In the hours before Barry Hessenius’ Dinner-Vention this past September, Devon Smith wrote a post in which she asked “What if an arts organization employed a user experience designer?” As defined by Wikipedia – the dictionary powered by community – User Experience Design is “any aspect of a person’s interaction with a given system, including the interface, graphics, industrial design, physical interaction, and the manual.” Apple is the best example of a company that excels in the area of UX design. Everything they create is based on user experience – your iPhone, its packaging, the stores themselves. But how do arts organizations embrace the user experience?
For the last four years, I have taught a course called “Audience Engagement: In Line and Online” to MFA Theatre Management and Producing students at Columbia University. (You can follow us on Twitter at #AlliClass.) Each semester we discuss “Service Mapping,” which is identifying each touchpoint the audience member has with your organization from the moment they decide to go to the theatre to the moment they get home. We start with exposure, move on to research, purchase, and include moments like entering the venue, exiting the venue, pre- and post-show activities. Traditional tech-world UX designers – and often arts marketers! – will focus often on the two stages of service mapping we call “research” and “purchase.” This is where we analyze how easy is it for your customer to find what what’s playing, when, where, and how to buy tickets. Where I see arts marketers – and yes, arts fundraisers, producers and programmers too – really struggle is when we bring the audience into our home – “entering the venue,” “getting to your seats,” “intermission.” Once the audience gets in the door your job is not done. Your audience is, in perhaps not the kindest of terms, held captive. They are, more positively, your captive audience. So what are you going to do with them?
To begin, I’d like for you to take a moment to think about what percentage of your audience is at your venue for the first time, and what percentage of your audience has been at your venue before. Got it? Cool.
Now, let’s think about those repeat buyers first. Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that those of us who have done things over and over tend to take those experiences for granted. We know the Starbucks line isn’t really that long, traffic in DC isn’t terrible – it’s normal, we know where the bathroom is located and the best time to arrive to get a good parking space. But for a newbie? The traffic is atrocious. A Starbucks line that long must take more than five minutes to get through. A newbie doesn’t know where to park or where the bathroom is. Doing something for the first time causes anxiety.
So I ask again – what percentage of your audience is at your venue for the first time? Do you have marketing efforts in place, or want to have marketing efforts in place, to bring those people back? Beyond that follow-up email, what are you doing in your venue – your home – to make them less scared, less nervous? To make them feel at home and take care of their experience beyond the art event itself?
My mother, Deb, is an interior designer. Moms teach you a lot, for sure. Some of the things my mom taught me were what a crenelated parapet is, how an open refrigerator door shouldn’t block access to the rest of your kitchen, and how when you put a television in a room your furniture layout is always such that it all faces the TV. Good interior design enhances the “user experience” of your home. So what about your lobby?
Over the course of this last year, I’ve had the great fortune to work with both the Arden Theatre Company and Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company on designing a total of four lobby experiences. In each case we tracked tons of back-end data – downloads, photos taken, tweets, votes, views, and more – to assess the community’s engagement with the installations, but we also did something else: we watched. And when we watched, we learned. And when we learned, we changed. We learned what resulted in the most engagement by watching what the community showed us they wanted in the space, and adjusted to create an even greater user experience. Afterall, when a playwright or director watches and listens to their play in front of a live audience it changes, so why shouldn’t the work of an arts marketer change when they watch and listen to the audience in their space, which is everything but the stage?
In conclusion, I urge you to take the following step: spend one hour in your lobby before the performance and observe your audience. Be a spy. Consider the following:
- Does anyone look lost?
- Who has stopped to look at that content you put on the TV screen? How long do they stay?
- How many people are on their smart phones? Flip phones?
- Do your chairs make people sit and lose energy, or are they set up in ways that encourage interaction between strangers?
- Who knows what a D103 and D104 is?
- What do you overhear?
What you just witnessed is the user experience of your space. Now, knowing that great experiences increase loyalty and drive sales, what about your users’ experience would you change?