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AMA notes: Kim Mitchell, MoMA

Categories: Inspiration, Learning things, Useful/interesting

Fair warning: this post probably needs a subtitle "The longest post I've ever written". Here we go …

This was one of the seminars I instantly ticked as a must-go-to; hearing the Chief Communications Officer at MoMA (Museum of Modern Art) in New York talk about 'Remarkable Campaigns'? Yes, please!

The closer it got to the conference, the more I steeled myself that this may well be a bit of a cold, dry, oft-repeated, soulless speech. Someone from such a mega institution is likely to be a bit … corporate, aren't they?

Wrong! Kim talked to us about the stories MoMA tells to its audiences, and how they play around with their visual identity to keep it fresh; she's an engaging speaker, clearly incredibly interested in and knowledgeable about her subject, as well as being proud of the successful campaigns her team have created – but also proud of their learning from failure (more on which later).

First; a bit of background …

MoMA's mission is not-altogether-surprising: to "encourage an ever-deeper understanding and enjoyment of modern and contemporary art by local, national, and international audiences"; they're about education, and conserving artworks for future generations. But did you know that the place runs entirely on donations, and ticket and merchandise sales? They receive no government funding. I found that quite a surprise.

But not as surprising as the fact that their design and advertising is done almost entirely in-house (save for some clever techy stuff which gets outsourced). I'm not sure I can think of another such high-profile arts organisation who turn out such sophisticated, 'agency-quality' campaigns in-house. They even have a dedicated website: (Thanks to Abby from DanceXchange for finding and sending me the link.)

If ever I decide to not work for myself, and to live in New York, the MoMA design studio'll be first on my Want To Work For list.

I digress. Massively. Where was I?

Oh yes; stories. Pretty-much the focus of all MoMA campaigns – telling the stories behind the art; allowing people to think things through themselves, rather than just serving-up what people'll see anyway when they visit.


Using the Inventing Abstraction exhibition as an example, Kim explained how they tested two variations of print advertising; one conventional ad featuring an image of an artwork (Kandinsky's Farbstudie — Quadrate mit konzentrischen Ringen) which is nice enough, and it was a well-designed ad but quite honestly, nothing special. (And, in testing, it didn't work particularly well).

The second ad was more inventive, and indeed turned out to be much more effective.

Here's a variation of the ad, in brochure cover form – concisely telling the tale of how the abstract art movement was born. Clever. Simple. Ace.

Graphic design-wise, the Bauhaus design style perfectly suits the timeframe in question, and the content is intriguing; thought-provoking. In allowing/expecting people to think for themselves, the campaign has become participatory.


"When something's hard to understand, see it as an opportunity."

To illustrate this, Kim talked about German artist Dieter Roth's Wait, Later This will be nothing: Editions – including a series of sculptures made of perishables such as cheese, meat, banana and chocolate.

As I mentioned before, part of MoMA's job is to conserve artworks. It's quite a challenge for a conservator to do their job when artworks are made of degradable materials, and actually designed to perish. Ah-ha! There's the story!

In place of a traditional ad campaign the team created an incredibly entertaining animated film, narrated by MoMA staff talking about the challenges involved with this particular exhibition. The film was a big success despite only being shared across social media; there were no supporting print ads.


MoMA's most successful and long-running (it's still going) campaign began from something people were already saying online; something simple, which is now completely owned by MoMA and is, in my opinion, a perfect campaign: "I went to MoMA and …"

I won't drone on about it, partly because it's self-explanatory – you can read the design team's blog posts about the campaign on the Inside/Out blog. You can also see all of the cards submitted (bar those which were too light to scan properly) on the campaign website.

Some extra stuff that Kim mentioned:

The campaign translated really well into print ads – newspaper and outdoor.

They decided in advance to only remove cards if they included hate speech; anything else, including criticism of the museum, would remain public. They had *no* hate speech. (Though there is a 'flag' mechanism on the website allowing people to report cards.)

The campaign was popular internally too – even people's leaving cards now read "I worked at MoMA and …", and include personal stories from colleagues. Nice!

(It was also the inspiration behind my initial AMA blog post title.)


So, I promised to divulge a MoMA marketing team failure.

The [MoMA] Starts Here campaign seems a decent enough concept on paper: give people a taste of the diversity of stuff they can experience at MoMA.

There were 16 themes with related imagery; [Summer] Starts Here, for example, included seasonal events at the museum, sun, dance, music, an ice cream (available at the museum cafe!), a collapsible water bottle design. Summery things.

Other themes included music, film, New York and design.

But the campaign was a flop. It didn't bring in anything like the numbers expected, and was pulled early – there were no associated PR or social media campaigns. (And the website has been taken down, though you can see the campaign in pictures on the design team's site.)

This failure needed to be explained to the museum's management. Which meant the team first needed to deduce what went wrong. Having been through the details, they reached the conclusion that it was the lack of any 'participatory' element which resulted in the campaign's downfall.

