Seeking a Home on the Range

A very typical day in the lobby. Visitor liaison tries to help stem the tide of questions, but once one person is there asking...more follow.
A very typical day in the lobby. Visitor liaison tries to help stem the tide of questions, but once one person is there asking...more follow.

As summer draws to a close, so does our testing for the location of our ASK team. You may remember the results from our earlier testing in our pavilion and just off the lobby. For the remainder of the summer we've continued testing in locations throughout the building to learn how various spaces work.

Testing in the lobby proved to be an incredibly tough spot. In this location, the team was highly visible, but this visibility was confusing because visitors saw them as general information points. And the kind of information visitors were looking for included everything from, "Isn't there a zoo around here?" (referring to the Prospect Park Zoo) to "I need to sign up for the Bernie Sander's campaign." There was so much of this questioning going on, in fact, that it became difficult for the team to actually work and, in some cases, there were delays answering questions coming in via the app because interactions were proving to be too distracting. It should also be said that this working environment also included plenty of noise.

Simply put, this location proved to be too early in a visitor's trajectory for visitor to be aware that there is an app and who the ASK team is in relation to it. They need to hear about the app from the ticketing transaction and see the team as a second (or even third) point of contact for everything to really gel.

The sheer amount of traffic and pre-visit questions coming to the team necessitated the use of "staff workspace" signage. Normally, these signs are used only when desks are not occupied, but here the use has been adapted off the cuff.
The sheer amount of traffic and pre-visit questions coming to the team necessitated the use of "staff workspace" signage. Normally, these signs are used only when desks are not occupied, but here the use has been adapted off the cuff.

These findings do not necessarily mean the ASK team won't eventually end up in the lobby, but they do help us figure out what that presence would need to be more like in order to be more successful. A full marketing plan at the entry could help the awareness factor, so the team becomes a second point of contact even at this early stage. Also, a "glass box" with planned interaction time a la Southbank Center could also work in this location helping allow the team to get their work done. The planned interaction time would become key, though, in keeping with the project's engagement goals (something Southbank did well through meetups and other scheduled interventions).

One big thing the lobby testing has taught us? Even with traffic patterns that now have much better clarity, the human presence is still something people really crave. We need to do some thinking here about the greeting process especially in light of how to work with our new information desk, which is part of the Situ Studio designed furniture set; our visitors services area is on this one.

We also tested team location in the galleries and some of the findings here have proven interesting. How close should the team be to works of art? How best to handle directional questions? When in the visit is the public most responsive to the team's presence?—all of these questions are things we've been evaluating in this series of moves.

Testing in Connecting Cultures where the team was more embedded in and among the works of art.
Testing in Connecting Cultures where the team was more embedded in and among the works of art.

The team was placed in our Connecting Cultures exhibition located on our first floor; this location is post-ticketing, but fairly early in a visit because this is considered an introduction to the Museum's collection where some visitors begin their visit. Testing here was a little complicated due to construction in the area, which created a considerable amount of noise (the team requested ear plugs at one point). Construction also didn't help us much because it closed off exits, so many visitors would get in the space and some of the questions they had for the team were directional along the lines of, "Now how do I get out of here?" Interestingly, we don't get many of these directional queries when people are using the app itself and that's great, but we ideally want the team in a location that can foster in-person conversations about art. This space proved interesting because once the team was embedded in the exhibition, the conversations about art were on the rise. In the data collected the construction seemed to cause an imbalance of directional questions, but this tide would likely be stemmed once the space was fully restored to its normal state.

Testing in our forth floor elevator lobby where the team presence is more cohesive as a unit, there's proximity to works of art, but the space is also transitional.
Testing in our forth floor elevator lobby where the team presence is more cohesive as a unit, there's proximity to works of art, but the space is also transitional.

Our next testing (going on now) has involved our elevator lobbies on the fourth and fifth floors. These are small spaces, so the team has a concentrated visible presence. These spaces are used for small exhibitions and/or have works installed, but they are also transitional in that most people passing through them are on their way somewhere. Both spaces are in a direct traffic line to special exhibitions. The fifth floor is unique in that most people start their visit on the fifth floor and start to work their way down the building, so the team in the fifth floor elevator lobby is earlier in a visit. The fourth floor elevator lobby is still in the traffic line, but more of a mid-way point in someone's visit.

Fourth floor testing showed us that being in the middle of a visit pattern may be very beneficial. In this location, people seem more ready to talk about art and the team's presence is more recognized because in-building marketing prior to this point helps with the connection. In one recent interaction, I watched as someone stepped off the elevator quickly making her way through the space. She spotted the team and you could see the lightbulb go off—"Oh, you're the one answering questions in the app? The answers are so great. Thank you so much." This is exactly the kind of thing we hope to see with the team being so accessible.

We're still testing these areas more fully, but there are some things we know already that will help us in our quest to find an appropriate home for this team:

  • Proximity to art helps drives art-related conversations.
  • Discovery of the team mid-visit helps recognition.
  • Transition spaces might be a good fit if the team is not overwhelmed with directional questions.
  • Directional questions are an inevitable part of being on the floor, so being in a space where it's easy to give instructions—Bathroom? ....Take the elevator down one flight. Basquiat exhibition? ...Right down this hall.—helps put us in a position where we can at least quickly answer with minimal distraction.

During all of this testing, one thing has remained a constant. While the visibility of the ASK Team is important for the engagement goals of the program, their very presence does not seem to change our app's usage numbers, so seeing the team at work does not necessarily help advertise the program.

As summer closes we've got a lot more to work with and we'll begin some internal discussions about where this team might eventually land. This will, of course, involve many more factors because we have to take the learnings and align them with the most important thing of all—institutional goals.