A “How-To” from the Creators of Verso
Job roles for museum creatives don’t tend to jibe mid course. Instead, most of us chart a trajectory and steer it to shore, adapting along the way. But what if a tool emerges that capsizes conventions and puts in play skills waiting to be tapped or developed? All heaven can break loose.
That was the case in the genesis of Verso, the multimedia magazine for iPad produced by the Minneapolis Institute of Arts (MIA). Available for free download in the iTunes App Store, Verso is a content-rich arts tool developed by scratch to deliver the most engaging experience possible. And it has allowed us—a print designer and a writer/editor—to reinvent ourselves as the in-house storytelling team chiefly responsible for its bimonthly creation.
What follows is a story of how Verso came to be, with tips to stimulate your next big challenge.
- Think beyond museum land. As consumers, we had been reading up-market iPad magazines, noticing what they
did well and where they fell flat. The digital pubs that seduced us did more than turn their printed pages into PDFs;
they invited intuitive interactivity. Plus, they had sumptuous images. So did we.
- Identify strengths. As MIA staff members, we knew we had access to spectacular content: highest quality images of artworks, fascinating stories behind the objects, and a talent pool that turns up daily—curators/educators/content experts, photographers/visual innovators, writers/reporters/thinkers. Everything we needed was right here to pull it off.
- Pull it off. Over about two months, we developed sea legs with Adobe Digital Publishing Suite to design a sample issue. We didn’t ask for approval, mostly because we didn’t want to fall publicly on our faces. But we did reach out to willing collaborators, who helped us under the table. Also, we discovered that the MIA had a soundbooth on the premises, perfect for capturing fresh audio moments. Who knew?
- Tie it to strategy. We knew that an iPad mag would help position the museum in the global realm, a nice dovetail with our current strategic plan. And that a fresh approach would appeal to tech-savvy art lovers. Those made helpful selling points to our leadership.
- Win over the heavy hitters. We shared a prototype with our supervisor, the museum’s chief engagement officer. Her response—“Wow!”—sent us straight into a meeting of decision makers. Kaywin Feldman, MIA director and president, proved an instant champion. Soon we had the latitude to pull together a multi-faceted, cross-departmental team.
- Brace yourself for mess. Innovation is difficult, painful, sweat inducing. Sustained innovation, that is, constantly upping the bar with each issue, never fails to be messy business. In our efforts to pulp the most of this multifaceted medium, we haggle over every article, challenging ourselves to deliver an engaging, intuitive wow for our viewers. Two storytellers, visual and verbal, with ideas ricocheting off the cubicle walls. It ain’t pretty. But our hope is that you, dear reader, experience nothing short of pure polish.
- Because there needs to be a seven. We’re exceedingly open to user input, good or bad. There’s not an e-mail that doesn’t get our attention or response. Criticism only makes Verso better. We adapt to feedback; for instance, once a quarterly, Verso is now produced six times a year. Because that’s what our users said they wanted.
Now, with seven issues released to the world, 10,000 subscribers (and counting) and three major awards, it seems as if Verso had been ripe for delivery all along. But the baby—never planned for, awkwardly birthed—was, happily, adored and indulged upon arrival. And that’s the best origin story we can share.
Kristine Thayer is co-content strategist and project lead for Verso. A senior graphic designer specializing in nonprofit and corporate brands, Kris pulls a second shift as the co-founder of Pasta Zola restaurant in Eden Prairie, Minn.
Diane Richard, co-content strategist for Verso, has worked as a writer/editor at the MIA for a decade. An award-winning radio reporter, she also operates 2 below zero, a nonprofit dedicated to creating thoughtful, thought-provoking public media.