“A Colourful Late” are four design concepts created to improve the experience of the Late Night Events at the Natural History Museum, London.
The Natural History Museum is an outstanding landmark located in South Kensington, London. The museum is home of over 80 million specimens, and have over five million visitors a year. The museum is a world-renowned centre of research, with over 350 scientists that play an increasingly important role in making new discoveries and testing new theories.
Like many other museums across the UK, the Natural History museum have different Programmes to engage with specific audiences by bringing public engagement and scientific research closer together.
The brief was focused on these events, specifically in a major new exhibition planned for Summer 2016 named “Colour and Vision”. We were asked to evaluate the current experience and 'create new ways to engage and inspire the museums target audience'.
How might we improve the Late’s Events, provoking meaningful experiences aligned to the museum’s value?
Research & insights
The research involved observing people in the museum space, interviews with target users and staff, visits to other museums Late events and desk research related to the topics of experience economy and Colour & Vision.
The research revealed that the main issues were around the lack of a Late night atmosphere in the interior design, together with detailed information about the activities offer. Those insights are explained in the following four points:
1- Paying visitors have a great experience while engaging with exhibitions or other learning activities
Interviews showed that engaged visitors that pay for special exhibitions or activities during the late have a great experience. They enjoy the convenience of going to the museum with friends or partners during the evenings. Being the NHM known for its crowded children audience during daytime, visitors felt excited to have the museum for themselves within an adult audience, while having some drinks.
"I'm expecting to see the Wildlife Photography exhibition, and I like to see it better during the Lates rather than any other time. I come here every year!"
- Sinead, 41.
2-The theme of the Late is invisible
It is currently unclear how Late events relate to exhibitions and activities. Most of the visitors ignored the fact that there was an intended theme being covered on each Late, believing that a Late is simply the museum open at late hours. Some interventions have been put in place to address this but more could be done. In contrast, other Lates like the V&A are stronger in spatial communication displaying the narrative at the very entrance with brochures and djs demonstrating that every Late is different.
“We want people to feel they are immersed in the Late’s narrative related to each current exhibition”
- Stephen Roberts, NHM public programme manager
3-Lack of evening Atmosphere
For Late events in comparison to the museum in the daytime, generating a Friday night feeling is key to the event being enjoyable. It was also the first thing people notice, even though they are not actively thinking about it. Many visitors said that they would like it to be more atmospheric.
“ I would like to see more seating space, lower lighting... and a bit more of an atmosphere”
- Anna, 34.
4-Activities are not well described
The research showed that most of the visitors ignore what activities are taking place during the Late, and as a consequence of this many visitors do not engage with them. Communicating the topics better could create more awareness of the museums offer for visitors to engage.
“Just arrived here post work, and we want to see the photography exhibition but aren’t really aware of what else is happening in the museum today.”
- Connie & Luke , 23.
1-Entrance welcome zone
The welcome zone is an immersive light installation located at the two entrances of the Late: The Hintze Hall and the Earth Hall. The purpose of this “visual space” is to give visitors a physical and mental feeling that they are being a part of something fascinating and highly shareable, in this case of the “Colour and Vision” topic. For this, coloured spheres will be placed all over in both Hintze and Earth Hall. This comes together with a major reusable sphere floating in the middle of the room, where images of colour & vision are projected. The installation aims to break the rhythm of the space. It is something very clean and synthetic that works in great in contrast to the building, integrating the dinosaurs that are the museum’s greatest icons.
Atmosphere and lighting are crucial to transform space, and there are three areas that need to be improved:
a. The Hintze Hall As seen in the pictures, the greatest hall does not have lighting that meets the Lates needs. The purpose is to illuminate the dinosaur, in connection to the rest of the lights. The tables that are next to the walls, could also have candles or low lighting. Secondly, the sound system should be slightly louder, especially when there is not enough people covering the area.
b. The Earth Hall If there was live music from the Royal College of Music (like in the last two events) the lights should be turned the other way around (facing the artist, not the audience). Some stairs could be placed there for people to stay longer, and there could be speakers amplifying the sound for people to feel the ambience and enjoy the music.
c. The Scientists Bar This is a great space for activities but the lighting is too bright too. It could have standing lamps and elements that make the space a bit more in the style of a pub, and add some signs showing the activity taking place.
3-”What’s on" projection and “Scientists’ Apparel”
The invisibility of the offer is tackled by two different approaches: The first one is an informative projection placed at the entrance of the Hintze Hall. The second one is a fun “Colour & Vision” fashions collection specially done for the scientists participating in the late.
a.“What’s on” projection This is a simple and cheap way to communicate visitors what is going on each Late night. There will be a projection it the right entrance corner of the Hintze Hall, for people to see what is going on that night. The information displayed is attractive and simple, like a poster. There is no need to print papers or use necessary screens or walls.
b- “Scientists’ Apparel” Scientists are key, since they are the human representation of the museum’s knowledge and need for this reason to be recognised. The Scientist apparel is a quirky way of making the scientists obvious to visitors. It also empowers them to connect with visitors. The collection includes colourful coats and accessories related to the Colour & Vision narrative, that they can use while presenting any of the activities they are doing.
- General: Overall Satisfaction / Revisit Intention / Word-of-mouth intention
- For visitors: the chance to have memorable experiences, learning in new ways
- For the museum: Achievement of being aligned to the 2020 strategy, connecting people with the museum’s value