This last summer, I was offered an internship at Formula D interactive, a design company based in Cape Town. They specialise in interactive exhibits for museums. They offered me the opportunity to work as a project manager. It's been a month and I'm going to tell you all about it but first, let's go back to why this internship was a fantastic opportunity for me.
I went to study the MA Fashion Curation at London College of Fashion in September 2015 – for fifteenth months - with a background in art and fashion history. I took an incredible journey during my studies. I experienced new practices, multiplied my interests and challenged my knowledge. I became interested in social media and digital practices, fascinated by the limitless possibilities they offer. I researched how visitors could play a bigger role in exhibitions, using interaction and participation. It's become an obsession.
My master project focused on these: inspired by social media, I created a fashion exhibition where personal expression (mine and the visitors') had a big role to play and where the content was conveyed through video instead of text. When I graduated, I wanted to continue in this direction. I wanted - and still want - to create interactive digital exhibits and help museums giving a space where their visitors could express themselves. However, even though I was - I believe - a good researcher and creative, I had little knowledge in the other aspects of the job: finding clients, budgeting, planning, in other words, project management. Interning at Formula D interactive was thus the right thing to do.
My first week was about settling in. I learnt about the tools the team uses everyday, familiarized myself with the different projects and members of the team.I quickly noticed that Formula D is really a design company.
I know it can sound surprising; however, I contacted them because I am passionate about museums and exhibition-making and for some reason, I was expecting everybody to be. It was silly of me: you need different personalities and interests to make a good team. If you want to create a good interactive exhibit, you need to work with someone passionate about interactive design and this person may not be a museum lover. It is then your job to apply it to museums' practices. Formula D is a new environment for me and it makes it more exciting. As a project manager, I am working with app developers, UX designers, graphic designers, a copywriter, product designers, technical engineers, a managing director and a head of creative/CEO.
I directly became manager of a project with Two Oceans Aquarium, the major aquarium in Cape Town. Two years ago, Formula D Interactive created Smart Living Challenge Zone for the aquarium, an interactive exhibition
about environmental issues in the city, showcasing four different exhibits: water, waste, biodiversity and energy. The project I am working on now is a touchscreen that we are adding to the exhibition: a survey to understand the impact of Smart Living exhibits on the visitors. There are three elements to it: it needs to collect data via asking questions to the visitors, they then need to make a pledge to leave a positive hand-print in the future and it needs to make the data collected available to the aquarium staff.
On the creative side, it is fascinating to see how every detail is thought of to make an enjoyable experience for the user - besides it being a survey. We are asking the visitors to 'leave their hand-print' and so as to achieve that, they need to customise their hand. In that way, the questions become secondary for the visitors even though it is our first objective. It becomes a playful experience for them while it is data collection for us.
But what really interests me, because totally new, is all the rest: planning, budgeting and skill management. From a budget, we made a plan with the different milestones including concept development, app development and graphic design but also hardware development and manufacturing. I am learning a lot: what are the phases of such a project, how long does such an app take to be developed, what does it require, how is the hardware designed, etc. But most importantly, how to manage these overlapping phases.
After a couple of weeks, I became manager of another project, quite different. Hazendal is a digital and interactive playground for kids from 6 to 12 years old. While the aquarium project is currently in its production phase, Hazendal is in its concept development phase. We are still working on an idea to present the client - participating to all the creative meetings
and help develop the idea is very exciting. But it requires planning and budgeting and keeping track too! This particular phase means also working with different members of the team who have different skills. The touchscreen survey team includes a product designer and app developers/graphic designers. This time, I am working with two graphic designers and a copywriter.
When I arrived at Formula D interactive, I directly jumped into the role I was going for. The responsibilities put pressure on my shoulders but mostly excitement. I had to learn fast but I was learning in the best possible way: by doing. This way, I am learning a lot quite quickly and, while being, of course, supervised and guided by the senior project manager at the company, stay independent. I am also participating in general project management meetings, project debriefs and morning huddles so as to grasp every aspect of the role.
As a project manager, making an exhibition becomes a matter of having an incredible idea, but also of good planning, budgeting (scoping), and of course, of good communication. I enjoy having an eye on every phase of a project. I get to understand how things work from a diversity of points of view. It makes it somehow more real. Indeed, I am learning how to actually make things happen.