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Interview with Emily Lytle-Painter of the J. Paul Getty Museum

For this post, I spoke with Emily Lytle-Painter, the education technologist at the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles and the woman behind @MuseumofEmily on Twitter. Emily was an enthusiastic participant in a design thinking workshop at the Getty this past summer, and I wanted to check in with her to hear how things were going.


Emily tests a prototype at the J. Paul Getty Villa.

Q: Can you tell us how you’re incorporating some of the mindsets and methodologies of design thinking into your work at the Museum?

A: For me, it’s not possible to overhaul every process already in place, so I have been trying to implement different parts of the design thinking process independently to stimulate new conversations and new ways of approaching our work. I’m focusing on four practices I think can happen relatively easily and have a deep impact:

  1. Collaborative brainstorming sessions
  2. Concept prototyping
  3. Talking and testing with visitors in the galleries
  4. Changing the environment

I started with brainstorming, bringing different groups from my department together for open discussion. I had my colleagues ask “How might we…?” questions to frame problems, then we selected a few of those to brainstorm around. During the brainstorm, I encouraged the teams to use the “Yes, and…” technique from improv theatre, to build additive, imaginative solutions. People took it quite literally in the beginning, but I really think there was a palpable change when people know their ideas will be welcomed!

Q:  What’s next after your experiments with brainstorming?

Next up is the practice of prototyping. I’m incorporating it into some ongoing projects, and think of ways to use it quickly and efficiently in day-to-day work at the Getty. And because I work in technology, I’m also looking for ways to prototype digital things that don’t sound easily prototype-able, like websites. So, for example, how might we prototype concepts for an online teacher workshop?

Q: Tell me more about how you are thinking about space and your environment?

A: I want to get my colleagues out of the conference room! I’m starting to hold meetings in other spaces, like the gardens and galleries. By changing up our space, I think we become more open to new ways of thinking and working. And in another (upcoming brainstorming) meeting, I’m going to arrange the chairs differently to encourage better interaction.

Q: What have been your biggest lessons learned as you introduce new ways of working?

A: Well, it’s always difficult to introduce change (especially when you are not in a leadership role), so I’m taking baby steps. For me, it’s good to remember that I’m not going to change my entire institution. So I’m focusing on small areas where I can have an impact. My biggest lesson is that you don’t need to make innovation an institution-wide initiative; you can start small and under-the-radar.

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