Art Gallery of NSW - interior
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Art galleries and surveys: 2 things I dig

I’ll admit: I’m like a moth to a flame when it comes to surveys. Send me a survey about art and art galleries — ONLY two of my favourite topics of like — and that’s like a moth to an INFERNO. Wrong analogy now, but the point is: I just filled out a survey from the Art Gallery of NSW by Pollinate, and it was the most fun I’ve had filling out a survey ever.

I’ll never see the results of that survey, or what I typed in again, so I just wanted to preserve a couple of things I wrote here.

Why do I like the Art Gallery of NSW?

It’s hard to overstate how much I appreciate AGNSW as a place of reflection, mental and emotional refilling-of-the-tanks refreshment.

I use it as a place to teach my kids about art, and the issues that art and artists bring to the fore. We’ve worked out a lovely routine where I can stand for ages in front of some paintings in an exhibition, and my wife and kids can go through at an — ahem — faster pace, and then I meet them in your café afterward. It’s an all-round relaxing and harmonious experience.

It is noisy, clashy, quiet, calm, fresh, ancient, exotic, familiar… all in the right amounts.

I regularly stand in front of the Arthur Streetons and Sydney Longs, and worship them. I walk amongst the works of art in that section and feel like I’m among friends. There’s dusty greens and parched desaturated fuchsias that quite honestly are like a litre of guarana to my core.

I’m a painter myself, and I regularly go for inspiration, challenging and learning. Each time I want to get into a new area of art — like Asian art, for example — I find that AGNSW has it covered in some way. So your gallery is like my brain laid out in a physical space: there are some parts that have a lot of my foot traffic, and other parts I’ve really yet to discover.

And isn’t that like all of our brains, really?

Ideas for making me come back to the gallery more often?

  • Be open more in the evening
  • One-off painting/drawing/sketching/sculpture/calligraphy/etc how-to technique classes
  • One-off art theory classes, about specific topics/periods/hot issues, e.g. the Big Milk Crate got excoriated in the media, so how about an evening that educates about modern art thinking in sculpture that would have lead to that work?
  • A cruisy evening bar to meet friends at for a drink amongst a rotating collection of salon-style artwork. You could even have theme nights, like French fin de siecle or 40s New York
  • Roaming ‘art experts’, maybe even with an approachable tag on them, to ask questions about artworks. I know there’s a lot of staff around, but they seem to be there to only make sure noone does anything stupid.
  • Pop-up kids activity spots, just like the Chinese New Year monkey craft thing you had, that was awesome
  • Have ‘real live artists’ at work that people can gather around and watch. Watching art in the making is absolutely bewitching and accessible at the same time.
  • The kids’ activity books for specific exhibitions are great; having ‘adult’ versions for the regular exhibitions would be brilliant
  • Have pop-up stands that relate modern topical hot issues to the artwork around them, e.g. imagine having something that draws attention to 19th/early 20th century Australian artists’ (I’m thinking Heidelberg here) appreciation for the Australian landscape contrasted with images of mining companies’ maps of similar places marking out possible deposits of coal/etc to go and frack. It’s not trying to take a moral position, but it’s using different imagery to portray different people’s assessment of value. I’ll stop now… this is getting into the sort of stuff *I* like to create ;)


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Creativity activity: letterscouting

Here’s a simple, fun and effective activity to try if you’re after a quick way to stimulate creativity: letterscouting. You can try this by yourself or in a team, and the results can be really surprising.

All you need is a camera phone. OK, you could use any type of camera, but there’s something about the quick convenience of a camera phone that lends itself to this sort of activity. The point of this activity is not to produce perfect photos but to stimulate creative observation of the world around us and looking/thinking at/of familiar things in new ways.

Here’s what to do:

  1. Set yourself – or your team – a time limit. 5 minutes is plenty.
  2. Roam around and take a photo of something that looks like each letter of your name. So if your name is Ben (like mine), you should end up with 3 photos – one that looks like a B, one that looks like an E, and one an N. Of course you can take photos of letters in signage, graffiti, and so on, but you get extra points (read creative satisfaction) if you can find letters in real-world objects and their placement.
  3. Come back together again and share the results.

