Giving a DAMS about organizing cool stuff

February 10, 2015

Be inspired. Be inspiring. Design cool stuff. These are the foundations of our vision and mission here at Design Concepts.

As our company grows both in overall staff size and breadth of expertise and capabilities, we sometimes struggle with finding the cool stuff that we’ve designed over the years. And if you can’t find something, you certainly can’t be inspired by it!

Like most companies, we have a nicely organized network storage system with folders for projects and recordkeeping best practices that all 60-plus of us follow remarkably well. It is quick and easy to navigate to an item if you know what you’re looking for. The missing pieces in this folder structure environment are serendipity and inspiration. Searching by a keyword is difficult to say the least and browsing through frameworks, illustrations, graphics and other visual materials that live in these folders is basically impossible.

A multitude of digital asset management system (DAMS) solutions exist, and we did some investigation into purchasing one. However, during this investigation it became clear that a significant amount of time and effort are required for successful implementation. It also became clear that we weren’t quite sure exactly what we wanted out of a DAMS – identifying what content to include, determining who would be responsible for managing the content, and considering how it would interact with our existing network file structure were just some of the issues we faced. The project quickly became rather daunting. 

My department, Research and Strategy, decided to take on a piece of the DAMS challenge. We prototyped a solution for a small, tightly focused collection of materials. Many of our project deliverables are highly visual documents that we create in collaboration with our graphic and information design colleagues. Oftentimes, we find ourselves on a project thinking something like “the map that Vivian created last summer would be a great starting point for this,” or “I liked the way Stephanie laid out her user profiles on project … wait, what was the name of that project?”. We have pictures in our memories and no easy way to match those pictures up with documents. In order to make it easier to utilize the inspiration we find in each other’s work, we set out to design an improved searching and browsing solution for our cool stuff. 

Rapid prototyping with quick and easy tools allowed us to test out a solution without making a huge commitment.

I got together with Ken and Mark to create our Research Repository using a free, open-sourced web publishing platform called Omeka. While the two of them were busy with the back-end installation details, I worked with the Research and Strategy team to create a list of items to include in the repository. Then we set our department intern to work uploading representative images and creating descriptive records for each item in the repository.

We are four months in to our DAMS prototyping experiment, and overall we are very happy with the results. The top benefits are the ability to visually browse items in the repository and find similar or related items via clickable metadata. Several of the descriptive fields in each item’s record allow users to perform a new search with one click, for example on Creator – Leah Ujda, or Subject – Process Map, and display a new results list. This feature is great for facilitating discovery of new or unknown items.

The Research Repository turned into a way for us to practice what we preach in many ways. Rapid prototyping with quick and easy tools allowed us to test out a solution without making a huge commitment. An iterative design plan gave us freedom to start small and build upon our learnings as the project grows. Most importantly, we are able to make the inspiration that we find in each other’s work actionable. Now we can spend more brain time designing cool stuff and less time clicking through old project folders.  

— Written by Leah Ujda