Designing for Experience: models from the museums context

‘Designing for Experience: models from the museums context,’ Designing Experience: The Ballerina on the Elephant conference, Hong Kong Baptist University, Hong Kong November 27-29, 2014.

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Abstract

The fields of museums studies and design have historically demonstrated a mutual neglect yet they share an interest in the nature of human experience and how qualities of experiences are created. This shared interest signals potential complementary benefits from current research in the two fields. The paper examines four models of experience in the museums context for their contribution to the field of experience design.

Museums and zoos have a long history of offering open-ended, free-choice experiences. In seeking to understand the impact of such experiences on visitors, the field of museum studies has produced models of the visitor experience with relevance beyond the conception of an experience as bounded by time and place within the museum’s walls. During a visit to a museum or zoo visitors interact with objects and environments informed by their prior knowledge, motivations and interests. In this way, visitors actively contribute to shaping their own experience, which is in turn re-shaped over time through memory and association with new experiences.

Focusing on four models from the museum context, the paper examines their conceptualization of experience, the significance of context and the role of designers in shaping such experiences. The paper critiques Falk and Dierking’s Contextual Model of Learning (2000), the Ideas, People, Objects, Place (IPOP) model developed by Pekarik et al (2014), Roppola’s (2012) conceptualization of visitor experience consisting of framing, channeling, resonating and broadening, and my own (2013) conceptual framework of cognitive, affective and physical modes of visitor engagement through design. The latter model recognises that, rather than designing visitor experiences, designers encourage visitor engagement through various modes and affordances.

The paper argues that although context is significant to experience design, moving beyond context is important to growing understanding of designing for experience. Experience design and interpretive exhibition design share key characteristics and can benefit from shared research and interaction. Defined by their intent rather than their form, which may include architecture, text, art, landscape design, multimedia, and interactive environments, both fields have multiple, often complex aims that extend beyond sensory impact to influencing behavior, personal meaning-making and potentially significant social benefits. Designers in such contexts are highly multi- and inter-disciplinary and collaborative.