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The Emotion-Based Museum Experience

The Emotion-Based Museum Experience

 

The IAAPA Expo 2019 Museum Day Session on The Emotion-Based Museum Experience was an opportunity to reflect on a design process that comes naturally to us at PGAV Destinations. Our focus is the visitor and our designs engage the visitor in interesting, surprising, and compelling ways. There are three basic ideas that made up the premise of the IAAPA presentation: Preparing the visitor emotionally, the impact of those emotions and learning, and how storytelling can engage the mind and make experiences more memorable.

In this post, I will explore the different aspects of the role of emotions how to and plan for emotions in museum experiences.

 

The Who and The Why

I have always appreciated the PGAV perspective on understanding museum visitors. We all bring our own experiences to the table to discuss and consider how to improve our process in designing museums. Empathy is a word spoken often in our offices. In fact, it is part of our overarching design philosophy. You must have empathy for the visitor and creativity to achieve design. We believe in always considering the visitor in our planning, because, without the visitor, would we even have museums? Just as Osman’s University of Cincinnati thesis described, our research has always considered the “who;” demographic information, learning styles, and behavior. In our yearly Voice of the Visitor publication, our respondents are members of Generation Z, Leading and Trailing Millennials, Generation Y, Baby Boomers, and Matures.

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Age is not the only consideration in our research, but other demographic information such as gender, race, ethnicity, and income are also analyzed. Whether it is four, seven, or eight learning styles, we discuss, consider, and research information to understand and respond to those styles. One of our favorite planning considerations comes in behavioral response in the visitors’ interaction with the museum experience. This behavior can happen at all levels, from the overall physical experience to reading text panels. Landslide Creative’s Skimmers, Swimmers, and Divers is one of the great descriptions of visitor behavior in museums, where Skimmers are the headline readers, Swimmers are willing to go a bit deeper, and Divers take the deep-dive to get the full story.

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Learning as much as we can about visitors, we must also understand why visitors have made the choice to visit. This is the “why.” Visitor emotions frame the reasoning for visitation. We must consider those emotions to help achieve the visitors’ expectations. John H. Falk describes that deeply felt, emotion-laden expectations not only get people to visit museums, they ultimately drive the visit and long-term memories of the visit. Recently, John Falk argued that museum visitors should be categorized based on their identity-related needs or the purpose of their visit. He argues that demographics barely give insights about visitors’ needs and what they expect from a visit. As Osman describes, the important question to ask is why people go to a museum rather than who is going. Delivering the experience based on the emotional framework and needs of the visitor allows us to make deeper connections with the visitor.

 

Emotional Preparation – What Is The Visitor Hierarchy of Needs?

I will present the importance of emotionally preparing the visitor for their museum experience and to receive the information presented.

At PGAV, our focus is the visitor, and our designs engage the visitor in interesting, surprising, and compelling ways. There are three basic ideas that made up the premise of the IAAPA 2019 Session presentation on the Emotion Based Museum Experience: Preparing the Visitor Emotionally, the impact of those emotions and learning, and how storytelling can engage the mind and make experiences more memorable.

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is a motivational theory in psychology comprising a five-tier model of human needs, often depicted as hierarchical levels within a pyramid. Needs lower down in the hierarchy must be satisfied before individuals can attend to needs higher up. From the bottom of the hierarchy upwards, the needs are physiological, safety, love and belonging, esteem, and self-actualization. Adapting this model for attraction visitors, we believe we must satisfy visitors’ very basic needs before they are ready to accept more complex information. If visitors are distracted with finding the ticket booth, looking for a restroom, not understanding where to go, they are certainly not emotionally prepared to digest extensive subject matter. Considering the climb up Maslow’s pyramid has allowed us to create our own version of the Visitor’s Hierarchy of Needs.

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Understanding how to plan for visitors’ emotions allows us to create design solutions that work with and for the visitor. In this respect we create physical spaces with purpose and impact, not for the sake of architecture or simply to fulfill the program. The sequence of experience is organized to provide visitors clarity, an understanding of how to navigate, with our understanding of the visitor emotions at each point in the process. The ultimate goal of all projects is for visitors to reach the top of the pyramid and achieve a transformational experience.

In part three of my series, I will explore the roles of emotions and storytelling and how these tools are critical to the learning process.

 

Emotions, Storytelling, and Learning

What is emotionally experienced, will be remembered…- John Falk

In this section, I will explore the role of emotions and storytelling and how these tools are critical to the learning process.

At PGAV, our focus is the visitor, and our designs engage the visitor in interesting, surprising, and compelling ways. There are three basic ideas that made up the premise of the IAAPA 2019 Session presentation on the Emotion Based Museum Experience: Preparing the visitor emotionally, the impact of those emotions and learning, and how storytelling can engage the mind and make experiences more memorable.

Our dedication is to understand visitors’ emotions, their reason for visiting, how to manage the experience relative to visitors’ emotions, and how to use emotions to enhance learning. We know that emotionally arousing events are likely strongly remembered because of the increased activation of the brain’s limbic system, which has been correlated with enhanced explicit memory for both pleasant and unpleasant events.

In our publication, Storytelling, It Can Change Your Mind, our assumptions that stories are powerful tools to engage visitors are also backed by science. We understand that a story is also stimulating areas all over the brain. Emotional stories are poignant to us because our brains release oxytocin-nicknamed “the tenderness molecule”-as we empathize with characters. We are hard-wired to relate better to stories than any other kind of information. Storytelling is the framework for delivering the emotional impact of the experience. In Brian McDonald’s book Invisible Ink, he conveys the seven steps to a better story.

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Once upon a time…

And every day…

Until one day…

And because of this…

And because of this…

Until finally…

And ever since that day…

Of course, his steps are not just an outline-based approach. He understands it is a delivery system to connect the audience emotionally. McDonald says, “If you use drama to find an emotional way to give them an intellectual idea, they will ‘get it.'” A story is what we use to organize facts in our minds, so it is also the way we organize the elements in a museum experience. A story gives guidance to design. It is a way to make good decisions from a multitude of choices. When we start with a story, we establish what the guest experience should be, and then we conceptualize ways to deliver that experience.

Another storytelling technique we have adapted to the museum experience is the mapping of the visitor’s emotional arc. Kurt Vonnegut introduced the idea of an emotional arc, stories mapped as graphic representations of the story structure. For us we graph the visitor emotion over the course of the visit, understanding the relationship between visitors’ emotions and the particular element they are experiencing. The emotional arc diagram helps us plan for the visitors’ key experiential outcomes.

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Research again supports our understanding that the role of emotions through a framework of storytelling can directly equate to learning. Falk and Dierking contend that while what the visitor remembers from a museum visit and what they learn may not be exactly the same, they are clearly related. They describe learning as not just about facts and concepts, but that especially intrinsic learning is often a very emotional experience. True learning is both cognitive and emotional. We are connecting with visitors on an emotional level to facilitate learning, create memories, and inspire. As Brian McDonald clearly states, “We know that those things to which we have an emotional connection stick with us better than those for which we have none.”

 

The full article is published in Informal Learning Review, No. 160, January – February 2020.

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