Weeknotes: 18.2014 – Asking the right questions

On May 1st, 2014, posted in: new post, weeknotes by

There are few things in life more necessary or more satisfying than learning from one’s mistakes. Indeed, getting wiser is one of the best ways to take the sting out of getting older.

This week we’ll be sharing a lesson we’ve learned in the course of a couple of recent projects and discussing how that learning has led us to adapt a part of our research methodology.

In so doing, we’ll also reflect on a key distinction we’ve noticed when trying to improve the take up of a pair of in-gallery mobile experiences; namely the distinction between those visitors who know that a service exists and those that simply assume it does.

Thinking about that difference, subtle though it may be, ought to help highlight the importance of service design as opposed to product design, so we’ll be talking a bit about that, too.

Now that I’ve given the game away, I hope you’ll still read on.

Age. Experience. Wisdom.


Knowledge vs Assumption (and why the difference matters)…
We’ve used this journal before to talk about the problem of ‘invisibility’ when it comes to mobile services generally and, to a lesser extent, additional handheld offers such as audio- and multimedia guides.

Museum and gallery visitors may not reach automatically for their smartphones when seeking additional interpretation, and the instinctive rush to the first artwork, object or exhibit can mean that they walk straight past guide kiosks without a second glance.

So, in evaluating these kinds of services, we’ve often looked, as a first step, to track visitors’ awareness of them. After all, if they don’t know they exist, they’re hardly likely to use them.

Until fairly recently, whilst we always prefer to employ a mixture of qualitative and quantitative research, we were relying on quantitative data to get at this specific question about awareness. Typically, this meant asking somewhat bald questions along the lines of:

“Were you aware that there is an audioguide available at the museum today?”

However, in the course of research at one art gallery last Autumn, we hit – simultaneously and almost accidentally upon both a problem with that method and also – happily – a solution to that very problem.

To increase take-up of the  service in question  we wanted to know not only if visitors were aware of the guide, but also how they had become aware of it. (The theory being that we could target our marketing better as a result)

What we found as a bi-product, however, was that whilst 60% of this gallery’s audience claimed to know about the guide, over half of that 60% had in fact “just expected” there to be one. They had assumed it was there on the basis of past experience, but really knew little or nothing about it.

In fact – and here’s the really crucial bit – we found that there was a strong correlation between actively knowing about a guide and going on to purchase it, just as lack of awareness or a simple assumption about the presence of the service was linked to not purchasing it.

Adjusting our methodology
In a second piece of research at a different museum we wanted to build further upon this realisation.

We decided that we would test audience awareness of the particular service – this time a mobile, web-based guide – in phases. We showed visitors  physical components of the guide and its marketing (posters, waymarkers etc.) and asked them if they recognised these or had encountered them during their visit.  We also added a series of qualitative questions, asking participants what they could infer from the marketing materials they were being shown – what service did they think was being advertised?

The results we gathered were striking. In comparison with our own 2012 research at the same museum, which had measured awareness of the guide at around 70%, we found this time that under a third of visitors knew about the service in any active, practical or meaningful way.

When challenged to report what they had actually seen, rather than being given the opportunity to fill in a quantitative survey on the basis of mere assumption about what should be or is usually in a museum, it became clear that visitors lacked understanding about the range of services available to them.

This was confirmed when we looked at visitors’ interpretations of the in-gallery signage that supported the mobile guide. The following are visitor responses to the wall-mounted plaques that flagged objects with mobile content:

 “I thought they were like those audio tour things?” 

“I saw one… it was actually where they have the display with the butterflies. I assumed it was just explaining what the exhibit was.” 

“I have seen one. I wondered what it was. I just glanced at it and ignored it. I wondered what it was but I didn’t care enough to find out.”

“No actually, I couldn’t say… I probably should. That’s linked to the smartphone I bet.
Now I know.”

Gaining insights from qualitative data…
There are two key things to take from this data:

Firstly, clearly, the service design wasn’t doing its job: more specifically in this case – because ‘service’ is a complex term – the museum hadn’t paid enough attention to the marketing and instructional design around the guide.

Too often when working with mobile, the focus is on the technology underpinning a service. Here that focus had been to the detriment of signing: marketing materials were in the wrong place and appeared at the wrong times for visitors to be able to notice, make sense of and respond to them. Added to that, those materials didn’t carry strong or clear enough messages to engage visitors and make clear to them what was on offer.

Unless an effective marketing system is in place around a mobile product, it will remain invisible, and all the effort put into perfecting its looks and interface will be wasted.

Transparency and clarity: museums need to let visitors see what they’re paying for or taking the time to use.

Secondly, the responses quoted above underline the danger of relying on visitors’ assumptions. Even if audiences can have a good guess based on past experience that a museum will provide some sort of guide, we have absolutely no control of what form that past experience took.

Have visitors only ever used audioguides? If so, they may guess there’s a guide, but they might not look for it on their smartphone. Did the last guide they used bore them to tears? Yes? Then they might think twice before picking up another.

The only way to get around this problem is to proactively market a service in terms that make clear what is special about it and – even more importantly – what it will add to a visitor’s experience. Again, this comes down to service design.

Closing thoughts
The last few months have taught us some valuable lessons. Above all we’ve learned that there are varying degrees of awareness that visitors might have of a product or service, and that the more they know, the more likely they are to engage with it.

Hopefully, the point I made up top about service design has also come through. Either way, we’d love to hear your thoughts on this, and about any similar experiences you might had yourself.

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