Viewers, Consumers, and Experiencers


Museum professionals—like those in virtually all organizations—continually strive to understand their constituents/customers/visitors/audiences. And they tend to categorize them in various ways and for various reasons.

There’s K-12 (teachers and students), older people, families, up-and-coming-20-somethings, on-site visitors, online visitors, scholars, digital natives, foreign language speakers, ad infinitum. And don’t forget the ever-elusive/illusive General Public.

Often these distinctions overlap in ways that an individual can fit into several categories. You could be a parent with school-age children, 50+ years old, a member of a particular ethnic or cultural group, and a full-time student—all of which could be demographic priorities (audience target groups) for a museum.

John Falk has done some of the most compelling research in this area (including interviewing people years after their visit to find out what they remember), as evidenced by his book Identity and the Museum Visitor Experience. (A Museumedia commenter drew attention to Falk’s work a while back, in reference to Daniel Kahneman’s TED talk about the difference between the experiencing self and the remembering self).

But what really caught Museumedia’s eye recently was the way this New York Times Magazine article defined audience relative to an individual’s relationship with information (loosely speaking, that is—it can include food).

They break people down like this:

  1. Viewers—People who are drawn to plays, movies and TV (information kept at a distance)
  2. Consumers—People who like food, perfume and music in headphones (information ingested)
  3. Experiencers—People who like architecture, video games, music in speakers and, most recently, 3-D media (being enveloped in/by information)

Again, museum constituents can fit into any or all of these categories—at once or at different times.

The main subject of the article is 3-D TV, but that aside, these distinctions are interesting ones for museums to consider, especially as the museum experience finds new and richer, deeper ways of playing out—both on and off-site.


~ by jockuly on January 24, 2011.

3 Responses to “Viewers, Consumers, and Experiencers”

  1. This is an interesting typology, but I think it’s completely wacked. Differentiating people based on whether they listen to music via headphones versus speakers–really? I think all these fall into the “Experiencers” category–you don’t go to a play or watch a movie to keep the plot/information at a distance, you go to be immersed in it, to lose yourself in the story and characters.

    And calling perfume “information” is, um, interesting but again, really? Sure, you are a consumer when you buy perfume, but only so you can advertise something about yourself to others.

    Does the NYT author cite any kind of psychological research to support this typology? Honestly, any psychological theory developed in order to discuss 3D TV as something special is suspect in my book.

  2. Then there’s this — (Less about audience definitions, more about 3-D and the brain)

  3. Dave, perhaps this is a cautionary tale about how we — perhaps out of necessity, perhaps out of convenience — mentally slice groups of people up, then try to reassemble them. And always seem to fall short. Was recently told that a well-known Usability Lab is shifting to a focus on Ethnography. Googling Usability + Ethnography yields some interesting reading.

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