As Bluecadet’s Founder and CEO, Josh Goldblum has devoted his career to doing award-winning work with organizations like the MoMA, Smithsonian Institution, Doctors Without Borders, and National Geographic to educate, engage, and entertain through websites, mobile apps, interactive installations, and immersive environments.
>>Josh will be sharing his experience at the hands-on digital experiential design workshop Xplorer East, July 23 in Philadelphia, hosted at Bluecadet’s office.<<
Josh took the time to chat with us last week about what has made Bluecadet successful- their process.
What led you to founding Bluecadet?
JG: I started my career in-house at the Smithsonian American Art Museum working as a new media specialist around 2000 creating web and online exhibits. After a few years, I started freelancing for various museums and cultural institutions around Washington, DC. Then I decided I wanted to actually expand my practice. That was seven years ago. Since then, Bluecadet has grown from myself, and one or two hires to a team of about 32.
How is your team assembled, and how do you work together?
JG: One of the things that would be really interesting for Xplorer Workshop attendees to see is how we organize our team. Not just in terms of discipline, but also in terms of culture, and how in some ways it’s less about the protocols and how the product is moved from person to person, but the relationships, and the openness that allows people to put the product first and iterate things collaboratively.
"To me, it’s all about building a culture where people can work really fluidly that allows these products to sort of manifest to their best effect."
We keep everything in house, so we have designers, researchers, project managers, content strategists, and developers all in the same office here. We spend a lot of time collaboratively planning these projects, and making sure that people from different disciplines are talking to each other early and often throughout the process. Every one of our designers knows a tremendous amount about technology, and our technologists know a ton about design.
One of things that I really want to talk about at the Xplorer Workshop is how to think about and how to plan media so that it fits into the larger experience and developing a set of goals for that media that give it a better chance of being effective. Not just using it for media’s sake or using it as a place to dump content, but thinking about it as a way to further your story or experience. If the media exists for a reason, if it’s doing something, then it will age well- it will always do that. If it’s only demonstrating the technology- the second that technology falls slightly out of date, it’s going to look, you know, terrible.
What is your innovation process? How do you experiment with technologies?
JG: Innovation happens in a number of ways. At the end of the day we are focused on the user experience and content. Do you want them to laugh? Do you want them to learn something? Do you want to move them emotionally? We’re trying really hard to focus on what is the information, what is the experience of it that we want them to have. Then, we look at the technology and say, “how do we accomplish that?”. And technology is only one way that we accomplish that- a lot of it’s design, a lot of it’s content- these are all parts that go into crafting whatever experience we envision. Then, on the other side, a lot of innovation comes in from prototyping with new technologies and just knowing what’s out there. The idea is not that we have this new technology, we just need to find a project to plug it into- what we’re really saying is we recognize a problem that can be solved very effectively with this new type of technology.
How do you do your testing?
JG: Here in our studio we have about 6,000sqft of space, and another 3,000sqft warehouse. We really like to set up everything at scale in the type of environment that it will ultimately be experienced, so if we’re talking about an interactive, which will be in a physical location, we’re going to replicate that environment and test it over the entire lifecycle of the project. And we also stress test the crap out of everything. When we did that 16ft touch wall for the St. John Paul II Memorial Shrine, we brought entire school groups here to test. But we also do testing in terms of usability, making sure people are getting the learning objectives or the experiential objectives that the client has (mapped out).
What percentage of the process is testing?
JG: One of the things that we found is that people want to test, test, test, really early and often and if you have something that’s more experiential that relies on animation and transition and feel, you need to test that. So sometimes doing an animation round is the way you test that. Testing takes a lot of different forms because testing can be testing the stability of the software, making sure it doesn’t crash. That’s incredibly important. Testing can also be making sure that some of the assumptions that we have in our subjective view of the experience don’t contradict with the user is actually experiencing.
"Prototyping and testing is only valuable if it’s teaching you something that’s going to shape the product in a really good way."
A lot of times if we do, like, tap testing on a schematic, it doesn’t give us actual results because that’s not high-enough fidelity to give us an accurate sense of what the user experience will be. So, really it’s important not only to test, but to be testing the right thing.
How does the building process work at Bluecadet?
JG: One thing that we like to do is that we really focus early on two things: getting the content in early so that we’re dealing with the real content that we’ll be delivering, and getting builds in early so that we can test the assumptions, and prototype on those assumptions. We like to code and code with real content very early- before we’ve created this beautiful, perfect thing- then code it at the very end, and realize it has fundamental flaws.
Are there any particular challenges or benefits to working with museums?
JG: Museums? They are just my people. And it’s the kind of content that I know how to deal with. When I was in-house at the Smithsonian my favorite thing was working with curators and the experts. Even though we at Bluecadet have a tremendous amount of design and development, I think really what we do best is help interpret the content, the knowledge, that a curator or subject matter expert has, and translate that out over a broad audience.
What is the future of your field? Where do you see things going?
JG: I think that basically the entire information experience is going to exist across all these different platforms and that means in a gallery, on the web, on social and across devices. People are going to have the same content on these different devices and different situations that’s appropriate to that context.
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>>Can’t make it to Philly in July? Join Xplorer in Seattle, August 6!<<