Our next exhibition gets a title

By Graham Iddon, Museum Writer

Every museum visitor is unique, so catering to the needs of each and every one of them is, of course, impossible. But what if we could discover a small number of patterns or categories that nearly everybody fits into; categories of how we understand the content, use the content or what interests us? A whole field of study exists to address this very issue. Several schools of thought are emerging from this area that are having very real and positive results in exhibition development, reducing all those unique visitors to a theoretical handful.

exhibition crowd

Every group of visitors is a grand mix of learning styles, interests and reasons for attending an exhibition.

A relatively new kid on the visitor experience playground is IPOP. Painstakingly developed from sixteen years of visitor surveys, observations and interviews, this Smithsonian Institute initiative has established several broad categories of interest that the vast majority of visitors will fall into: Ideas (attraction to concepts, facts, reasons); People (drawn in by human experience, stories); Objects (interest in things, craftsmanship); Physical (attention caught by touching, movement, sound). It is a theory based on the idea that the unconscious tendencies and curiosities that people have affect their conscious decision making. In practice, IPOP stresses building an exhibition team that, as a group, represents all the IPOP categories, bringing the audience perspective to the team.

At a conference this past spring, our Director, Ken Ross, attended a seminar presented by the Smithsonian’s IPOP research leader, Andrew J. Pekarik (see his paper where he puts the theory to the test). Co-presenting with Pekarik was Canadian Museum of History’s Jean‑François Léger who applied the IPOP model to developing this past year’s The Greeks exhibition at CMH. Ken came home very keen on applying IPOP’s approach to our own exhibition planning.

Our next travelling exhibition is on the subject of e-money. Never before have we attempted an exhibition on a subject that is still evolving. With innovative new payment methods on the rise and an explosion of digital currency, e-money is in the public eye and therefore comes with expectations. The choice of title was quite crucial. 

dry erase board

We originated our title list in English to be translated into French. Much of the content in this exhibit is being developed the other way around.

dry erase board

A clever idea killed in its prime.

A title for this exhibition eluded us well into the development process. By introducing IPOP theory, we had to take ourselves back to the very basics of what the exhibition is about, what its messages are. In the spirit of IPOP, it was important for us to assemble title ideas from the vastly differing perspectives of not only the exhibition team, but of curatorial and project management as well. Dozens of suggestions were generated and evaluated through e‑mails and in face-to-face white board sessions—meetings that quickly resembled cattle auctions. Finally a list of titles was settled upon that the majority of the group was OK with or would at least grudgingly tolerate. Then we went to the people.

We developed a survey to test the seven suggested titles. For each title, the survey recipients were asked how interested they would be in an exhibit of this name and what would they expect it to be about. This survey was distributed to a random selection of the bank staff and the results were quite enlightening. (Or depressing—nobody likes their pet ideas shot down in flames). In the end, such names as Going Viral: the Spread of E-money or Cryptomania: “Liking” E-money received a gentle raspberry from the survey respondents. But broader acceptance appeared for a number of shorter, more direct titles and the responses helped us see our exhibition as the visitor might and to title it accordingly.

So what is the name of our new exhibition?  Decoding E‑money.

At this time, Decoding E-money is in the hands of our interpretive team and we’ll keep you posted on all the developments. Stay tuned.