Well Thought-out Design
I once owned a SUV that really impressed me from a design standpoint. You might think this is laughable, but the one thing that surprised me the most about the vehicle was the amount of thought which went into the headlight replacement. Yes, I said the headlight replacement. (more…)
Do you get frustrated by how much time it takes to complete a project when you have hired a firm to plan/design and fabricate it for you? Are you surprised by the amount of involvement it takes on your end? Our clients are highly involved in our projects. Sometimes it is difficult for them to manage their day job and answer lots of questions throughout the project. We attempt to coach our clients on their needed involvement up front, yet it might be helpful for you to learn why your input is so important and why we often want it quickly.
If you were building a home would you want your contractor to pick everything from the towel colors in your bathroom to the type of kitchen sink you wanted? I imagine most people would want some involvement in the things that go in their home. Well, when you build an exhibit or environment you will want to make sure the team gets it right, too.
Why last minute decisions take more time and are rushed:
In a design/production shop we are often battling keeping our artists and craftsmen moving steadily forward on a project. Delays kill our scheduling and productivity. If someone was scheduled to paint a Tanager (bird model) and all of a sudden there is a question on the exact coloring, then that artist is dead in the water. Often it is difficult to then quickly shift them to another job if that is what was previously scheduled for that week. If they do not have project work to work on then they are not producing income, which in turn pays for their paycheck. If they are sweeping floors instead we do not get paid for that. Therefore, it is critical for our management team to keep our team working on project work.
Often, if we do not have this critical detailed information and the work has a deadline, a project manager may ask you to make the decision very quickly. We know this can be frustrating in your busy schedules, too. If production stops and starts it also takes many more hours to produce the same piece. There is clean up, tool and material assembly, momentum of work progress and much more that can affect the speed of completing a piece of work if it is stopped in the middle of production.
Why preplanning and approvals of reference materials are very critical to saving time in the long run:
During the design phase and preproduction phase of a project we ask our clients to approve things like reference photos (which would show the color of the Tanager for example), poses, sizes, dimensions and all around approval of all components in an exhibit. If these are approved at an early stage, then work can be planned and production does not stop. If a client later on says the original reference photos, which they approved, are not accurate, hiccups occur. Given that much of our work needs to be absolutely scientifically accurate, it is inevitable that things will change as we are producing them. This is why we ask our clients to visit periodically during the fabrication phase. The earlier we catch it the better.
Our clients want the work to be accurate and their input is often critical to this success. We recently had a client who walked the shop floor with a ruler measuring the beaks of the bird models that were being sculpted. We had to change a few to make sure they were absolutely right on. This is why client involvement is critical every step of the way. We are also improving the references we provide ahead of time to make sure we take less of the client’s time. Your critical eye when approving these photos, references and drawings can save time, money and frustration as the project progresses.
What kind of company do you want to work with? What traits would that company have? Have you ever hired someone to work on your home and were disappointed in their service, quality or integrity? I have many of these stories. I once used a plumber who also did some electrical work. I worked with this plumber for years, giving him lots of business in running air lines in our fabrication shop to fixing plumbing issues at my home. Over time I began to hear stories about their lack of integrity. Then it hit me personally and I was lied to and taken advantage of. I will never use this plumber again and will encourage others not to. There was a cost to not doing my due diligence in hiring the right firm.
Then there is the myriad of people I’ve attempted to hire at my farm who don’t show up, who take lots of phone calls to get the work done, who break things and don’t claim it, who throw trash in my woods, etc. It can be very frustrating to find the right people to work with. Do you have any of these stories? Is price more important to you or would you rather have a reputable partner that will probably cost you less in the long run?
Here are the traits we look for when hiring subcontractors or partners.
- Quality reputation and portfolio of work – will the company back their work?
- Good financial practices, including having the proper insurance and accounting practices.
- Excellent project management practices. Will they be on time? Do they have good communication practices? Will they fill out the proper paperwork?
- It’s an added plus if they are passionate about what they do.
- And are they fun? Not a requirement, but sure makes it more pleasurable.
We prequalify all our subcontractors before considering bringing them onto our team. This is one form we use to decide whether they qualify as someone we would hire. We now have an excellent group of partners to bring on the team who have these traits.
We also practice what we preach and offer all these things to our clients. Plus we back our reputation with a five year warranty. We build unique stuff that often has cranky dos (what I call our mechanical interactives) that will have lots of public interaction. We don’t have centuries of testing opportunities like your car company. Therefore, occasionally we have to fix something that didn’t work as planned. We do this on our dime. Imagine how much it would cost you if your company charged you to fly across the country to fix what they built? This could be a savings of tens of thousands of dollars.
What do you look for when hiring a service provider, contractor or designer?
Today’s guest blogger is Rick Riccio. Rick is the owner of Riccio Exhibit Services and is now in his 18th year of teaching History Museum Exhibits to graduate students in the Historical Administration (HA) Program at Eastern Illinois University. He has worked on museum exhibitions in one manner or another since 1974. Each of the exhibitions with which he has been involved has had its unique challenges and problems to solve. Rick has guest blogged for us before. You can read his previous posts regarding the process he guides his students through so they understand what is involved when creating exhibits here and here.
After just reading “No Place like Home” by Dan Erickson in the Jan./Feb. 2013 issue of Museum, I feel compelled to respond. Having been on exhibit staffs of museums myself, I agree with him that museums should not eliminate exhibit staff positions. But his reasons pit for-profit companies against in-house staff, which I think misrepresents both. His main argument for producing exhibits in-house instead of outsourcing is the issue of “quality.” In-house staff, he argues, can produce better quality exhibits than commercial firms for two reasons; one, exhibit companies need to make a profit and two, museums (and their staff) have better access to specimens and information. Erickson has worked for both commercial firms and a university museum. When tasked with making a small prehistoric shark model with the commercial firm, he was given basic book illustrations and two weeks to complete the project. Asked to produce a similar model as the university museum employee, he accessed fossil references at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History (CMNH), consulted with the vertebrate fossil curator there, and invested a couple hundred hours on the project. The problem with this comparison is that same information at the CMNH is available to anyone with a serious research project. You don’t have to be a member of a university museum staff. Furthermore, if a design company were only interested in the profit margin, they wouldn’t stay in business for long. There are good reasons for choosing to produce exhibits or some exhibit components in-house, but the main reasons lie with the particular skill sets of your staff, and any exhibit manager should know what her staff is capable of accomplishing in-house and what tasks need to be out-sourced. Even commercial firms are more qualified for certain exhibit services than others. If a shark model is needed, go to those firms skilled in that kind of exhibit fabrication. There may be exhibit firms out there that don’t work closely with museum staff, but that is not typical of the industry. Most museum staff would feel insulted at the least, if they were not closely involved in the exhibit development process.
Museum staff should, as Erickson points out, share their expertise with other institutions, but this arena of cooperative engagement is not limited to museum staff. Just look at posts on listservs like the one NAME hosts, and you will see that solutions to problems come from exhibitors in both the non-profit and for-profit worlds. Exhibit firms want to develop long-term relationships with their clients. My firm created epoxy resin Indian house models for a state historical society so they could distribute them to their historic sites. We then gave the molds to the museum and instructed their exhibit staff how to make additional casts if they desired.
I agree with the author that museum exhibit staff are underutilized at many museums, and he offers creative ways that other departments can tap their varied skills. But the in-house vs. outsource issue is not an either/or proposition. They are two sides of the same coin, and museums are better served when the option for either choice is kept open.