Can you explain a little bit about the type of work you do here at Cooper-Hewitt?
The short version is "Internet typing".
About thirty percent of my job is working with the rest of the Labs team to figure what it means, in concrete terms, to make the museum well-and-truly part of the internet and the rest of the time is spent designing and building the systems to make that happen. That involves a healthy mix of data-wrangling, managing servers, writing code and designing the architecture and the user-facing aspects of the collections website as well as imagining novel ways for interacting with all the data we've collected.
And finally working through the process of integrating it all with the building. By the time we re-open the building itself will be one of, if not the largest, consumer of the collections website.
What is the most challenging part of your job?
Balancing the shift away from the Museum's principal audience being scholars and experts to an audience of scholars and experts and casual visitors.
Where a casual visitor may be someone who is simply too busy being awesome in another endeavor to live and breathe the same level of intimacy that we do around capital-D design in general and our collection in detail. That forces us to have to think about new and different (and better) ways to share what we're doing with people.
In addition to that there is a third audience that we are trying to cater to which is the "network" itself. No one is quite sure what that means yet but it seems pretty clear that an increasing number of automated system will be "reading" and "using" the collection and so the challenge is how to design for that, too.
What do you enjoy most about your work?
All of the above.
How would you describe design?
An elegant solution in the service of a deliberate task.
How has the renovation either opened new doors or posed new challenges for you?
All of the above?
Looking forward, what are you most excited about once the museum reopens?
Watching what happens next, when people start poking at it.
What is your favorite Cooper-Hewitt exhibition to date? Why?
Kitsch to Corbusier: Wallpapers from the 1950s
What was the most memorable moment for you at Cooper-Hewitt?
Discovering that we have a Roomba in our collection.
What is the future of design?
That is tomorrow's problem.
Finally, if you could redesign anything, what would it be?
Everything about sensors and alarms on trains and buses and subway stations.
The current way of doing things is to trigger an aggressively loud siren every time someone holds a door open too long or opens an emergency exit. I can only imagine that it is predicated on a model where the person who causes the siren is expected to feel some kind of shame for what they are doing.
These days, people either don't feel bad about it – for a whole host of reasons too long to get in to here – or shouldn't feel bad because opening the emergency exit, in the case of the subways in New York City, is the only way to get their child's stroller through the gate. In both instances everyone is subject to the high-pitch wailing of a machine that doesn't know any better and which, in the mornings, happens frequently enough to ruin an already stressful journey.
It's a hard problem but we should at least recognize that what we're doing now is less than ideal.