Thursday, May 28, 2009

A peaceful visitor experience at Bartram's Garden

I so enjoyed visiting this amazing historic property in Philadelphia during the AAM annual meeting. John Bartram built this house, by hand, in 1731.

An avid plant collector, he traveled extensively, collecting plants from much of eastern North America and testing them in his garden.

It was a lovely place to walk and listen to the birds.

I liked their style of plant labels.

There is not much interpretation, but it's all good—interesting and readable.

I included this video mainly so you could hear the birdsong.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Sunday's Signpost

Great concept in the Philly airport: beautiful posters from the local opera company decorate the walls. Can your museum offer up artwork to the local airport to entice new visitors to visit?

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Haunting visitor experience at Eastern State Penitentiary in Philly

This is Eastern State Penitentiary, thought to be the first building designed to inspire regret in the hearts of its inmates. Inmates spent all their time alone, in spaces with sunlit arches, decorative detail, 35' barrel vaulted ceilings, and over 1000 skylights. Eastern State was a model for nearly 300 other prisons, representing a new kind of prison, where inmates could spend all their time in self reflection in order to become penitent (hence penitentiary). From 1829 to 1971 it was an active prison; solitary confinement was phased out in 1913.

This remarkably soulful structure opened as a museum in 1994, and for nearly 10 years visitors had to wear hard hats and sign release waivers in order to enter. It's a favorite of filmmakers (12 Monkeys, Transformers 2), photographers, and of course, ghost hunters.

Staffer Fran Dolon gave us a wonderful tour during AAM, showing us the "stabilized ruin" that is Eastern State.

They have a regular schedule of artists' installations (several are chosen each year from dozens of proposals). This is one of 9 Ghost Cats left, an installation by artist Linda Brenner that paid tribute to the scores of feral cats who lived here.

Great interpretation introduces inmates' stories.

The staff at Eastern State are incredibly inventive with programming ideas, including Bastille Day (a local restauranteur dresses up as Marie Antoinette and tosses hundreds of locally made TastyCakes off the wall to the crowd below), and their annual Haunted House: Terror Behind the Walls. This event—with 1 year-round FT staffer—runs for 27 nights, draws 100,000 people, and was named Best Haunted House in America by AOL last year. Oh, and it netted the museum $1.7 million in 2008. They've dedicated a portion of the building to it, have hardwired in sound, video, and smoke and use 130 actors each night. They let us walk through a section during our tour (sound and smoke, no actors). Some people refused to walk through in the daylight. So yes, it's effective!

Tip of the day: What unique attributes of your site or its history can be mined for creative programming?

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Sunday's Signpost

Loved this low-tech interactive at the Maritime Museum of San Diego. Kids roll a die (in a rotating cage so it doesn't walk away) and then move the magnetic ship along one of its historical routes, learning at each stop what happened to the real ship. Fun, smart, educational. You can see the galleon piece to the left of San Diego on the map. The sign on the right says "Game play takes about 10 minutes."

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Cool product for museum stores

I saw this at one of the booths at AAM. It's called the True Art Vase.

It's a coated paperboard product that folds flat, and can be printed with any of the art or images from your collection. Yes, it holds water! Rep Wallace Cascio is holding the flat version, with a variety of options on the table appropriate for different types of museums. It's hard to stand out in that huge exhibit hall; this product definitely caught my eye.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Sunday's signpost

This is more of the fabulous wayfinding done by Joel Katz Design for Walk Philadelphia. I've featured it on the blog before. I was so impressed with it... truly the best city wayfinding I've ever seen. The program uses 1,000 disk maps, each oriented to one of the cardinal directions, all mounted facing the appropriate direction, in addition to these more standard directional maps.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

What museums can learn from QVC

While in Philadelphia for the AAM conference I took the opportunity to visit QVC's Studio Park. Yes, the home shopping channel. The brochure in my hotel room did a great job of drawing me into the experience as well as offering a $1 off coupon on the tour. I'll come back to the other two items of collateral, which ended up as take-home mementos.

Many museums do behind-the-scenes tours, so I was curious to see what I could learn from a for-profit enterprise. It was a great experience!

Upon arrival, an effective (but nondescript sign) let me know I was heading in the right direction.

Monitors in the right of the lobby area, locked onto their website, allow people to look up products and learn more about QVC while waiting. Is your museum doing this?

A very friendly face is waiting at the ticket booth, which is colorful and perfectly located. All signage is branded and clear.

This is the back side of the ticket booth (staff opening is on the left). For museums with light but steady attendance, small spaces and small staff size, this could be a great solution to maximize the front desk person's impact.

Logo items are displayed separately, as soon as you walk in. This allows for impulse buys for people who might not visit the store itself. Interesting idea...

I don't know how many people buy steaks here, but it's great that they sell the insulated bags as well. If you sell specialty items, is there a collateral item that would make visitors' lives easier? Like selling stamps alongside your postcards? And offering an outgoing mail basket?

Of the whole tour, the bathroom was the biggest disappointment. Yes, it was clean. But I was expecting a showcase for all the QVC home products here and feel they really missed this piece of the experience.

The store itself was well laid out and easy to shop. It was fun to see the products "in person," even though I'm not a QVC shopper.

Unfortunately, they don't allow you to take photos on the actual tour. But here are 7 highlights that directly apply to museum tours:
  1. Create a succinct theme and repeat that theme throughout the tour. (QVC's is "right product, right price, at the right time.") Easy, memorable, repeated enough times for me to remember it.
  2. Start with a short overview video that's fun and well-made. Give people comfy seats to watch it.
  3. Add two other video stops (on a one-hour tour) to give people a break. If one can be funny (their bloopers reel is hilarious), all the better.
  4. A timeline of the museum's notable events can be effective, IF it's tied to the tour theme.
  5. All the "back of house" areas are staged for this tour, including the windows looking into offices. If you are building a new museum and plan to offer tours, how can you design spaces and a path for the tour that doesn't impact operations?
  6. A long boring hallway was transformed by life-size photo cutouts of the on-air talent. Each has a name tag with how long they've worked there, their favorite color, and their favorite movie. It's like "walking among friends" as one of the other tour participants noted.
  7. The entire tour built up to a great finale experience: getting to walk out onto the catwalk to be in the studio during the live broadcast.
When I bought my ticket, I was asked if I was a QVC shopper. (I said no.) I was pulled aside before the tour began and given a $10 coupon to try out QVC online. I was also given a tour feedback card (both are in the first photo, above). What a great way to make people feel welcome. How could your museum utilize this concept?

Tip of the day: Ideas are everywhere. If you are doing behind-the-scenes tours, try taking one at a for-profit location to see how they create their experience.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Sunday's signpost

This was the horrible wayfinding at the Madrid Barajas Airport. We couldn't make heads or tails of either sign!

Tip of the day: Visitors, especially overseas travelers, really need your help finding essential services. Make sure you test signs like these with a variety of visitors if you have a challenging site in terms of wayfinding.

Friday, May 01, 2009

AAM highlights

A slice of my day at AAM (American Association of Museums annual conference) in Philly.

Meeting the President in the exhibit hall.

Visiting the Michigan Sports Hall of Fame.

Watching other people have a virtual experience, then sharing it virtually with you.

Learning that Girl Scout cookies were invented here.

For other posts, search #aam09 on Twitter.