The visitor experience includes… laundry?

09/28/2011

One thing that plagues the cultural sector is competition for leisure time. Sure, we might compete against each other, but most of us would agree that our biggest competition is for a few hours in people’s’ already-busy lives.

We’re certainly not the only sector with cause for concern. Coffee shops, bookstores (yes, some still exist), airports, hotels, and even bars often offer free WiFi so patrons can multitask. Adding this extra can be enticing to visitors and often influences destination choice. It’s becoming so commonplace that, indeed, it’s almost expected.

Recently I have been seeing a trend in taking this concept further.

A laundromat in Munich, called Wash & Coffee (Waschsalon), provides an experience that I certainly never found as an undergrad in New York City. At Wash & Coffee (as you’ll see in the video below), a lounge atmosphere– complete with espresso, sandwiches, even occasional stand-up comedy– gets folded into a necessary, routine, and typically banal task.

The truly great thing about an enterprise like Wash & Coffee isn’t that it combines two seemingly disparate experiences into one; rather that it provides an improved experience over something that is typically incredibly dull.

You may have seen other blended business models for the ‘We Have Kids but Still Want to be Grown Ups’ demographic. In Chicago, Little Beans Cafe pairs an upscale coffee-house with an expansive play area and kids’ menu for the young ones. Similarly, everything from movie theatres to railway stations offer child-minding and daycare services.

Businesses are getting creative when it comes to serving their audiences’ expansive (and often competing) needs.

How does this play out in museums and culturals? Many have cafes and coffee carts, museum shops and summer camps… but what are we missing?

What other opportunities might be there to decompartmentalize visitors’ lives within and outside of our walls?

Is it so far-fetched to have curatorial lectures in laundromats or at the mechanic’s, instead of our own auditoriums and halls?

What about a museum bus that picks up kids at school and provides art activities on their ride home, so parents don’t have to leave work early for after-school pick-ups?

How about bringing exhibits to high school football games or the grocery store?

What do we do to meet our communities where they are, in addition to asking them to come to us?

Are we too afraid of taking away from ‘the museum experience’ to be willing to see the museum as a part of a larger whole?

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Thanks to Springwise for inspiration this week.

Comments

19 Responses to “The visitor experience includes… laundry?”

  1. Marley Steele-Inama

    I am forwarding this on to all our forward-thinkers at the zoo! (BTW, this sounds like a fabulous joint research project! – talking to visitors about these more abstract, but at the same time, real ideas of making our designed places more appealign to our audiences, and our non-audiences for that matter). Are you all implementing any participatory exhibit design activities? I need to get more familiar with the concept before opening my mouth off about it over here. 🙂

    Reply
    • Kathleen Tinworth

      Marley- I agree it would be interesting and well worth it to get out and talk to visitors about these ideas. We plan to and I’ll post the results! Thanks for reading and let me know what your forward-thinking zoo colleagues think!

      Reply
  2. Kalie

    Came over here from LinkedIn! Thanks for sharing this thoughtful post. I think museum professionals benefit from always keeping the visitor experience in mind–and I don’t mean just thinking “What will draw more visitors” or “What will keep visitors here,” but rather, “How is the visitor experiencing this?” My experience is that many museum workers are avid museum-visitors themselves, and have likely been interested in visiting museums long before they worked in them! Remembering those experiences is essential for creating any kind of valuable museum content.

    Reply
    • Kathleen Tinworth

      Kalie- I am always thrilled to hear fellow museumy-types acknowledge how much deeper the visitor experience goes than simply getting them in the door. Thanks so much for reading, and for commenting.

      Reply
    • Andrea Giron

      Kalie – I’m excited about looking at this too, helping folks in the Museum look back at the things that first excited them and inspired them about their scientific work and Museums. Incorporating those experiences I think will further the engagement of those coming in to the Museum.

      Reply
  3. Chris

    Interesting post. I like the idea of looking for innovative ideas for museums out there in the business world – they may not all apply directly but to be on the lookout for such creativity is so important to making the museum experience better.

    Reply
    • Kathleen Tinworth

      Chris- thanks for commenting. I’ve found so many applicable business and consumer trends out there that we museums can learn from and adapt (poach!). 🙂 Glad you stumbled upon the blog. Oh– and what’s great is businesses outside of our sector are looking to museums to learn and influence them as well– take a look at this article recently published from the Harvard Business School:
      http://hbswk.hbs.edu/item/6770.html

      Reply
  4. Anonymous

    I think this is a fabulous forum for discussion. It brought to mind my younger days as a musician living in Dayton, Oh playing shows in Cincinnati at a club called Sudsy Malone’s. It was a venue that offered light snacks, laundry machines and live music. I loved the idea then and love it now! I work at the New York Hall of Science and live in Brooklyn. I have noticed an event at the Bell House called Secret Science Club that has lectures and Q & A sessions while people hang out at the bar.

