If you’re not familiar with Pinterest, let me try to paint the picture a bit for you. It’s a pretty low-commitment social networking site with a simple signup process and an easy-to-use interface. The logo is swirly and red like a peppermint candy. People mostly use it to create visual mood boards for projects, like redecorating a home or planning a wedding (very often said homes and weddings are fictional/fantasized). People also use it to collect images and ideas they’re into, like recipes, travel fantasies, elaborate manicures, exemplary hotel bathrooms, jewelry, cars, or tattoos. The demographics skew younger and more female than other social networks—perhaps exactly where a museum like Cooper-Hewitt needs to be.
If you’re on the Cooper-Hewitt curatorial team, like Ellen Lupton or Andrea Lipps, you might use Pinterest to collect inspiration for your next exhibition or to compile visual ideas for quick review later. That’s an atypically erudite use of the service, but one we’d like to see gain traction.
People use Pinterest to collect pictures of stuff they “really super like,” and they do it in their own free time. It’s the candy of the internet. This is why it’s pretty neat that people have been “pinning” objects from the Cooper-Hewitt collection on their Pinterest boards. It means that somebody, in some way, finds the object to be candy-like.
A lot of museums have built digital products (online and in-gallery) that allow visitors to “save” their favorite objects from the museum’s collection, but these sorts of products don’t usually catch on (see Paul Marty’s 2010 paper on this topic). One reason why these “My Collection” apps typically fall flat is because they’re highly self-contained and don’t allow people’s interests in design or art to reach beyond that institution’s door. In addition, people only become aware of the apps if they’re already engaged with the museum in some way (i.e., they’re inside the building or website).
Pinterest will float content your way based on what you’ve already pinned. That means images of objects from our collection can be seen and adored by people who aren’t interested in museums at all, but perhaps are extremely passionate about car design or fashion.
The appealing thing about Pinterest is that it lets people create collections that revolves around them and their taste, allowing them to express themselves without limits imposed by any institution or museum. There are no limits on what you can pin on a Pinterest board. You include anything in the world, as long as a photo of it exists somewhere on the web. Also appealing is the ability to make that self-expressive, taste-proclaiming work public to your friends and easily discoverable by the rest of the web.
So, which collections objects are most interesting to the Pinterest audience? A quick visual scan of Pinterest activity from cooperhewitt.org shows a few varieties of collections candy and its consumers:
Posters with bold and colorful graphics.
Things that are girly and/or twee.
Things posted by design enthusiasts (you can spot these users because their pinboards have names like “Design Inspiration,” “Great Design,” and “Design”).
Things posted by enthusiasts of a specific craft (their pinboards have names like “Pottery,” “Typography,” or “Interesting Textiles”).
Why don’t you start pinning some of our things!