An ‘ideas room’: visitors helping to shape museum programs and content #musdigi #museumeval

conversation lounge

The Conversation Wall, Seattle

Another week, another MoAD project! I’m currently working with the MoAD marketing team on how best to set up a room / area for testing out new concepts, exhibitions, merchandising ideas, marketing campaigns and so on. Together, we have generated the following list of requirements:

  • needs to be mostly unstaffed, sometimes staffed
  • need a way to easily collect responses without having too many instructions
  • and, then how to easily analyse the data
  • won’t get ‘messed up’ (too much)
  • fairly low maintenance
  • doesn’t require extra work from already stretched staff
  • gives a good spread of respondents, and finally,
  • considers the historic nature of the building with a ‘light touch’ (so no pens, textas, Blu-Tack) and limited things stuck on the walls


We have been looking at other museums that have set up these kinds of areas to see how they’ve done it and what we can learn (or steal!) from these.

idea loungeIdea Lounge – Penn Museum

The Idea Lounge is a place where staff share what’s happening in the museum and get input about upcoming exhibitions plus feedback on prototypes for future exhibitions. In their own words:

“Exhibit prototypes, temporary signs, test cases, or in-progress AV displays are all items that we plan to put up in the space. These displays are purposefully unfinished, and will rotate throughout the year as new elements are developed and improvements are made.

There will be surveys / feedback forms for visitors to complete, and sometimes other ways to give feedback (such as Post-it notes). Staff or volunteers will be in the space from time to time to speak with visitors in person about their ideas for how to make things better.”

Indianapolis Museum of Art

This paper reports on testing prototypes at the Indianapolis Museum of Art through a mobile station and a lab.

They have a

“… moveable cart to hold prototype materials for feedback. This mobile station approach has been used by audience research and evaluation staff as well as members of the interpretation team and occasionally the exhibition core team to carry out testing for various analogue and digital interpretive experiences with visitors on site. These stations are moved to various locations throughout the museum that are highly trafficked or where certain types of visitors could be found to test with a specific target audience (e.g., those with children, teens). With this approach to testing, staff are able to go straight to the desired user or wherever may be busiest in the museum, but are limited to testing one prototype at a time.”

Due to some constraints with the mobile test unit (mostly as only one idea could be tested at any one time) they developed a “Test It Lab” in two iterations, September and December 2015, based on availability of a suitable space and timing of projects to test. Again, in their own words:

“The objectives of Test It Lab are to: (1) test multiple experiences at once and (2) get quick feedback from stakeholders in a way that is both helpful to the museum and rewarding for the visitor (i.e., as a form of engagement for our audiences). These two iterations of the Lab were held in different strategic locations: one in a gallery space during a period between exhibitions situated on the first floor of the museum and another in a lounge area near the entrance to the galleries on the second floor. In both of these instances, the Lab was staffed by one or more researchers during a four-day period.”

Using prototypes and design thinking

These papers report on studies into how to use prototypes in testing ideas and concepts:

“One of the primary goals of prototyping is to get feedback before too much time, money, emotional energy, or institutional bandwidth has been invested. Prototyping can be used for external- or internal-facing projects, from designing a new website home page to modelling a new staff organisational chart.”

The Darby Silk Mill

Other useful references


rough design

MoAD layout for testing (really rough!)

This week we will be testing out a variety of ideas using a small corridor / alcove to get feedback, but mostly to see what may work best for MoAD testing in a dedicated area, and also as background for an eventual design brief for the space.

Apart from meeting the requirements listed at the beginning of this post, one of our other challenges is what to call this area / room. We’ve been tossing around some suggestions (but are looking for other ideas):

  • The Ideas Room (with a nod to the Penn)
  • Demo Lab
  • Test-bed @MoAD
  • #MoADbeta (with a nod to the ROM)

So, Canberra friends – if you’re in town this week (Wednesday 4th to Friday 6th) feel free to pop in to the museum, say hi and give us your feedback – it’d be great to have you involved!


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