Last week I had the honour of having Seb Chan from the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney around. One of the things we did was drop by a number of museums in Amsterdam to see how they designed their audience experience, what was good about it, and what could have been better. This taught me a handful of useful things about audience engagement and interaction design I’d like to share.
Museums we visited were: the Tropenmuseum, the Amsterdam Historic Museum, NEMO, the public library, FOAM Fotography Museum, the Tassenmuseum. In addition I included the Hermitage which I visited alone.
1. Deliver what the visitor expects
Museums are basically boring. They’re not amusement parks and shouldn’t be. A lot of multimedia and interaction in museums does not convey the museum’s basic objective, which is to show beautiful artefacts. Therefore, as Seb noted, “most interaction in museums is like an action-packed trailer to a slow-moving French movie.”
The ‘Tassenmuseum’ (Bags Museum) is a small, privately held museum in Amsterdam with a predominantly elder female audience. They come to see beautiful bags and have tea. They come for the traditional museum experience. The Tassenmuseum delivers exactly this, with a very traditional exhibition approach and a comfortable café. The museum delivers what the visitor expects.
NEMO is a typical science centre. The second you walk into the museum, you hear and see kids running around. There’s lots of opportunity for them to engage with the installations and discover the fun side of science. That’s what parents expect when they take their kids to NEMO.
Interaction would be completely out of its place in the Tassenmuseum, whereas it’s a necessity in NEMO. The lesson: Use interaction only when the audience expects it.
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