How I Used Visualization to Solve a Museum’s Marketing Challenge
A seemingly boring research method led to a design breakthrough
What are the results that you want out of life?
Organizational Psychologist Benjamin Hardy teaches that “Productivity and success are not complicated. Success is taking 20 steps in one direction rather than one step in 20 directions.” However, most people aren’t successful. Most people are content to take one step in 20 directions — chasing the feeling of “being busy” rather than pursuing actual results.
If you were to imagine yourself 20, 30, or 80 years down the road, how would you know if that person were successful?
What do you want your headstone to say?
You can rise above the mediocrity of busyness.
You can bypass the boulders that stand in your way.
You can bypass the gravel that slows down your progress.
First, you have to stop.
Close your eyes.
Two years ago, I felt frustrated. I was working with a few colleagues to design meaningful signage for the Thanksgiving Point Museum.
The problem is that most people go through a dinosaur museum and take everything at face value. They trust the plaques, and they don’t ask deep questions. While the plaques in a museum are written to sound like fact, scientists know very little about dinosaurs. It’s all speculation. Scientists touch things, poke things, notice things that are out of the ordinary. They ask questions for the sake of asking questions and getting to know our history. We wanted to take patrons out of that true-or-false trivia mode and teach them to look deep and activate their imagination.
Our goals were to create signage that was:
- Family Oriented: Get family members of all ages to interact with each other and the exhibits.
- Transformative: Get kids to start thinking like a scientist. Ask questions, imagine, and observe.
- Experiential: Get patrons to interact with the exhibit. To shift from passive learners to active participants.
After testing hundreds of ideas, time was running out. My colleagues and I finally decided on an exhibit and developing it to the best of our abilities.
I couldn’t help feeling that our product was missing the mark. That because we had a deadline and needed to show our efforts the next day, we had settled and were now putting time and effort into a project that would miss the mark.
“We are kept from our goal not by obstacles but by a clear path to a lesser goal.” — Robert Brault
There is a branch of psychology research called phenomenology.
If that looks like a big word, don’t worry, most grad students don’t really understand it.
However, as I sat in my chair after a long evening at the whiteboard, I thought of phenomenology.
I thought about how its sole purpose was to get at the essence of a phenomenon.
One method of phenomenology research involved closing your eyes and imagining a situation stripped of everything but the bare essentials — the essence of the situation.
Sound hokey? No kidding.
But I was out of options, so I decided to try it out and see if I could make a breakthrough.
I leaned onto the back two legs of the wooden chair, closed my eyes, and took a few deep breaths.
It took a moment to clear my mind of all the distractions, worries, and deadlines, but once my mind was free of distractions, I was ready to work.
I imagined myself walking into one of the rooms in the museum, my favorite place, the room with the giant sea turtle suspended from the ceiling.
I paid attention to my thoughts as, in my mind’s eye, I entered the room as if for the first time. Immediately, I felt overwhelmed by the amount of information on the plaques and walls. Rewind. Try again.
This time, as I entered the room, I imagined the plaques blank of all writing — white and clean. Instead of feeling overwhelmed, I felt calm and curious. I wanted to ask a million questions.
I stopped to check my goals: This was transformational, but not family-oriented or experiential. Something had to change.
Ok. Instead of blank signs around the room, how about whiteboards with markers attached? Rewind. Try again.
This time as I walked in the room, I was tempted to not only change the way that I thought but to interact with the exhibits. I could write my questions down on the whiteboards; if I was in there with a kid, they could imagine what a dinosaur looked like, and draw it. I had hit gold.
Transformational? Check. Experiential? Check. Family Oriented? Check.
It was simple, and it came after many failed attempts at much more complicated ideas.
As we tested the approach, we were shocked by how well it worked.
We took away the temptation to think analytically, and we replaced it with an opportunity to think creatively. Because we took away all the answers, all they had left were questions, and because we left a dry erase board and a marker, they were able to come up with answers to those questions.
At first, we were worried about what people would do when the boards were filled up. It turned out to not be a problem. Kids would walk up to the board and confidently erase everything on it so they could write down their thoughts.
Parents lit up when they saw their kids thinking creatively, and we saw many parents crouching down to take pictures of their kids while they interacted with the exhibit, or to take photos of their drawings afterwords.
As you look at your life, where are you running in circles?
Find the spots where you’ve taken one step in 20 directions, and you’ll know where to apply this approach.
- What are the clear and measurable results that you’re trying to achieve?
- Where are you experiencing low-level results?
- Where are you experiencing repeated frustrations?
- Where in your life have you settled?
“There’s a reason most people remain mediocre amateurs at what they do. There’s a reason that 3% of any given field make over 90% of the money. There’s a reason 3% of the blog posts are read by 90% of the people.” — Benjamin Hardy, If You’re Serious About Success, Then You’ll Need To Improve Your Recovery
Close your eyes.
Envision your results.
Imagine yourself eliminating everything in your life that is distracting or taking you away from those results.
Imagine yourself as the type of person you want to become.
You got this.