You might want to then compile them and put them somewhere to share. They look really cool put together as your name, and even cooler as a group of names. And unless you happen to have a really long name, you may need more than 5 minutes… but the idea is to not look for the perfect photo, just anything that looks reasonably like letters.

I did this activity with my team at Digital Eskimo, at the end of our team meeting, and it was pretty fun. Here’s mine:

A set of photos of real-world objects that go together to make my name, Ben

… and here’s a couple more:

Photos of real-world objects that string together to look like the name STEPHEN

Photos of real-world objects that string together to look like the name YVONNE

So try it! Who knows, maybe we should start a Tumblr blog or Pinterest board for this sort of thing. If you know of one, or want to start one, please let me know.

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A new project management measurement: the role landscape

I may have just stumbled across a new way of looking at project/resource information: the role landscape. When you need to see a single role’s workload over the lifetime of a project, this is the model to reach for.

As a resources manager and project manager (among other hats), I spend my working life staring at MS Project task lists and Gantt charts, and other project management tools and documents, such as PRINCE2 boxes-and-arrows charts, time-tracking reports, QA logs, risk logs, and time/cost budgeting spreadsheets. I need a lie-down just looking at that list.

There are loads of project management and time-tracking tools and online applications out there (Basecamp and Harvest being favourites), but not much available for resource management, to solve issues like:

  • Managing the distribution of several team members’ workloads over several projects
  • Seeing what team member has any free time in any given week

Yes, you can use the resources stuff with MS Project, but it’s hard to get a sense of how different roles’ workloads relate to each other over time, rather than just as a single snapshot. I’ve yet to find an elegant visualisation of project data and resource data.

Enter the Role Landscape (using capitals for effect – impressed?).

What’s a role landscape?

The role landscape is a model that plots the amount of time spent per day on a project, over the lifetime of the project, per role (see below). You can also chunk the duration into the project phases. The rough example below shows a column chart of daily time-blocks for a Business Analyst role over six (generalised) phases of a web application development project.

A rough example of a role landscape as a column chart

Now stay with me on this: using either the column chart or line chart, you can easily visualise areas of high workload versus low/ambient workload. The peaks indicate when that role is flat out; the flat areas are where you hope they’re involved in other work at those times. By changing the columns/lines to a curved line (the example below again uses a Business Analyst as an example role), you get a true sense of a ‘landscape’ appearing.

A second example of a role landscape, using a curved line plot

Taking it further

This model becomes more useful when several roles are plotted at once (below). At a glance you can see workload relationships areas of high activity across multiple roles (or team members for that matter). When there’s combined peaks (or overlaps) like this, you know that there are going to be more meetings, more emails and phone calls, and more versioning of project assets (requirements documents, reports, code, you name it). Seeing these patterns allows you to anticipate — and plan for — these times of increased activity and stress in a project.

A third example of a role landscape, showing an overaly of three roles: Business Analyst, Senior Developer and Senior Designer

A few notes of the rough example above:

  • The Senior Developer gets no down-time for a long time; if this always happens, then this should ring some resourcing/team management alarm bells
  • The multiple green peaks of the Senior Designer landscape within the Senior Developer landscape represent the two working together to solve design/development issues; this can either be a regular structured scheduled scrum-like interaction, or ad-hoc
  • I threw in the last peak in the Launch phase because there’s always some mad scramble right before the big green ‘go’ button is pressed
  • Of course the designer and developer are going to be working more than 8 hours a day ;)

Rolling your own role landscapes

So how can you derive this sort of data to make your own role landscapes? Any time-tracking application worth its name should be able to give you the amount of time per day per resource; it’s then just a matter of importing it to Excel (or similar) and charting it. For online solutions, there’s a lot out there already for coding charts in X/HTML and CSS, as well as using Google Charts API.