Illustration: Jean Jullien


Mike Ellis, Issue 114/14, 01.12.2014
Digital is a work in progress
There is a joy in print, which the staff who put together Museums Journal will understand. But there is also an inherent danger: once you push that button and send your proof to the printer, it’s gone. That missed comma, that transposed logo? It’s too late.

This is the joy of digital: you can change stuff – such as a typo on your website – at any time.

More importantly, though, free tools such as Google Analytics mean you can look at what people are doing on your site and adapt it on the fly. If no one clicks on a button on your homepage, you can change it and see if this makes a difference.

With things such as “A/B testing”, you can even present a different version of pages and then test to see which performs best. It’s like magic: iterative flexible magic.

The problem is that funding for digital projects has yet to catch up.

Typically, you still apply for cash based on some kind of concept, and a guess at an audience and what this audience will do. You build the thing, spend the money, launch – and only six months later do you have enough knowledge and stats to understand what people really wanted.

The problem is that by then, there is rarely any budget left to finance these changes because the fund required you to have already spent the money.

It is time that the people providing funding for digital projects started recognising that user testing, and therefore ongoing funding, is the beating heart of any successful project.

They should also realise that ongoing measurement and, more importantly, the ability to respond to this, is what makes digital so extraordinary.

Mike Ellis is a director of digital agency Thirty8 Digital


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12.12.2014, 19:35
A point well made and a very real issue continuing to hamper the effective development of digital in the cultural sector.

At Wellcome Collection we have just launched the first of what we hope will be an evolving series of digital stories aimed at provoking audience engagement with content languishing in our catalogues. We may have got it right first time, we may not, but the most important thing is that the organisation recognises it as an experiment. So, rather than going all out on developing a range of these products from the outset, the plan is to hold money back and launch them incrementally.

The project has been designed (in both funding and technical terms) to be a foundation which can be built on (or not) in the future in response to user feedback. It's a difficult one since this kind of thing represents a major investment for museums and a funding model which enables organisations to hedge their bets in terms of investment.