How Do You Design for Experiences When Your Audience is Literally Everyone?

Part of the IXDMA crew hamming it up in Extreme Mammals.

One of the first things that we learned when we started training as UX Designers was that you have to find your target audience. It is not easy, reasonable, or sometimes even possible to design for everyone, so you need to figure out who your ideal audience is and design for them.

But what happens if your audience is literally everyone, including a high percentage of children?

Welcome to the world of the design team at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science.

This past Monday, I had the opportunity to go behind the scenes at the Museum and talk to the people who make the exhibits visitors see come to life. It was interesting on many levels: from meeting the team to seeing the basement where all of the creation happens, to being given new eyes to look at the museum exhibits and all the moving parts that bring them together.

Once we were done talking to the team and hearing about their processes, we were able to wander around the museum at our leisure. I have been to the Museum quite a few times in the past, including as a teacher on a field trip with 400-plus-some 7th graders. But this time made it all so much more interesting to go back and look at those same exhibits that I had been through numerous times before, or in the case of the new exhibit Extreme Mammals, for the first time.

Along with the gems and minerals, the animal dioramas are my favorite. Once upon a time, the DMNS staff used to include taxidermists, but now that work is contracted out. Also, how did I never think of the fact that to put these together, they have to bring in a special diorama background painter? Finally (and I realize this caption is getting unreasonably long), one of the ladies on the team told is the secret of how they create the illusion of dust around the cheetah’s paws. AMAZING!

There are so many moving parts to consider when the team is redesigning a permanent exhibit or bringing in a traveling one. What information do you choose to put out on signage about what people are seeing? What reading level do you write information at, what’s the best way to wordsmith it, and how do you arrange it for the general public? How do you integrate interactive technology into the exhibit and how do you make sure that it will work with people of all sizes? What do you do when it breaks, or becomes obsolete? How do you design the exhibit to move massive quantities of people through it efficiently? While still making it engaging and enjoyable for everyone to people feel like they got their money’s worth? And how do you fit traveling exhibits into the space that you have in a natural way?

SO MANY QUESTIONS.

And to think: the current team of makers and creatives that do this all is far smaller than it was in the past. Some of what they do is contracted out to outside companies due to the shrinking of this team over time, as has happened in most all museums.

Overall, this was a fun experience that makes me want to hit some of the other amazing museums that we have here in Denver so I can look at all of their exhibits in new ways too. Now that our week-long design sprint is over, maybe I can.