Design research family tree

(Reading time: 1m, 39s)

The other day I was on the phone with George Berlin, an animator and illustrator who was telling me about recent projects he’s completed for a few museums and libraries. I was curious to know more about George’s work, which dovetails with recent letters about AR, and how cultural organizations think about the role of art installations. George kindly permitted me to write about our conversation here.

I wanted to understand what sort of research fuels George’s work, how it might be used to influence visitor behavior in a way that is advantageous for the museum, and how museums might measure the impact or value of the work.

I asked if anyone had studied how installations impact behavior. Example: A library wants to use an installation in their lobby to usher more people in to learn about the library’s other offerings. Is anyone at the library studying how people who interact with an installation behave in comparison to those who don’t? Do different kinds of people behave differently — first-time visitors vs regular patrons; parents vs retirees; members vs nonmembers, etc? Is there a call to action or next step laid out in the installation to move people deeper into library?

George was certainly keeping an eye out for positive signs — he could see children waiting in line to get a turn, which was a good indicator that his work had sparked their curiosity.

But it doesn't seem many decision-makers were asking the questions I had. This doesn't surprise me, but it does frighten me a little. I take it as a little sign of mismatched values — I'm asking questions about impact and outcomes when others aren't.

This is the larger issue that my conversation with George got me thinking about.

I know not everything has to be measured.

But measurement doesn’t have to be about judgment.

Measurement can be fun.

Without measurement, improvement is haphazard — a game of chance. Art can thrive in a world without measurement. An artist like George can create excellent work without continually measuring how each project influences the audience, but I’m not sure that’s the case for organizations.

Even when measurement seems hard or impossible, simply trying to find ways to measure the impact of an initiative can reframe the way we approach our work. Measurement is the mother of experimentation, and business-minded experimentation can be a surprisingly fun child to adopt.

Thanks for reading,


Kyle Bowen