    I think the museum experience is important, but it is not the only way to reach people. It would be great to develop programs that reach out to the local and surrounding communities, not only to educate people but also to raise awareness of your institution. If people enjoyed an event your museum hosted they are likely to go to the museum as well.

    Sudsy Malone’s- https://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=60815876376
    Secret Science Club- https://www.facebook.com/pages/Secret-Science-Club/46026671493

    Reply
    • Kathleen Tinworth

      Anonymous (and insightful!) poster– thanks so much for the comment and the links. I think I’ll have to pay a visit to Sudsy Malone’s! That, and the Secret Science Club, are fantastic examples of the creative connections I truly believe museums and culturals can and should be making– inside and outside of our walls. Thanks so much for reading and responding. I’d love your insights on some of my previous posts.

      Reply
  5. Stephen Bitgood

    Innovative ideas are important and need to be pursued for museums to compete for the public’s leisure time. We should support new ways to attract and stimulate visitors if the goals are consistent with the mission of the museum. However, there are some activities and events that are questionable. For example: Should museums sponsor rock concerts whose sole purpose is financial rather than educational? Or, Omnimax films that have no educational value?

    Outreach programs are a little different. Educational programs in a variety of public places seems like a great idea. Why not booths at community art festivals? Science Cafe meetings in community environments (e.g., restaurants)?

    Reply
    • Kathleen Tinworth

      Steve- wonderful to know you’ve found my blog and even more so to have you weighing in on the conversation.

      You bring up excellent points about ‘mission match’ and culturals’ educational hearts. While there have certainly been some institutions that appear comfortable abandoning mission for profit, I’ve happily seen more sticking to their missions while still being nimble and creative. I’d agree with you wholly that we should have that as a goal.

      At my home museum (Denver Museum of Nature & Science) we’ve embarked upon a fascinating community study (using ethnographic methods). Getting outside our walls and talking to people is teaching us so much about how visitors and nonvisitors alike define nature and science in their everyday lives and how we might truly be a powerful and needed resource in ways that both challenge as well as promote many things we already do. Stay tuned!

      Reply
  6. Andrea Giron

    What great chatter! Here at DMNS we’ve just completed a community study, where we went out to community festivals during the summer to find out what our community thought about our Museum, and how they thought we could be more integrated into their community. It was SUCH a wonderful and fascinating study. Folks were excited about the idea of the Museum being a presence in their community (just as you suggest Stephen) they want the Museum to ask them their thoughts and integrate their ideas, they want to see the Museum in the community at their events, and they LOVE the idea of mobile exhibits or demonstrations going into communities all around the city.

    Reply
    • Kathleen Tinworth

      Andrea I am glad you mentioned this. This is exactly the sort of thing our community has told us they want… so why not give it to them?! Thanks for commenting.

      Reply
  7. sjkistlers

    When I was growing up, we spent a winter in the Virgin Islands. There, you brought your laundry with you to the drive-in and the drive-in had intermissions specifically for moving from washer to dryer!

    On the larger topic of exhibits in unusual places – maybe at conferences? The ‘community’ is transient, but how exciting if an exhibit aligned with the conference community’s interests (for evaluators, this might be data visualization, or storytelling, or such).

    Reply
    • Kathleen Tinworth

      Susan, first of all– a winter in the Virgin Islands?!? Jealous.
      And a drive-in with laundry facilities? Brilliant! That’s exactly the kind of practical, everyday thing I have been thinking about.
      It’s silly to think innovation has to be new, big, bold, hip, never-done-before.
      Sometimes innovation is simply recognizing a need (or a want) and meeting it– through rearranging, mixing things up in different combinations or orders, or being willing to let go of what we want in order to provide what our audiences/communities/clients have asked for.

      Reply
  8. Sarah Rodman

    Hello Kathleen and crew – I am following your blog and comments as a part of an assignment for a Master’s Degree Museum Studies course at Harvard University. Love all the ‘out of the box’ thinking and conversation. Wash on! Sarah in Cambridge, Massachusetts

    Reply
    • Kathleen Tinworth

      Thanks for reading, Sarah! Let Harvard’s museum studies know I’m happy to come guest lecture any time! 😉

      Reply
  9. Sheila Carey

    Late to the discussion here, but it seems that cafes are coming up with creative ideas – or, that places are combining themselves with cafes in creative ways. There is a cafe in Ottawa (Daily Grind Cafe) that supplies arts and crafts kits and offers workshops on a variety of topics. http://www.thedailygrind.ca/about-us.php You’re right — there are ways museums could do similar things if they think about places that people tend to idle away time. Nice post!

    Reply

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