Remembering Your Visitor

If I asked you if you are putting your visitors at the center of your decision-making, you’d probably say yes. But that’s a lot easier said than done.

To drive home this point, AntennaLab hosted a Museums and the Web Workshop, demonstrating tangible ways to make the entire creation process about your museum’s most important people – the visitors! Led by Antenna’s Christine Murray and Alice Walker, and the IMA’s Emily Helmuth, the workshop first presented user-centric principles and how they are being implemented in the field. “We started by presenting ways to shift thinking toward a more User-Centric approach, and then gave them practical hands-on experiences that they could take back to their institutions,” explains Christine.

MWXX Workshop TwitterAlice continued, “To make sure the message is tailored to an audience, you have to put yourself in the shoes of your audience.  The number one message behind user-centric design is to actually speak to your visitors – at every stage of your decision-making.”  Emily took this idea to heart and had her participants go out into the conference hotel and talk to attendees, using an actual formative survey the IMA used for a recent exhibition.  “At the IMA, we ask visitors for their opinions throughout the exhibition development process – from exhibition ideas to what kinds of interpretive tools to develop - tech-based or not.  That’s what I had people do in the workshop.  They had to go out and survey strangers as practice.

This first-person information and/or “desk research” can be used to create user profiles that explore the type of person who is visiting your museum, a technique that Alice demonstrated with her participants.

Christine led her panelists in a journey mapping exercise in which participants wrote down every single step of their morning. They analyzed commonalities, touchpoints and painpoints, and made decisions about how they might have allocated resources and personnel based on direct-from-the-visitor input. Ever the idealist, she also encouraged her participants to be joyful, bold, and irreverent. But what Christine didn’t expect was a question about how this related to ‘sites of consciousness’.   She quickly added, “Irreverence is good, but it’s not the only way in. The end goal is to be relatable. There are other strategies to get you there, if humor is not appropriate for your museum.

So we followed up with the question asker, Elissa Frankle of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, who nonetheless had found the workshop to be very useful.

“At the museum, we are in the middle of making a new map and the team wanted to discuss the look of the icons, not the visitor needs. I had a realization that I had to do something about this and replicated the journey mapping exercise to simulate a visitor’s day. We’ve since realized that we need a lot more visitor research… Now, we are working on actually talking to our visitors. When we get the ‘office staff’ on the floor talking to visitors, it changes our entire process. It re-humanizes the visitors.”

At Antenna, we call this a great success!

- author