Moving Toward a Conversation

If you’ve ever heard me speak at conferences you know that one of our most successful technology projects is also one of our simplest—the comment kiosk. First run off of mini PCs with touch screens and then later replaced with iPads, these kiosks sat in every exhibition, gathered visitor comments, and emailed that feedback in digest form to appropriate curatorial and visitor services staff.  Comments were moderated, but most were published; both good and bad feedback was posted on the kiosks in the gallery, on our website in the community area, and on the exhibition pages.  In short, the kiosks offered us a way to learn from our visitors—to get a quick snapshot of things that were working and not—while also informing other visitors about how people were experiencing things.

For the most part these worked to serve the purpose and we didn’t think much about changing them, but this year we started to wonder if there would be value in upping the game a bit. As they stood, they were the electronic version of a one way comment drop box.  Should they become a more personal experience and one that leans toward a two way dialog? Could we elevate the discussion from a simple “leave us your thoughts” to more directed questions that might provoke deeper engagement?  Could that same format help give visitors access to someone—a curator, an educator, an artist, a conservator—to help get their questions answered?

In Conversation iPad Kiosk

An iPad in LaToya Ruby Frazier uses a video prompt of the artist asking visitors for their questions.

Starting with a recent crop of exhibitions—GO, El Anatsui, Sargent, LaToya Ruby Frazier—Sara and I worked with curators and educators to begin experimenting with the format and comment kiosks were transformed into a more dynamic experience by using video to ask visitors directed questions and put a more personal spin on these devices.  LaToya Ruby Frazier says “no question is too big or too small,” while Radiah Harper asks how El Anatsui has “left a charge on you.”  Comments are threaded, have a popularity ranking (“I have this question, too”), and email a visitor when a response is posted to their query.  Just as before, appropriate staff are emailed digests and comments and conversations sit on the appropriate exhibition pages of our website.

The responses from visitors have been thoughtful and insightful; the questions we are seeing asked when we give access to an artist or conservator have been inspiring.  Sara and I estimate that we’ve gone from a ratio of 30% of insightful comments on the older kiosks to a 70% rate on the new ones; there’s been a lot of dramatic change as a result of just thinking (and designing) these a little differently.  Comments now go very far beyond the  “awesome exhibition” that we were seeing in the older stations.

Right now, you have the unique opportunity to see both the older kiosks and the new in place throughout the building because we are just starting to work with curators to figure out how this new format might serve our permanent collections as we evaluate these current changes.  Sara has implemented a visitor experience study around them and we’ve got a lot of metrics to eventually share, so look for a future post from her about even more specifics.

This is a first step in re-thinking about responsiveness and our visitors will likely be seeing a lot of tweaks and improvements to these new comment stations as we move forward.