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Audience first exhibition and experience

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Presented at MGA Melbourne 2018
Paul Bowers, ACMI and Beth Hise, Sydney Living Museums

Published in: Government & Nonprofit
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Audience first exhibition and experience

  1. 1. Audience First - how? Beth Hise, Sydney Living Museums Paul Bowers, ACMI @BethHise @paulrbowers We’re talking about experience making for audiences. Our guiding stars... ● Purpose for actual visitors is more important than expert opinions ● Audience and story first, then objects. And emotions are more important than facts ● Working within money, time and people are part of every project - it’s never perfect ● Everything else matters - but everything else isn’t our topic for today ● There’s a load of work that isn’t design ...there’s still time to find another session if this doesn’t sing to you With some notes post-preso added in green Museums and Galleries Australia Conference, Melbourne, 2018
  2. 2. Today ● We will... ○ Reflect on how we, as interpreters and experience makers, understand audience ○ Outline practical approaches to audience-first experience making ○ Give you some time to briefly try these tools to see how you might apply them to your museum, gallery or heritage site ○ Reflect on our differences, borne from our different experiences in the sector ● We won’t ○ Tell you how to do audience research. ○ Give you case studies and extended specific project descriptions.
  3. 3. How do we start to think about doing this? Visitors are transformed by their experience of [the thing we’re making] - our goal is to make that transformation effective and life-enhancing. We do that by working out: ● who these visitors are ● their ‘before’ state ● the desired ‘after’ state We may consider what is and isn’t working about a current offer: ● reflect on original concept - its aims and outcomes - and the thing that exists ● identify what’s poor about the visitor experience Then, we bring to bear all our assets and talent, and making something new that works to transform visitors to the ‘after’ state.
  4. 4. First, know your audience ● Most importantly: you are not your audience ● Think about and define your visitors – a subset of all possible visitors ● Think about motivations - what are the ‘identity based’ reasons people are coming The secret here is to recognise, own and celebrate that your audience is different to you. Love that.
  5. 5. Choose your audience and stick to it The fastest path to mediocrity is trying to be everything to everyone Clear segments / identities of audiences - crucially: ● Targeted: this is who we are making this for, who we will assess our success against ● Welcome: Come, you’re welcome, but if you don’t like it and learn from it we won’t weep This requires institutional bravery. It’s ok to say ‘this isn’t for [X]’.
  6. 6. Everyone can know their audience Large institutions can do extensive audience studies. But it isn’t essential to do these to glean some knowledge about who is using your institution ● Simple exit surveys ● Visitor services and commercial staff ● Websites eg TripAdvisor ● Volunteers ● Members ● Complaints – but scale to the number of actual visitors ● Work in your café for a day and eavesdrop!
  7. 7. Know your story, and your style ● There are lifetimes of knowledge in books, people… that isn’t a story ● What is the inherent meaning in your [building, collection...] ● What are your feelings? Sombre, reflective, passionate, thoughtful…? ● What’s your style, your flavor? ● Write down all the words. Describe, again and again. ...boil this down to one sentence. Less than 30 words. Make them great, you will speak them to strangers in your dreams THIS IS THE HARDEST PART. SPEND TIME ON IT
  8. 8. Write 30 words Thinking about your project, organisation, site, museum… Have a go at writing the magic single sentence. Reflect on the ways in which you are finding this easy… or hard…?
  9. 9. Interpretation/experience planning level 1 Phrase stuff you know as questions that you’ll try to answer: ● Who lived here? ● What’s this animal? This might be as far as your org is willing to go. That’s OK. Better than not doing it
  10. 10. Interpretation/experience planning level 2 Shape your story into key messages: ● This house was built in 1876 ● This animal is an anteater
  11. 11. Interpretation/experience planning level 3 Genuine audience focus requires audience-framed outcomes. Ask How is the visitor transformed by their experience? ● Cognitive – knowing, understanding ● Affective – feeling ● Social – belonging ● Visitors will know the house was built in 1876 ● Visitors will discover the animal is an anteater
  12. 12. Using outcomes ● Cognitive – knowing, understanding ● Affective – feeling ● Social – belonging Visitors will know the house was built in 1876 Visitors will feel surprised by the age of the house Visitors will feel a sense of community continuity in the house’s longevity note – these could all be the intended meanings of the key message from the last slide – outcomes give clarity the key messages do not
