Iterative Design Made Our Back-End a STAR!


Friday, April 03, 2020: 4:30pm - 5:50pm -

Ethan Holda, Cleveland Museum of Art, United States, Jane Alexander, The Cleveland Museum of Art, USA

“Iterative design” is a term usually used to describe the cycle of refining prototypes for an outward-facing user experience. However, the principles of iterative design can be applied to great effect behind the technological scenes. By constantly improving your fundamental systems–which in the museum world are your DAMS and your CCMS–as well as adding, combining, and updating the back-end applications that interact with these fundamental systems, you can open up a broader world of possibilities for what can be done with your data and assets.

Currently, every outward facing digital element at CMA updates every 15 minutes. These updates come directly from our DAMS and CCMS, not a separate content source. This was the result of 8 years of iteration with the mandate that content should never be out-of-date, or any platform forgotten. The frequency of these updates and connection of all platforms had the complimentary effect of improving workflows in our curatorial and collection management departments. Content can be multi-purposed, and new or updated content can immediately be seen on our platforms.

This paper examines the timeline of back-end iteration at CMA. At critical points along the chronology of development, we will highlight our specific successes and failures, as well as lessons learned. We will show how we evolved from merely trying to replicate outdated, paper-based workflows digitally, to creating new and more efficient workflows facilitated by available technology. We will also show how aspects of our ArtLens Gallery and other outward-facing experiences were made possible by such an approach to our back-end.

The end result will illustrate a process for creating a flexible and fully integrated back-end system, and provide real-world justification for continuously iterating on back-end systems.

#MuseoDigitalMX (2017 : Mexico City), Jane Alexander, Fundación Telefónica (Madrid, Spain), and Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México. Museo Universitario Arte Contemporáneo. 2019. Museo Digital : Futuros Y Posibilidades = Digital Museum : Future and Posibilities. Edited by Luis Vargas Santiago and Amieva Mónica. Primera edición = First. Cuadernos Muac

Jane Alexander, Jeanne DeBonis, Andrea Bour, and Niki Krause
Presentation: “Big Picture Strategy”, MCN 2013,

Jane Alexander & Niki Krause,
Paper: “Migrating a Complex Museum Website from a Commercial CMS to Drupal”, MW 2013

Jane Alexander & Niki Krause,
Presentation: “Moving Ground Zero: Implementing Digital Strategy at the Cleveland Museum of Art” MW 2014

Elizabeth Bolander, Hannah Ridenour, and Claire Quimby, "Art Museum Digital Impact Evaluation Toolkit" The Cleveland Museum of Art, 2018