Friday 16 April 2010

Not always the answer

I was just reading this piece about the renovation and extension of the Bach Museum in Leipzig, and this paragraph caught my attention:

Alongside the original sources is information on methods and techniques used in Bach research. Visitors learn about Bach's penmanship, as well as the paper and ink he used. The display even explains how to date a Bach manuscript. But what makes this museum unique is the interactive approach it takes to the teaching of its subject matter. A giant tabletop touch screen displays various documents that can be explored, dragged and manipulated, or—for younger visitors—simply broken up into puzzle pieces.

I'm working on a touchscreen interactive at the moment, and I thought hey, that's quite a nice idea - images of collection items turned into puzzles on a touchscreen, which individual visitors and maybe even groups can play with.

And then I caught myself. Why transition a perfectly sound mechanism - the jigsaw puzzle - from the physical to the digital experience?

You're not gaining anything (apart from the fact that the puzzle pieces won't get munted or lost) and it will cost you a lot more than printing cardboard puzzles, or even doing something a little fancier, like printing on Lego. And you're losing the tactile pleasure of puzzle solving.

Although I'm employed in a digital role, I often find myself arguing for non-digital ways of achieving a desired outcome. It sounds contrary, but it's the right thing to do. My advice is, when you're thinking about creating something new:

  • start from what you have (collection items, stories, a theme)
  • move to what you want people to get out of the experience (to learn something? to contribute something? to fix something?)
  • think about the space you're putting whatever this thing is in (this might include the web)
  • and then think about tools and media.

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