In conjunction with its renovation, the American History Museum has sponsored a staff development series, bringingÂ leading consultants, authors and thinkers to SI to challenge our paradigms about museum-going and our attitudes towardÂ an experience design strategy.
A few months ago, we heard from David Norton of Stone Mantel (gostonemantel.com), presenting research from the influential book, Experience Economy: WorkÂ is Theater and Every Business a Stage.Â For me, the most memorable point in that lecture was his asking the audience to reconsider â€˜in-betweenâ€™ places -Â how hallways, lobbies, cafeteria lines, elevators and bathrooms play, in many ways, as significant a role for meaningful experience as the galleries themselves.Â Where people gather, orient, chat and debate is as important a design concern as the exhibitions they came to see.
This week, SI staff were treated to a lecture by Paco Underhill, CEO and President of Envirosell, Inc. (envirosell.com) and author of Call of the MallÂ and Why We Buy.Â
He started with an acute observation – museum people assume that audiences know who we are and how to use us.Â But the idea of a museum was conceived over 100 years ago with a demographicÂ in mind that largely, doesnâ€™t exist anymore.Â In his words, â€œthe world is changing faster than you are.â€
He quoted statistics of which many are familiar :
– Less than 25% of American families look like the Cleaver household, with married parents & 2Â Â kidsÂ
– Audiencesâ€™ visual acuity is highly sharpened because of rapid technology changes
– Time is accelerated.Â People expect experiences to fit into a framework of accomplishment
– We are a nation of immigrants
– A museumâ€™s competition ranges from Animal Planet to Playstation 2 to ESPN Zone
With this in mind, he proceeded to ask poignant questions to probe these issues:
– What does family membership mean?Â Does that include grandma, cousins, the nanny?
– What are you doing for the divorced dad who has his kids only on weekends?
– Can a visitor find lunch at your museum for different price points – $7, $12, $18 ?Â to accommodate both a family, or a couple on vacation?
– How does the Apple store accomplish $200 impulse buys on a regular basis?
– Did you know that the ubiquitous MySpace.com suggests taking a first date to a museum? How are you reaching this audience?
– Can you rate museums in the same way that you do films?
– Can a visitor learn something new at your museum,Â AND get a margarita?Â Is that an appropriate question to ask?Â
– The newest tourists are those from emerging markets like Russia and China.Â How well canÂ you service them?
These questionsÂ and issues are not new.Â Â but being confronted with them again in such a pointed way reminded me of their relevance.Â His last challenge?
â€œIf it isnâ€™t fun, you shouldnâ€™t be here.Â If you canâ€™t make it fun, then why will your audience come back?â€Â