Thursday, October 13, 2011

Catering for different visitor types

One of the presumptions we tend to make is that all visitors to museums require the same experience, but even casual observation shows this is patently not the case.

I blogged last year about work that the Dallas Museum of Art had been doing in seeking to understand their visitors better and had ended up dividing them into four categories, namely:

- Observers – those that stand back, having limited knowledge of art, preferring a guided experience
- Participants – those that enjoy learning and the social experience of being in museums and galleries
- Independents – those that are more confident with their knowledge and prefer independent viewing
- Enthusiasts – those who are confident, enthusiastic, knowledgeable and comfortable looking at art, and who are most likely to actively participate in museum programs and be members.

So it’s good to hear that the initiator of the study that resulted in these categories, Gail Davitt will be the key note speaker at a Museum and Gallery Services Queensland seminar on November 2nd at the University of Queensland Art Museum. Gail will discuss how the Dallas Museum of Art changed its institutional culture and enhanced audience engagement and learning, using qualitative questions to uncover how visitors engage with art as well as their comfort levels in looking at and talking about art.

It has prompted me to look at others that have looked at the same issue and a colleague has pointed me towards Beverly Serrell’s 1996 book Exhibit Labels: An Interpretive Approach, in which she identified three rather than four categories of visitors, namely:

- Streakers who move quickly through exhibitions, scanning for points of particular interest, but rarely lingering for long. Since they paylittle attention to details, they may form broad impressions or take in bold messages, or they may traverse an exhibition without being affected at all.
- Strollers who move more slowly, paying more attention or less at various places. They are exposed to many more basic messages, and they may pick up details here and there.
- Studiers who are conscientious and diligent exhibit visitors who move very slowly through a gallery, trying everything and reading all of the text. Studiers often linger at single exhibits for long periods of time.

Any given visitor may express different behaviours at various times, perhaps streaking through a gallery for orientation before selecting places to stroll or study, or streaking past some exhibits and stopping at other points of interest.

Where this has particularly contemporary relevance is the discussion about rich media. I have blogged recently on the issue of how this is not going to be about the technology but the quality of the rich media content, and the onus this is putting on curators. It is clear that this content cannot be homogenised to one visitor type but is going to have to offer an appropriate experience to different categories of visitors, however they may be defined.

Julian Bickersteth
Managing Director

1 comment:

  1. You may also like John Falk's latest book "Identity and the Museum Visitor Experience", he talks about the identities that visitors bring before they enter the museum - i.e. why they have come to the museum that day.