I'd add that there it was also probably just a bit much – too much "What do we want to tell people?" (i.e. broadcasting) as opposed to "What will interest people?", and also trying to be everything to everyone. The sheer amount of content to take-in is overwhelming!

Kim feels it's important to be open, and to discuss and learn from things that don't work though. In this case, they learnt to keep things playful, entertaining and participatory; always with the audience – rather than the museum – at the forefront of their minds when developing campaigns.

(I think that's incredibly useful to remember.)


I'm actually going to stop myself here or I'm in danger of just repeating the entire talk nigh-on verbatim. I will, however, leave you with a few final snippets:

"Jump into uncertainty"

Inspired by the intuitive interface of the iPad, MoMA created the AB EX NY app, which ended up being used in an Apple advertising campaign. The thing to remember here – if you sense an opportunity, go for it. Quickly (or someone else'll get there first).

"Recognise and amplify your storytellers"

Allow, nay encourage, your advocates to talk about you; in their own voice. MoMA's Senior Curator of Architecture and Design, Paola Antonelli, was on The Colbert Report (which I've linked to despite it being unavailable to view in the UK. You may find a way of bypassing this …) discussing the design exhibition which was on at the time. Paola definitely took away any impression that a museum has to be stuffy; she talks warmly and enthusiastically about design.

MoMA's Director, Glenn D. Lowry, wants the risk-taking nature of modern art to be reflected in the museum's marketing. Wow! Great! This shows strong leadership from Lowry, and demonstrates a high level of trust in his colleagues – accepting that people know how to do their jobs, and simply letting them get on with it. I suppose this is also reflected in the "I went to MoMA and …" campaign, where this time it was the public who were given the freedom to be creative. (That last word is really important.)

And finally, an interesting fact: MoMA's three most popular exhibitions so far have been about the work of Matisse, Picasso … and Tim Burton. Ha!


UPDATE: I just discovered this interesting video of Julia Hoffmann (until recently Creative Director of MoMA's Design and Advertising Dept.) discussing the museum's identity: Julia Hoffmann – Disclosing MoMA's Identity


Categories: Learning things, Our work, Useful/interesting

Craft is a new CMS that we have been using here at Supercool on a number of our smaller sites for a little while now.

Built by prominent member of the ExpressionEngine community (Pixel & Tonic), it focusses on being easy to use, flexible and (importantly) beautiful. For me as a developer it makes life that little bit easier when building a small site as it is faster and simpler to set up; however it's the control panel I'd like to focus on right now.

One of the things we like about Craft is the Live Preview option. This lets you preview your post as you write it, right beside the publish form; meaning you can do things like check how an image works within a block of text before you publish it.

Another aspect of Craft that is becoming more and more useful is that it all works seamlessly on mobile phones and tablets. It is fully responsive and doesn't assume anything about the device you might be using to edit or create content with, making writing that blog post on your phone during the train to work much more enjoyable!

Mock-up showing how the editing interface looks on mobile

Finally Craft keeps it simple – you only see what you need to see to do your work. No more clutter and a clean, intuitive interface throughout that doesn't get in your way.

Screengrab of a minimal interface

So, Craft is ideal for smaller websites and microsites right now – but as it grows and additional functionality becomes available, expect to see us using this slick new CMS on larger projects.

AMA keynote notes: Andy Jasper, Eden Project

Categories: Events, Inspiration, Learning things, Useful/interesting

The importance of continuous experimentation was the theme from Head of Evaluation & Research at the Eden Project, Andy Jasper.

In basic terms, this seems to follow something of a cycle:

Stage 1: Flex your product to meet your customer/audience's needs.
Stage 2: Evaluate the changes you made.
Stage 3: Make changes based on evaluation findings.
Stage 4: Do not rest! Go back to Stage 1.

By means of example, Andy discussed Eden's collaboration with NoFit State, a contemporary circus company, during the summers of 2011 and 2012.

The thinking behind the collaboration being that Eden would be an amazing backdrop for NoFit State to create and then show a brand new production, expanding Eden's audience and giving previous visitors (including locals) a reason to come back to experience something new.

That was Stage 1: Flex your product. On to Stage 2: Evaluation. And the findings were … interesting.

In 2011 NoFit State performances of Labyrinth were a sell-out; despite happening on week nights rather than weekends. There was a whopping 35% increase in new visitors while the circus was in town – and annual visits were up 7% that year. So they did it again the following year.

Where the Bianco company lived in Eden – by Emily Morgan (Producer, NoFit State)

In 2012, during the Bianco show, having the circus there actually resulted in a loss of revenue for the venue. There were several reasons for this, none of which are related to the quality or popularity of the show itself …

a. As a contrast to the previous year, 2012's performances happened on Friday nights and weekends – because more people go out at the weekend, right? In this case; wrong.

