Drawing inspiration from the projects supported by the R&D Fund, this toolkit is a suite of downloadable resources, tips and articles aimed at arts and culture organisations who wish to improve existing digital products and services or develop new ones.
The toolkit takes you through the why, who, what and how of digital product development. The framework for this has been created by a collective or practitioners drawn from arts, media and from the R&D Fund supported projects. It is not exhaustive (we have not delved deeply into the exciting realm of content as we assume this is what you and the people you are working with really know about) but we have endeavoured to keep it simple so that some of the principle pieces are relev
Over the past three years, the Digital R&D Fund for the Arts has supported 52 organisations to see how digital technology can grow their business or audience reach.
Taking inspiration from these projects, as well as experts from across the industry, such as the National Theatre and Royal Shakespeare Company, the fund has launched a new digital toolkit for the arts that points to useful resources, offers advice and shares articles for arts organisations that want to improve their existing products and services or develop new ones.
Here are my top tips from the toolkit for successful product development.
1. Think about the lifecycle of your product
Digital technologies enable your audience to engage with you. The value of that experience, wherever they are and whatever device they use, will define the success or failure of your product.
To the user your organisation and your digital product are one and the same, whether your product is an ambitious cross-platform live experience or a small but useful improvement to how you sell tickets. From the start you should consider how long the product will be live, if you’ll be able to iterate it in response to audience feedback, and how you might want to reuse material in the future.
2. Clarify why you are doing it
Are you embracing digital technology because you have identified a new opportunity? To solve a recurring problem? Or to experiment with new forms? In any organisation there will be varying viewpoints and it’s important to explore each.
Engaging in a critical discussion where each person “wears a different hat” or takes a deliberately different approach to a conversation – such as from a management or “out of the box” perspective – can help speed up this process and bring about consensus on what your product will look like. At the end of this process you should be able to articulate the value proposition in one tweet, ie in 140 characters.
3. Create and share your business plan
Your business plan will lay out what you are doing, the cost and resources associated with it, and how your product will help your organisation achieve its mission. In the guide we’ve adapted a range of tools that help you to describe, design and cost your proposed product and understand its value for your organisation and audience. This takes into account benefits beyond simply revenue generation that are commonplace in the arts, such as greater societal impact.
4. There’s no such thing as too much audience research
You should put your audience at the heart of your development process and iterate your product around their responses and needs. The more you know about your audience and how they want to interact with you, the better your product and efforts to market will be.
You can start research at your desk, then build out to surveys, focus groups, interviews and user-testing. Plan for how you are going to gather and respond to feedback and involve members of your audience as much as you can in development, testing and future iteration.
5. Build realistic user personas
Personas are portraits of fictional but realistic individuals who are likely to end up using your product. They can be used to help you make content, design and marketing choices, and for testing purposes during production. A useful persona pulls together, on a single page, the characteristics, behaviours, goals and motivations of similar people into one “archetype” through which the wider audience can be understood.
6. Collaborate and keep stakeholders on board
Few arts organisations have the capacity to deliver their digital ambitions on their own. As our funded projects show, teaming up with a partner firm that shares your outlook can help drive home superior products and services.
Collaboration is the order of the day. Preparing a brief can result in more effective working so everyone knows who is responsible for what. Mapping all of the contributors and stakeholders will also help you determine who needs to know what and when.
7. Prepare and share your product roadmap
A product roadmap is a document or presentation that tells the story of how your product will develop over time, through production and testing to launch and then through subsequent releases.
It’s where you pull together the threads of user experience, marketing and storytelling. Done right, it will help with defining and allocating tasks, ensure smooth communications and quality, and should allow sufficient flexibility to make changes based on user insight as you move towards delivery.
8. Think about the value of content assets over time
Your unique content – the way you tell stories that inspire and excite your audiences – is what sets your offer apart in the digital ecosystem. It can be long or short-form; free or paid for; social, ephemeral or permanent. It can be highly structured and well-organised as a collection or an experimental mash-up of types and formats.
Whatever it is, it makes sense to create a single, joined-up content strategy that covers key messages based on your audience insight, the way in which you create content, its value and its potential reuse over time.
9. Choose your distribution channels with care
When your product launches you want to strike just the right note with content and marketing to engage and increase your audience. Consider your key messages as part of your content strategy and how you will create relevant, consistent and congruent campaigns across different channels. If you set up a Facebook page, for example, you should ensure there is sufficient resource available to provide regular updates and respond to feedback.
10. Evaluate, share and build learning into future products
It’s not always possible to know what success will look like, particularly when you are undertaking risky or innovative new projects. Objectives can be fuzzy and failure can even be good if it happens fast and if the lessons are reinvested back into the product or the wider business. Success can also feel like failure if your site gets so much traffic that it falls over and you need to scale up quickly. It’s vital to be able to interpret your data (and you will have lots of it) in meaningful ways, to tell stories with it and to build on what works.
Tim Plyming is director of digital arts and media at Nesta
The digital toolkit is published by Nesta, Arts Council England and the Arts and Humanities Research Council
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