Does your visitor get directional information from an admissions attendant first? Can they get a map of the gallery with a "start here" that matches a "start here" sign?
Our exhibit gallery entrance became an exit when our exhibits were replaced last year. We have a prominent "exhibit exit" sign, but as we all know, people have a tendency not to read signs. The exit opening is large and the gallery entrance is underneath a mammoth skeleton, so we don't have space of a conspicuous "exhibit entrance" sign. Our place is small enough that our admissions desk is in direct view of the entrance / exit, and visitors are directed accordingly. "Walk under the mammoth skeleton" has a certain memorable ring to it, but that doesn't mean people don't slip by the attendant or on family member isn't listening for directions and walk in the exit. We have put up a stanchion to deter visitors from entering the exit, too. Our galley is unidirectional, so once headed the right way, the problem is solved.
In the grand scheme of things, does a visitor lose context / information when they are "lost" and not following the planned gallery floor plan? If they don't, then it might be less of a problem then you think. Ultimately, it's the visitor experience that is important. If you still get good reviews when a visitor goes the wrong way, the problem doesn't sound too egregious.
Alan Goldstein, Certified Interpretive Planner
Falls of the Ohio State Park
201 West Riverside Drive
Clarksville, IN 47129-3135 USA
Underlying the discussion in this marvelous thread are several basic assumptions that museum professionals make about visitor behavior. Research has helped clarify or dispel commonly held notions about visitors' interests, motivations, time, and values. Below are some that I believe are worth focusing on.
--Assume that visitors are there for the first time and do not have any special interest, knowledge, or training in the subject of the exhibition. Assume they do have some interest―after all, they are there. But they are not specialists. "I'm just interested."
--Visitors arrive with a limited amount of time and attention to devote to viewing the exhibit. Spending a brief amount of time (less than 20 minutes), stopping at fewer than half of the exhibit elements, and feeling overwhelmed by too much to see or do are common behaviors/feelings when exiting an exhibition. "I just breezed through. There's so much to see. I'll have to come back." But they probably won't or can't.
--Assume a continuum of interest that visitors bring with them that can be encouraged or discouraged by the designed environment of the exhibition. Assume that most are "strollers" who have the potential to pay attention, become more engaged, and spend more time if/when/because you have planned, designed and prototyped exhibit elements that are likely to provide personally meaningful experiences (benefits) for the effort (cost) required.
But back to the question at hand: how to get visitors to enter the exhibition at the beginning instead of the end when the architecture or traffic flow intuitively directs them otherwise? Previous comments in this thread are helpful when considering the answer.
And finally, a plug for the Big Idea. Visitors can use an exhibition briefly, out of sequence, and incompletely and still get a sense of what it's about and why it might be important if the exhibition is planned with an underlying and meaningful thesis statement. The natural behavior of visitors is best accommodated by exhibitions that are not too big and are held together conceptually and contextually by an idea of importance to the intended audience.
Thank you for a this fascinating thread. For 25+ years I have been sending my college art history survey course students to the museum to write a paper. I have kept it open-ended in that they can write about any object they wish in the content area we are studying. The students have a wide selection of museums from which to choose: nearby Princeton University museum, or nearby NYC and Philadelphia. I enjoy hearing from the ones who report that they ended up selecting something completely different than what they set out to write about and my personal favorite is hearing from students that they needn't worried about what object to write about because the object had selected them. I love it when the art objects turn the tables on the viewer!
Terri McNicholPresident, Ren Associates; Developer imaginement®http://renassociates.comIndependent Scholar, princetonresearchforum.orgTelephone +1.609.371.5354Cell +1.609.638.5878recent paintings: http://cargocollective.com/renstudio