Tourist's changeover days are more-often-than-not on a weekend therefore, more-often-than-not, people holidaying in the area – the mainstay of Eden's income – choose to visit attractions during the week (perhaps also mistakenly assuming it'll be quieter then). Likewise, the locals assume the place will be chock-full of tourists at the weekend so're more likely to attend during the week.

b. The second thing that Andy suggested was a major factor in the drop in visitors/revenue was that Bianco tickets were sold separately from regular Eden Project tickets; meaning that anyone buying tickets for the show couldn't explore the gardens without paying extra, and vice-versa. The result was more people buying tickets for the show … to the detriment of regular ticket sales.

c. With this drop-off in regular day ticket sales, related sales such as food, drink and merchandise also decreased dramatically. (After an evening of circus, it seems people don't want to buy plants or a sandwich.)

So with the evaluation complete, time for Stage 3: Make change. The biggest thing Andy feels they've learnt from this is to allow people to buy a single ticket for entrance to Eden and 'Event XYZ'. (Adding just a few pounds to the price of tickets would cover costs for shows such as Labyrinth or Bianco.)

Another nod towards keeping it simple: a single ticket is easier for everyone – and should ultimately be more profitable. WIN!

The Eden Project is clearly adaptable to change, willing to take risks, and right from its inception the place has had, as Andy puts it, a spirit of experimentation.


As an aside – completely unrelated to the 'continuously experiment' theme – it was fantastic to hear what an enormous impact the NoFit State residency (literally, as they lived on-site) had on Eden Project staff. Andy was so enthusiastic talking about the strong bonds formed between NoFit State and Eden's staff. It's clear he genuinely cares very much about this. And a place which values its staff, and truly cares about their experience just as much as that of customers/audience? That's a place to admire.

AMA keynote notes: Owen Hughes, Wolff Olins

Categories: Events, Inspiration, Learning things, Useful/interesting

Being a newbie to the AMA Conference, surrounded by people who all work in the same field – one very different from mine – meant I was a wee bit daunted, but this keynote could not’ve been more comforting.

Owen Hughes of Wolff Olins talked to us about what makes a game-changing brand.

Quote from the Wolff Olins website.


A sustained relationship with your audience comes from honest and open communication.

Long gone are the days of the hard sell. (People just don’t accept or respond to this anymore. More on this at the * …)

Brands must:
be clear about their purpose
be relevant to stakeholders
be shareable
be transparent
be a helpful guide

KNOW YOUR PURPOSE. [I’ve deliberately ‘shouted’ that bit as it’s super important. And, as with all the best advice, it’s simple.]

Understand how your stakeholders experience your organisation.

DISRUPT! [Yes, another important one. And familiar to us, with our branding and web work with Droplet.]

Be nimble; be unconventional; take risks.

*There’s a new mainstream, and these people are:
more connected
more demanding
more active
less acquisitive
less predictable

Apparently there are currently more over 50s than under 30s using social networks. I know! Whodathunk? [I don’t have the source for this stat.]

People want relevance; usefulness. And they no longer trust institutions. (Zoiks.)

People want platforms for self-expression and tools for sharing.

There’s no longer one way to do things, but as many ways as there are people in the audience.

People want the things they want, when they want them. Importantly; not when you want them to want them.

Brands need to move away from communications being ‘summoning’ to a more fluid
approach. From voice to visual. From synchronous to asynchronous. People want, and expect, things now.

People want to be able to change things themselves – and inventiveness thrives in difficult times.

People have changed – audience segmentation needs a re-think.


Owen talked us through several case studies, the clearest and I think most appropriate of which was Macmillan. (They also branded London 2012 but we don’t like to talk about the ‘endorsement shard’ around these parts – see the big pink blob over the nicely designed leaflet at the foot of the IDFB case study *winky face*)

Macmillan Cancer Care logo, and photos of fundraising kit which includes a sticker pack, collection box and branded balloons

Wolff Olins developed the Macmillan brand to be human – deliberately looking a bit handmade – approachable and flexible. For example: promo packs sent to fundraisers are a kit of parts which allows people to customise and adapt the identity as they see fit. Having fundraised for Macmillan in the past, I can confirm that the packs do indeed put the fun into fundraising for people who’re organising events. There’re stickers and everything.

I guess my only hesitation in bigging-up this brand too much is the fact that very few arts organisations have access to the sort of funds it’d cost to commission this level of branding from a world-renowned agency. Still; I do believe there are plenty of transferrable ideas about keeping a brand open, playful, adaptable – and focused on a defined key purpose – which apply to any and every organisation.

The main things to remember:
Be clear about your purpose. If you don’t know what you’re all about, how’s anyone else supposed to understand?

People want to feel, and to actually be, part of things. Be open and give them that opportunity.

Re-think audience segmentation.

And this is my favourite self-penned soundbite: Don’t preach – help people to navigate culture for themselves.

*UPDATE* I amended this post on 23/07/13 to correct the non-fact that the Macmillan work was done pro bono. It wasn't; however I am reliably informed that it was great value! So, another thing to add to my 'The main things to remember' list: Double check your facts. (And then check them again!)