How Do You Document Your Creative Process?

Recently, my colleagues have gone wild for Pinterest. Pinterest is an online sharing tool that allows you to construct virtual bulletin boards to collect and display images from across the web. While some museums are using the tool in clever public-facing ways, that's not what's happening here at the MAH. At our museum, our programs team is using Pinterest to develop ideas for upcoming community events. As staff members and interns discover intriguing activities, products, or artwork on the web, individuals can "pin" items of interest to the boards for specific events (i.e. Fire Festival) or program types (Family Programs). This is particularly effective for us since interns and volunteers are significant contributors to our programmatic team and everyone is on different schedules. We can collaborate on Pinterest boards asynchronously, comment on what others add to the boards, and plan events based on the aggregated information. We're starting to use it for the early stages of exhibition planning as well.

We're not using Pinterest to do something cool on the Web. We're using it to solve a basic internal communication problem. I used to constantly email links to individual staff members with a message like "we should try this." Pinterest replaces those emails by sharing that content a more broadly usable, indexable way. It aggregates design inspiration in a central place we all can share.

And that central place happens to be public. Pinterest allows us--requires us, really--to document a part of our creative process openly on the web. As social web tools become more mainstream and privacy concerns lessen (somewhat), I'm seeing more and more organizations use them in informal ways. Project coordination on wikis. Loosely formatted blogs to document progress. There's no extra effort involved to upload or create something special for public consumption. It's just part of the work itself.

What that means, potentially, is a lot more capacity to share the HOW behind our work, not just the end result. It's hard to learn from colleagues when everything is completed and spit-polished into a case study or conference session. I learn a lot more from the messy center of projects--when you know enough to have some goals and direction, but you're still muddling with what the final result will be. At least for me, that's when the juiciest part of the creative process happens.

At first, it felt a little odd to have people outside our own organization "follow" some of the Pinterest boards we thought we were using for internal purposes only. But then I realized we were functionally granting the world access to our brainstorming. I suspect as a professional I can learn a lot more from my colleagues if I can tap into and observe these kinds of internal conversations as projects are proceeding. And for students who mostly experience completed projects through packaged case studies, this kind of access may increase understanding about how the sausage is made.

I'm curious how other organizations are publicly documenting and sharing creative process. I think of this as fundamentally different from creating something packaged to share on the Web for comment. What tools are you using that naturally invite others to follow along? What messy creative bits are you sharing--intentionally or unintentionally?

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