According to psychologists, humans have an inherent desire for a social space where everyone is welcome, friction is minimized, and contentment reigns. These social havens are dubbed “third places.” Some corporations, like Barnes & Noble, have built considerable financial success by emphasizing the importance of a positive place-based experience. All those comfy chairs at Barnes & Noble that seemed to be inviting you to sit down and peruse a title before you buy? Yep, that’s on purpose.
B&N designed its locations - from layout to color palette to decor - to be warm and inviting. They created a friendly harbor where customers could steal a few moments from the hectic world around. The focus was on a positive social experience, rather than solely on selling a product.
If there is one market capable of taking full advantage of the third place atmosphere, it is The Arts. Museums, galleries, concert halls and theatres already house and curate art that affects people. Live performance venues focus on lighting, seating, and acoustics to maximize an audience’s experience. Many museums design their exhibitions narratively or thematically, leading visitors and encouraging more than just a viewing of displayed objects, but an experience with pieces of art or history.
User experience in artistic venues also opens up new marketing possibilities, seamlessly integrating targeted messaging within the context of the experience. When marketing truly becomes part of the fun, both the customer and the venue win.
What if a museum knew your taste in art, sent you an email or text message alert to let you know of an upcoming exhibit, and then offered a space where you could interact with other like-minded art fans? The next generation of museums may do just that.
Scenario: A Smarter Museum
aLarger Emily purchased tickets through her smartphone to a local museum. When she and her guest Nathan arrive, her phone receives a text message from the museum requesting she download the app for the museum. She does, and finds she can check in through the app and update her Facebook or Twitter status with the check-in. The app also has a map and streaming podcast for the special engagement exhibition she’s visiting today. (The museum hands out free earbuds, but luckily Emily has her own.) Best of all, the app unlocks a Chirpify coupon for the museum cafe. Now she can afford to buy her buddy Nathan a drink!
As they peruse the exhibit, Emily and Nathan notice tablets near masterpiece works, which allow users to zoom in on key details without having to stand close to the work and disrupt others. Interactive captions provide information about the artist’s life, techniques, and historical context of the piece.
When they leave the special exhibit and explore the rest of the museum, Emily checks out the Gallery option in the museum’s app. By incorporating Dropp, the app allows her to leave comments anywhere in the museum, and see what others have said about the exhibits. She can even create a mini-gallery of her favorite images and share it on the museum’s website. After the exhibit, she and Nathan use the “Monet Me” feature within the app to create impressionistic-styled portraits which they can share on social media.
To her delight, Emily discovers that the cafe has interactive touch screens displaying visitor-curated digital galleries, and her gallery is currently being discussed by other visitors. She and Nathan spend the rest of the afternoon in the cafe talking to other museum goers about their experiences.
All of this engagement also allows the museum to collect data on Emily’s favorite exhibits, which it can use to alert her when similar exhibits are scheduled. It also created an environment that fosters creative, meaningful interactions between people who normally would not have spoken more than a hushed, "Excuse me" to each other. This helps position the museum as a networking location, a third place. The museum can now compete as a hangout, a brainstorming haven, or a great first date location.
It may seem far-fetched, but all of the technology for this museum experience already exists. For museums, it's a matter of integrating them into the experience of visiting. According to The Center for the Future of Museums, museums will need to do this and more.
A few other ideas for increasing the UX of museums
Informative placards. There’s nothing more frustrating than connecting with a piece of art at a museum, but finding no information other than the title and the artist on the placard. Every piece of art has its own story, share them with visitors to create a powerful impact.
Traffic routes. Yes, people should be free to roam from one display to the next at a museum, but what if the exhibit was carefully mapped out to tell a story of the artist’s life and its effects on his style? Without the audio tour, visitors often wander through exhibits without understanding the context of one room to the next. Including a few directional arrows, perhaps with short teaser text describing the approaching transition in style, would educate museum visitors as well as minimize traffic jams within the exhibit.
What about other forms of art? Performing art venues such as concert halls and theatres could also integrate user experience into the design and marketing of a show. The same intuitive marketing that we used for our museum scenario (SMS alerts, mobile applications, interactivity) could be easily be applied to a concert performance. What if a traveling orchestra offered a mobile application that accompanied their show program, but also included in-app chat between users so concertgoers could discuss their favorite pieces and possibly connect after the show? And what if you could buy the live soundtrack of the performance right from your smartphone, so you could relive the experience whenever you wanted?
What if you got a text message when the local theatre had discounted tickets available for Broadway shows? And a mobile app that gave you a translation of the opera, so you didn’t have to guess your way through all the Italian or German, and performer biographies that included links to other shows they were scheduled to perform in? What if during intermission, you turned on your smartphone and saw that one of the characters from the performance had bought you a drink or snack at the bar through the app? Bravo, indeed.
Designing "third place" social spaces can work in tandem with an interactive marketing strategy, helping to create captivating experiences for art lovers from Act One to the last curtain call.