What do the end users say?

I set up an anonymised online survey and received 49 responses. There were many insights gleaned from the answers, one of which is the overwhelming support for interactive displays that provide both education and entertainment.


Why do people visit museums?

The top draw factor for visitors to museums is “special interest”. Even before entering into the exhibition, they already have a level of interest in the exhibition subject matter. A huge section of the respondents also stated that it is a part of their vacation; presumably one cannot visit Paris without also paying homage to Mona Lisa at the Louvre.

Between “education” and “entertainment”, more chose “education” than “entertainment”, and an overwhelming number preferred both “education and entertainment”. We can deduce that visitors preferred substantial content to style and it will be best to have both, of course.

In order to gauge four important variables (i.e. Comfort, experience, reinforcing, meaningful/inspiration) in exhibition design and how it affects visitors, I asked them on how much they value each of these. The results are ranked in this order:

  1. Experience. In a way that entices you to pay attention and lead you to find meaning. (3.45 stars)
  2. Meaningful / Inspirational. The experience makes you feel changed, cognitively or in other ways, in immediate and long-lasting ways. (3.27 stars)
  3. Reinforcing. Helping you learn in a level that is not too difficult and yet too simple as to be un-engaging. (3.18 stars)
  4. Comfort. Both physically and psychologically (i.e. Exhibits are not distracting etc.) (3.16 stars)

In the question before this, we learnt that education precedes entertainment. However, in this question, experience precedes education just a little by edging out “reinforcing” by 0.27 points. Experiential learning is something people look for when they step into a museum. Although the results do not differ too much, but it gives us a clue that people go to exhibitions for experience and to find meaning of the displays. People do not visit museums purely for education. They can find that in schools or institutions.

Are interactive displays any good?

An overwhelming number of respondents (73%) gave feedback that interactive displays like touchscreens and motion sensors are effective in promoting engagement between the audience and the exhibits. Only 14% said that it is not effective and 12% stated “others”. Of the 12% that stated “others”, they mentioned a few pointers which we can take note.

They mentioned that it all depends on whether the interactivity serves to enhance the idea of the exhibit, whether it is conducive for crowds and if it is engaging.

Interactive display is effective if it can enhance the idea of the exhibit. It would be more effective if the senses are stimulated. A combination of tangible materials and interactive media would benefit most, especially people with varied special needs.

Depends on screen size and projection. If its a tiny screen where u have to vie with people to experience, it will be less effective.

Depends…if it’s integrated well then it’s engaging, otherwise it’s just use of new technology for the sake of doing so.

Having interactive elements that complement the exhibit is also an important consideration when designing the display.

Personally I prefer to have the information all laid out at a glance. The interactive will be helpful if I want to explore deeper. These two forms of presentation should complement each other.

Design thinking in exhibition design

In a bid to understand what people actually think about museum designs, I got them to share personal stories about their best and worst experiences. I have put together an analysis of their responses by grouping together similar points. The following are the responses to the question “what was the most memorable museum/exhibition experience you can think of? Why was it memorable?”

Interaction design makes a great difference to exhibit display. Most of the respondents’ memorable experiences in museums are derived from interesting interactives that engage different senses – auditory, tactile, kinesthetic and visual. The displays must be fun and foster participation from visitors.

Dream works animation exhibition at MBS .. it really shows an artist’s hard work! They use projection mapping to show how an artist creates the character and how much time it took to create it! They also have a room where you can sit down and enjoy 360 degree animation room! It shows how a sketch come alive to 3D!! Very cool experience! And there is interaction where you can create your own character by following of the instructor! Like you have to sketch the eye first or decide what kind emotion your character shows.

Multimedia college student exhibitions. There are a lot of unique experiences and they involved interactions digitally, physically and psychologically. Most importantly, sometimes exhibitions can be “crowded” by a lot of digital media. You will tend to feel very lost throughout the exhibition. That is why having a balance of all medium is always a good measure and will garner a better attention span for everyone.

Athens underground cities. Exhibits are of great geographical and historical values.  Displays are exciting. You walk on glass to view cities below.

National Museum fixed galleries before the renovation. It was engaging with a lot of things to learn. I like the fact that the exhibits were a combination of large screenings, framed pieces, and full sized installations, plus audio which gives more information if I wanted to know beyond the short synopsis written beside the exhibits.

Pixar animation exhibition. Memorable as there were many interesting drawings and animation display that was engaging and interesting

Doing voice over at Museum of Moving Image. Very interactive and entertaining.

A multi-sensory approach with a sound concept is also crucial in interpretive planning for maximizing visitor enjoyment and experience.

1) Monet exhibition at Australia. It was very well curated and there is good space to walk, read, or sit to contemplate. 2) sound and space exhibit – the choice of materials and the concept were very well represented. It engaged my visual, audio, and scent senses.

Visitor participation enhances the museum experience as most people go to the museum for the social aspect of it.

Future World at ArtScience Museum. They allow participants to draw their own vehicle and scan it into the big screen.  The vehicles appears as 3D on it. Quite cool for both children and adults.

The quality of content and the variety of subjects offered are also good considerations for museum design.

The museum in Brisbane. There are varied exhibits, social science, politics to fashion. Lighting is good, enabling visitors to read the write up. Environment is tranquil but not creepy.

Schonbrunn Palace. Clear audio guide, interesting display pieces with a story, not too crowded, easy to follow.

Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum. The items exhibited are original and raw which somehow transported me to where they were and how they must have felt.

On the other hand, I also asked them about their experiences with bad exhibition design. Topmost of the many pain points were space planning or poor flow, lighting, panel displays that are unengaging and too wordy and poor concept or content.

When the flow isn’t right, it’s difficult to navigate.

Info seems jumbled up around the room with many sharp edges where the place is also meant for children/young toddler to explore n learn.

Haphazard placement of exhibits, no proper casing, lighting. In summary, just a building with random artifacts placed around.

It was just a small exhibition by well-known studios. The only disappointment is the small-scaled and surface knowledge on the paper products.

Poor lighting. Fonts too small on the write ups. Lack of interactive elements.

Poor choice of media, weak concept, and too crowded.

Place is like a maze & lighting very dim.

I don’t really like to read so i will skip if there are lots of words!

Broken bits and pieces without explanation. Poor ventilation and lighting in Museums.

Too heavily dependent on either digital/physical medium. (For e.g. everything is print panels/ there is touch screen panels at every corner)

Non-engaging display board with a great amount of words only

Bad lighting making it hard to see what is on display, bad positioning of exhibits (too far from audience viewpoint). Messy design, no flow, making it hard for visitors to know where to start and end, this applies to not just individual galleries, but museums as a whole, especially for large museums with multiple unrelated exhibitions. Little/no/insufficient information about the exhibits. Bad English.

Messy, no clear direction, bad orientation of things

When the flow isn’t right, it’s difficult to navigate.

Haphazard placement of exhibits, no proper casing, lighting. In summary, just a building with random artifacts placed around.

Poor lighting. Fonts too small on the write ups. Lack of interactive elements.

Using the insights from all the questions, and applying the principles of Design Thinking, there are some clear “jobs to be done” when it comes to designing for exhibitions. People visit museums to be educated in an entertaining way, and the pain points come in many factors – poorly planned spatial layout, bad lighting, bad curation and un-engaging exhibits. When planning a visitor experience, these pain points need to be arrested to carve the best experience possible.




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