  13. 13. Have a go at writing some outcomes for your project ● Cognitive – knowing, understanding ● Affective – feeling ● Social – belonging Watch out for… ● Too wordy, repetitive, general ● Focus on the audience outcome not the institutional KPI ● Unreasonable or unfeasible ● A mismatch with the key audience or theme or asset ● Jumps ahead to the HOW ● Reads like study notes or a draft version, or contains academese or jargon
  14. 14. Use these to bring clarity to your outcomes – what *exact* emotion are you trying to elicit?
  15. 15. Now work to make this real ● Your outcomes and audiences are done and aligned with each other ● Design touchstones - images, dos and don’ts ● Narrative and plot ● Character ● Assets – the objects/building/landscape etc that you have or will make ● Chunk these into ‘chapters’ and lay them out on a page – work across documents and drawings. Post-its on a wall are best!
  16. 16. A working wall at ACMI last week. Work spatially, not in Word documents!
  17. 17. Turning this into experience Your key messages / outcomes Narrative, character and plot Assets - objects, space, sounds, images… Ideas, inspiration... Interpretive plan (or, concept brief, curatorial strategy, content approach...) Designs… ...craft skills ...makers …….delivery Talk Draw Workshop Write Listen Walk by the river Talk Prototyping Testing Formative evaluation
  18. 18. Project development - level up... Evaluate ● Research audience preconceptions and prior knowledge ● Review existing visitor evaluations - your org, others like you Prototype and test ● Make something (words, pictures, wheel an object into your cafe) ● Ask visitors questions. Chat. Listen. Remember, your visitor services, commercial and programming staff are are great source of guidance. And TripAdvisor!
  19. 19. Visitor research is no use in a binder on a shelf. Put it up on the wall – make it a presence in the team conversations
  20. 20. Project development - level up... Shape better conversations – use your audience segments to critique your project as a team. This one is by John Falk, others work too. ● Explorers–motivated by personal curiosity (i.e. browsers) ● Facilitators–motivated by other people and their needs (i.e. a parent bringing a child) ● Experience-Seekers–motivated by the desire to see and experience a place (i.e. tourists) ● Professional/Hobbyists–motivated by specific knowledge-related goals (i.e. a scholar researching a specific topic) ● Rechargers–motivated by a desire for a contemplative or restorative experience
  21. 21. Managing teams through this All the usual great stuff about people and project management. And... ● Doesn’t matter if internal or external - just different contract structures. Get who you need ● Projects aren’t ordinary operations ● Core team (the 3-4 in the centre) is not everyone ● Unite behind purpose (my role in delivering this purpose is to…) ● Get out and be visitors in other places as a team. Talk about what you’re experiencing
  22. 22. Once it’s done… ● Brief preen ● then realise …no it isn’t – it’s never done. Every visitor is the first visitor. ● Immediate operational improvements - you’ve planned to do these. Your visitor service staff will tell you! ● Get some distance from it and test how it’s going. Listen to visitor’s conversations, and at best do formal evaluation Lessons for next project - for individuals and for the org
  23. 23. Tips and tricks ● Peer review - built a critical friend network inside or outside your org ● Ask your mum (uncle, sister, cab driver...) ● Pre-mortems ● Make it real, real early: ○ Write a postcard from the finished exhibition ○ Write the press release ○ Design the marketing poster ○ Get someone to interview you about your exhibition ○ Write the ‘purple ink’ letter to the CEO, why the exhibition was awful
  24. 24. Different parts of the org will be in a different place on here – that’s fine. We’re diverse. Just know where you want this project to be…
  25. 25. Wrap up ● Know your story and own it, be articulate about who you are and why you matter ... then extend, amplify, imagine who you want to be ● Be innovative. Think about and be open to new ways to tell your stories in ways that work for your audience and are sustainable for you. ● Be audience focused... not audience led. Listen to the way they see you, use your site, consume stories and be flexible. ● Old isn't always bad – keep/update what is good, keep fixing what isn’t working. Even small changes can be surprisingly effective. ● Be inspired ... but don’t copy. Form follows content. Find your stories, what makes you stand out then find the right interpretive techniques to tell them.
  26. 26. Useful resources Identity and the Museum Visitor Experience, John Falk Defining, Planning and Measuring a Life-Enhancing Experience, Science Museum Group UK 2009 ACMI Labs post on prototyping in the development of Wonderland MHM Culture segments
  27. 27. Some responses from twitter during our session

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