Visiting Minnesota Historical Society, S:t Paul, in 2000 I remember being shown a huge poster of a prominent historical person, an old photograph, that had been enhanced with a bright red clown nose.
Communicating the cultural heritage is a challenge, a creative and fun challenge. Communication is vital and should be a part of any curator’s or archivist’s competence. The cultural heritage sector is not the most creative business, but has a potential to be. I often look at the digital communication sector to get inspired.
I asked @matthartig: If I was to read just one book this summer, what would it be? He answered: F*ck logic 2 by Per Öhlin,2009 (ISBN 978-91-978374-0-8). So I did. It is brilliant. A manual of creative thinking, a handbook not to leave home without. It is aimed at the commercial market but is applicable to any communicating business and organization. Unfortunately it’s only available in Swedish yet, but here is a summary. My contribution is to bring – in short – these ideas into a cultural heritage perspective.
The main topic of the book is the fact that just exposing a brand, event etc. is not enough. You need to touch and affect the audience, reach into people’s minds. To do that you need to step out of traditional ways of thinking about communication. The author of the book, Per Öhlin has a ”simple” solution. To achieve successful communication you need to:
a) Play with the problems
b) Stay playful, be curious
(I love that! I.e. have fun! )
So, being rational, the way we have been brought up, is in fact not the way to be creative. Per Öhlin, does not dismiss rationality, but sees it as a complement to creativity. And creativity comes first.
In every communicative problem there’s a need to answer the questions: Who? Why? Waht? How? When? Where? And Why not?
Who: As in sender and reciever.
Why: As in why do you even exist? What do you want to achieve?
What: As in do you know what to say? What do you have that is unique? Does it mean anything to the reciever?
(Here Per Öhlin reminds us to answer ”What?” at least five times. Having a five-year-old at home I get the point, the first answer is never enough!)
How: As in how do we communicate this?
Where and When: As in where and when do we communicate with the reciever? It’s all about timing.
Why not: As in why should we NOT do this, are there any hidden issues?
The art of seduction
Communication is all about seducing the reciever, to get through in the media buzz. Per Öhlin has plenty of advice to give but a few strike me especially: Be honest, personal, social and humble. And don’t forget to listen!
To actually reach out to the audience is a challenge and it requires creative thinking. The rest of the book, F*ck logic 2, is a detailed list of how to develop creativity. The challenge is to embrace all these step in every project, so it becomes more or less natural. Trying only one or two of these steps will definitely create shortcuts but at the cost of loosing great ideas.
I will not repeat the entire list of steps, but here are some advice from the author, which I will relate to the cultural heritage sector:
Know the product
Smell, taste, feel, listen and look. Do you know what a letter from the 19th century looks like, feels like and smells like? Have you felt the softness of a woven piece of cloth? Have you seen the details in a 14 000-year-old painted buffalo and it’s context – the dark cool cave? How can you mediate the dimensions you don’t know?
Create drama and attention by telling stories. Here Per Öhlin uses an ad from Ernest Shackleton when the explorer recruited men for his expedition: ”Men wanted for hazardous journey, small wages, bitter cold long months of complete darkness, constant danger, safe return doubtful, honor and recognition in case of success.” (what a copywriter!). Storytelling can also be used to create drama when testing the product or service, prove that it works!
Let the audience have an experience of what you whant to communicate, see the difference in sizes, feel the weight, hear the sound. Recreate or create an event. (This reminds me of the wonderful possibilities of combining online with onsite experience). With evidence you will also be precieved as credible.
Having a character telling the story can be great. I have seen less great examples, so be careful. If the character is percieved as annoying it will totally ruin the experience. But the character can also provide recognition and continuity.
Rethink your contact points
Where do you meet the audience? Create unexpected meetings (but don’t forget timing!). As for museums there is always a need to increase the number of meeting points and surfaces. The museum building and the website is far from enough.
If you can’t create a unique product or service, make the audience think uniquely about it. Make them like you. Let the audience gain knowledge and insight, let them be excited, have fun and laugh!
Conclusion, according to Per Öhlin:
> Are you original? Can you reach through?
> Does the audience have the time to stop by your site/service?
> Is your product or service relevant to the end user?
> Is it good quality? Badly performed websites/exhibits etc. will silence the message.
> What is you ambition? What is the purpose of your communication?
> Is there human compassion? Are you a credible sender?
And in addition, I believe you should ask yourself:
> F*ck logic: i.e. play with cultural heritage. Do you dare? Are you ready to step away from rationality and play with cultural heritage? Start with the clown nose, it works!
Again, communication should be part of any curator’s or archivist’s competence. Reaching through to researchers in the reading room is just as important as reaching through to kids in an exhibition or online. F*uck logic 2, and the methods given by the author, is a great start towards communicating cultural heritage.
F*ck logic is unfortunately only available in Swedish so far, but hopefully translated soon. In the meantime check into Per Öhlin’s website for blogposts in English: http://www.minegoestoeleven.com/