Designing Museum Experiences is a “how-to” book for creating visitor-centered museums that emotionally and intellectually connect with museum visitors, stakeholders, and donors.
Museums are changing from static, monolithic, and encyclopedic institutions to institutions that are visitor-centric, with shared authority that allows museum and visitors to become co-creators in content creation. Museum content is also changing, from static content to dynamic, evolving content that is multi-cultural and transparent regarding the evolution of facts and histories, allowing multi-person interpretations of events.
Designing Museum Experiences leads readers through the methods and tools of the three stages of a museum visit (Pre-visit, In-Person Visit, and Post-visit), with a goal of motivating visitors to return and revisit the museum in the future. This museum visitation loop creates meaningful intellectual, emotional, and experiential value for the visitor.
Using the business-world-proven methodologies of user centered design, Museum Visitor Experience leads the reader through the process of creating value for the visitor. Providing consistent messaging at all touchpoints (website, social media, museum staff visitor services, museum signage, etc.) creates a trusted bond between visitor and museum. The tools used to increase understanding of and encourage empathy for the museum visitor, and understand visitor motivations include: Empathy Mapping, Personas, Audience segmentation, Visitor Journey Mapping, Service Design Blueprints, System Mapping, Content Mapping, Museum Context Mapping, Stakeholder Mapping, and the Visitor Value Proposition.
In the end, the reason for using the tools is to empower visitors and meet their emotional and intellectual needs, with the goal of creating a lifelong bond between museum and visitor. This is especially important as museums face a new post COVID-19 reality; only the most nimble, visitor-centered museums are likely to survive.
The companion website to Designing Museum Experiences features:
Mark Walhimer is a managing partner of Museum Planning, LLC, a museum consultancy, and a part-time industrial design professor.
Walhimer is the founder of Museum Courses, an online platform for online museum courses, and has taught at Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, Georgia and at Tecnológico de Monterrey and Universidad Iberoamericana, both in Mexico City.
Prior to starting his company, Walhimer held positions at Discovery Science Center in Santa Ana, California; the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis; the Tech Museum in San Jose, California; and Liberty Science Center. He has also been Chief Operating Officer of a museum exhibition design and fabrication firm, and is the author of Museums 101, a how-to guide for creating and organizing all varieties of museums and companion website museums101.com.
Mark Walhimer has been a three-time juror for the United States Department of Energy Solar Decathlon, an American Alliance of Museums Museum Assessment Program (MAP) peer reviewer, and an Institute of Museum and Library Services peer reviewer.
He has a bachelor’s degree in studio art from Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, New York, and a master’s degree in industrial design and exhibition design from Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York.
Part I. Shifting to the Visitor (Why)
1. A Changing Landscape
2. Shifting to the Visitor’s Perspective
3. From Object to Narrative
Part II. The Museum Visitor (Who)
4. Personas, Diversity, and Possibilities for Behavioral Change
5. Design Thinking and Emotional Design
6. Customer-Experience Methodologies
7. Applying Customer-Experience Tools to the Museum
8. The Museum Visitor’s Journey
Part III. Supporting the Museum Visitor Experience (How)
9. Museums, Politics, and Culture
10. Placemaking: Museums and the Community
11. Using Data to Create a Unified Visitor Experience
12. The Museum as a Hospitality Business
Part IV. The Future of Museum Experiences (When)
13. Emerging Technologies and the Museum Visitor Experience
14. The Future of Museums
Part V. The Museum Visitor Experience Toolbox
Designing Museum Experiences aims to shift our professional framework to consider the entire ecosystem of the visitor experience. It encourages museum staff to keep our relationship with visitors central to all our thinking in experience creation, and to me this is an essential mindset for all exhibition planners. The book also encourages planners to look broadly at the range of tools, across disciplines, that could be leveraged to help support the work of exhibition creation. I think that students, emergent museum professionals, startup museums, or those looking for ways to reinvigorate their practices and connect more deeply to their audiences may find this book a helpful introduction.
Designing Museum Experiences combines thought provoking ideas on the future of museums with action-orientated advice based on Walhimer’s decades of experience in the field. Essential reading for anyone working in museums.
Designing Museum Experiences is what the museum field needs now more than ever. As global communities grapple with a plethora of disruptive issues, centering on meaningful visitor experiences is key to helping our communities navigate it all. Walhimer provides a well-researched, thoughtful, and accessible resource to transition museums (from the inside out) from object-centered organizations to people-centered ones with the same care, academic rigor, and discipline one should expect. With clear descriptions, frameworks, examples, references, and more, this text is well-suited for those working in the field (regardless of level), graduate students, and community planners. It is a must-have if the goal is to have a museum that truly matters for what it does- not what it has.
With the rise of today's Experience Economy, museums now compete against all manner of new, engaging, and remarkable experiences. The bar has been raised, and Mark Walhimer shows you how to meet and exceed that bar in designing compelling -- and perhaps even transformative -- museum experiences. Pay attention to the techniques in this book and use the toolbox to, as Mark say, curate not only objects but experiences.
Mark Walhimer has envisioned the museum of the future as a learning organization that is constantly adapting and changing to meet the needs of its community. The many ideas, tools, and strategies contained in these pages can help museums build more effective visitor-centered experiences and a more sustainable future.
4/25/22, Saratoga Living: Mark Walhimer, his career, and the book were featured in this article.