A series of internal meetings got us set on the path for this project, but we wanted to test it with our visitors. To do this, we adopted agile planning methodology that relies on pilot projects as learning tools for iteration and further testing.
Our first pilot project zeroed-in on the idea of guidance—where and what kinds of non-directional guidance do visitor want? We stationed staff throughout the permanent collection galleries to spend time with our visitors, answering questions and having discussions. We learned:
- Our visitors are generally quite chatty throughout the building and they’re talking about art—both with each other and with the hosts.
- Over half of gallery host interactions were between 1-5 minutes in length, indicating a deep level of engagement.
- The kind of guidance sought was often about what else to see in the Museum.
- Personal attention via hosts was very well received and clearly something visitors want.
We had enough interest in the recommendation idea, that we ran our next pilot to explore it further—do visitors want recommendations? We stationed staff in the permanent collection who offered visitors a recommendation based on pre-selected objects. Visitors were then given a handout with a connected recommendation object in another collection (selected by curators). Overall, this pilot was an extremely valuable failure:
- The term “recommendation” was confusing to many people and also too definitive.
- Personal attention with hosts was key and well-received, but prepared responses could not provide the depth of information nor the personalization that visitors were seeking.
- Visitors questioned the reasoning behind the recommendations and wondered why it applied to them.
In a nutshell, if you say to our visitors “you like x, we think you’ll like y,” and x and y are preselected, they’re going to call you out. They want recommendations, but those recommendations need to be wholly dynamic and personal—the kind of recommendations you get through conversation. This was a major eye-opener for us. If we hadn’t had this epic fail, we would not be on the path we are today, which Shelley will explain in her next post.