Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Museum Design: Just Let Me In!

When does a museum visit start? Some people might say, "after I pay my admission and enter the exhibit galleries."

However, there are two initial points of contact that come earlier for most visitors: your museum website and your admissions area.

Put yourself in your visitors' shoes and consider what are the simplest ways to complete the desired informational transactions? Are you making pretty nested webpages and slick (but slow-loading) Flash animations that are impossible to click past when most visitors just want hours, admissions, and directions?

Similarly, do your admissions prices, levels, and options make for quick and simple transactions, or just frustrate and annoy visitors, especially first time visitors?

The American Museum of Natural History in New York City is the all-time champ for confusing admissions prices and options, not to mention a crazily ineffective computer-based admissions system. For example, half of the computer terminals at one of their admissions areas are only for non-member transactions. So even if everyone in line is a member, three admissions personnel (on average) just stare into space or repeatedly tell annoyed members that "this computer is only for non-members."

Also members are supposed to receive free admission to special exhibitions --- except when the museum makes exceptions and charges extra for special exhibitions. Does this make for great customer satisfaction? Not in my case! After repeatedly running the AMNH admissions gantlet, I gave up and cancelled my family membership!

So think about the "visit" that starts before your visitors start enjoying the first of your exhibit spaces.


  1. Hi Paul -

    Great comments - and so important! Those first contacts between a museum and a visitor set the tone for the entire visit. If it is not made easy and pleasant (if not spectacular!), it affects the entire visit.

    We want museum visitors to come in to our museums and be wowed and amazed by the exhibits, programs, and what they learn. If they cannot run the gauntlet of admissions, how can we reach them effectively?

    I would love to hear about museums that have made the admissions procedure a fun part of the overall museum experience. I hear The Children's Museum of Indianapolis does a great job.

  2. Hi Susie,

    Indianapolis CM is good, as are Pittsburgh CM, The City Museum in St. Louis, and the Magic House CM in St. Louis also.

    In general, I think Children's Museum's are more attuned to creating a smooth entrance experience. (Probably because screaming/crying toddlers also do not create a good first impression!)