Does Your Experience Need Speed Bumps?

Via Marginal Revolution blog, comes a story about a tourist spot in China that supposedly put in speed bumps to force people to slow down and appreciate the scenery.

It made me think, is this worth doing in places like museums where people rush past exhibits in order to get to the famous stuff so they can say they were there? Do you set things up so people have to take a circuitous route through choke points either on arrival or departure so people are forced to slow down and take a look around them for a couple minutes?

Or acknowledging the different doors for different people concept I wrote about yesterday, do you clearly mark an express lane for experience seekers who want to validate their visit with a selfie and direct everyone else in another direction so they can proceed at their own pace undisturbed?

Is the purpose as a museum to force these people to stand still long enough that they realize there are other delights to be experienced, or do you allow them to reinforce their narrow definition of what is valuable to experience?

Yes, I intentionally made both options sound negative and restricted the options to something of a false choice. There are other ways to look at an experience often the same person may seek a different type of experience in different places or different visits to the same place.

A couple years back I wrote about John Falk’s Identity and the Museum Visitor Experience. Falk talks about the five different types of motivations which impel museum visitors.  It is pretty clear these categories of motivation are not exclusive to museums and can apply to any arts and culture or tourist visit activity.

I don’t think there are any clear or easy answers to the questions I initially pose. Being aware of these different motivations is helpful and important when evaluating the experience you offer visitors.

It isn’t easy to offer an experience that is 100% fulfilling on all five categories 100% of the time.

Using the example Nina Simon gave in the TEDx talk I cited yesterday, if you have an event about the history of surfing on the beach away from your traditional facility, you are likely to attract an entirely new segment of people.

Consider: What does a person exploring the topic of surf history want out of the experience? What opportunities does a person seeking the experience of being at an interesting event want? What do people seeking to facilitate the experience for others need? What do people with relatively high degree of expertise on surf history want? What about people seeking to recharge or reflect?

A crowded event on a beach may not suit the needs of a person seeking to recharge or provide the rigorous detail an expert is seeking. However, a different event on the subject in a different place might, so you make an effort to ensure those elements are present at this other event and these people are aware of the opportunity. Just be cognizant that while a topic like surf history may open them to the idea of visiting your organization for the first time, the traditional experience visitors have at your organization may still alienate them.

But don’t get overwhelmed by the idea of an expanding multiplicity of permutations. Remember, every person who walks in the door, regardless of whether they are new or returning, will fall into one or more of those categories.  Returning people will have the benefit of familiarity, but otherwise every visit can be viewed as an entirely new experience. There is always going to be some element of “each person, each day at a time,” to every interaction.

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker ( website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (

My most recent role was as Executive Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


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