After creating a few journey maps in one of my Core Design courses, I noticed that one of the lowest moments in the user experience is the front desk. From the start, the visitor is set up to feel excluded… a visitor is asked to queue (making them feel like cattle), asked to pay (making them feel like ), and given directions (making them feel ignorant). As a result, I experimented with some analogous design ideas for what the museum front desk experience could be:
What if the front desk experience was akin to a grocery store, where you received your “goods” and then paid for those goods received?
Pros: It could make visitors more independent or self-sufficient when it comes to the museum. Instead of having an attendant take your money and guide you, a visitor is asked to curate their own museum experience. Picking and choosing whichever pieces of art or experiences they want. It could encourage them to come to the museum with a goal or purpose, which could increase visitor satisfaction.
Cons: Paying when you leave means the last experience you had was payment. And unlike a grocery store, you don’t get to come home with all the goods you paid for. Paying and viewing art is an equal transactional experience. A visitor is paying for an experience and that experience is the product. So, if we tack on payment at the end with no experience for them to go home with – payment is going to stick out in their mind like a soar thumb. This also hurts those that don’t want to visit the museum with one piece of art or with a goal in mind. When you visit a grocery store without purpose, you have the opportunity to leave without paying if you decide they didnt have anything you wanted. Could you do this with museums?
Ahh yes, the dreaded airport. But let’s see what happens when we compare that experience to a museum…
Pros: The idea of paying before you even enter the building is intriguing. You’ve had to purchase a ticket online (rarely does anyone purchase a ticket at the airport these days) and you’ve already made arrangements for your experience. This negates the idea of the front desk and puts it in the visitor’s hands to take charge a little more of their museum experience.
Cons: Okay, so obviously there are a lot of cons to this. Firstly, making visitors purchase tickets online is extremely exclusive. The museum is meant to be a place of community and inclusion, you should never be turned away at the door for not having a ticket. Or be forced to stand awkwardly in the lobby on your phone purchasing a ticket. There could be kiosks but at that point what are the benefits truly?
Pros: There are tons of exhibits that do force you to purchase a ticket online in advance. Popular exhibits that help crowd control numbers. This could be a way of helping to control visitor numbers, but now we’re back talking about exclusion.
Cons: Also, someone is still going to need to check your ticket or scan it. Like a flight attendant when you enter the gate. So, it begs the question of how different this really is to a front desk experience…
The idea of making people purchase tickets ahead of time reminded me of the ultimate hospitality concierge experience: the hotel. What if people were encouraged to purchase their tickets online, but not just their tickets – their chosen experience? When they enter the hotel, the concierge is already familiar with them and treats them like a guest. Could this happen at a museum? Could the concierge welcome visitors in a way that makes them feel comfortable and in control?
Pros: The pros are that this would allow visitors to curate their museum experience to their own needs. If they have different accessibility needs, they could note them in advance of arriving at the museum. If they have a preferred way of viewing the art or interpretation, they could note that in advance as well. It gives the visitor agency, but allows for flexibility if the viewer is new or wants guidance.
Cons: Of course, this is more work for the museum. It means providing options and having those options available for the visitor.
The thing I like about this though is it allows for the museum to get an intimate look at it’s visitors. It’s also not eliminating the front desk job.
While I never came to an ideal result, investigating different methods did allow me to question aspects of the museum front desk experience and ways upon which it could be improved.