Frank Warren has released the 3rd PostSecret book, AN ETERNITY of Secrets. I used to be struck, looking at the Amazon page for the written reserve, by one of its negative reviews. The reviewer, madhatter, published: This task ran its course two books back. Frank Warren experienced an interesting and enchanting concept when starting his PostSecret task. Of course, for each madhatter, there are thousands of individuals discovering PostSecret and sending Frank their heartfelt missives still. To those newcomers and satisfied returners, it’s still astounding. Exactly what does it mean whenever your audience is sick and tired of itself?
Meanwhile, in Toronto, the fine folks at the Ontario Science Centre are grappling with the one-year wedding anniversary of the Weston Innovation Centre, a wing specialized in visitors as designers and active individuals. In 2006, their publication Next proclaimed that the Weston Innovation Centre, and the accompanying Agents of Change initiative, symbolized the “new” face of the Ontario Science Centre. A calendar year old But what now? When your new face is? Now, as is 2006, visitors apart are still taking things, making shoes out of junk, and tackling real-life challenges (and each other). Some staff are wearying of the messiness, sound, and insufficient framework in their new face.
Yes, Agents of Change was a transformative experience. But can’t they stop peeling hot glue off the furniture and move on now? Both of these examples illuminate a basic challenge in co-created exhibitions-growth or experiences. How exactly does a project grow and sustain itself when the designers are a mix of returning and new users? If the project keeps moving, but new people are always coming to it, does it grow ever? Or can it reinvent itself constantly, to the delight of newcomers and the frustration of the old? This is a problem specific to open-ended tasks.
No, one would contest the idea that a lot of museum exhibitions, artwork shows, movies, books, in a nutshell, most content experiences, have value both for the new and come back consumer. There’s no expectation that the content will have evolved in your absence; instead, an individual evolves and brings new meaning-making to this content experience. Even visitor-generated exhibits and experiences can be treated this way-when they have a final end date. Imagine a version of the shoe-making component of the Weston Innovation Center where shoes were only submitted in a window of time, say through the end of 2006, and they truly became a long-term display.
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People would ooh and ah and create their own meaning–but forget about shoes. After all, you have a thousand visitor-created shoes once, do you need more really? It’s much more efficient, staff- and money-wise, to call it quits. Why continue to do the tedious work of support visitor creation, when the newer submissions don’t vary or evolve in virtually any substantive way from the first ones?
It requires a serious labor of love to resist the impulse to call it done and walk away. PostSecret survives not on the consistent deluge of cards coming to Frank Warren’s door but on his gracious, insatiable desire to continue collecting and exhibiting them. Similarly, it is the respect and love that the Agents of Change staff have for their users that allows these to see at night cyclic mess to the unrelenting value of the creative visitor experience.
But love doesn’t pay the bills, and as time passes, staff, and regular users get tired of the same techniques, no matter how flashy they may be. This content refreshes, but the space never seems to change. It’s both inspiring and frustrating. If an environment is made for first-time users, how will anyone build up a meaningful suffered community ever?