[Design Thesis] 2-1 Interview Synthesis – Personas

I started interviewing people the week before last. For me, that meant a new stage. I got in touch with real people instead of demographics from previous surveys or defined personas. I talked to eight people, most were young museum-goers from different backgrounds, artists, engineers, designers, etc. Each interview took 30 minutes or less. The questions can refer to previous post.

The conversations with different people are quite interesting. Most replies were not surprising, as might be covered in large-scale surveys done by big museums, but making connections among all the questions generated certain kind of information interaction patterns, which is exactly what I want to know from these interviews.


John Falk developed five types of visitors based on interviews with hundreds of visitors to California Science Center. They are explorer, facilitator, experience seeker, professional/hobbyists, rechargers.

– Explorers: visit museums because it interests them and appeals to their curiosity.

– Facilitators: visit museums in order to satisfy the needs and desires of someone they care about rather than just themselves.

– Experience Seekers: are ‘collecting’ experiences. They want to feel like they’ve ‘been there’ and they’ve ‘done that’ – they want to see the destination, building or what’s iconic on display.

– Professional/Hobbyists: Represent the smallest category of visitors but they are very influential. Could be museum professionals, art and antique collectors, teachers, artists, etc.

– Rechargers: visit in order to reflect, rejuvenate or just bask in the wonder of a place. Artmuseums, botanical gardens, aquariums have lots of these visitors. [1]

(For further explanation, could refer to this brief introduction. )

The model has a strong focus on motivations–why people come to the museum, and it highlights “visitor as an actor with personal interests, knowledge, and preferences” [2] in the exhibit space, instead of one of the general demographics.


From my interviews, I found out people could be playing different roles along the journey. They might start as an experience seeker, such as going with friends on a weekend. Then they become explorers because they feel like they should look for fun stuff or famous pieces that they haven’t seen before (according to John Falk, a large number of visitors fall in this category). In the end, they might just be rechargers, walking around and response to artworks emotionally.

That is to say, during the journey, visitors’  behaviors are not mainly decided by the motivation with which they arrive the museum, but could be influenced by other elements. One way to understand this is situational interest and personal interest.

According to Csikszentmihalyi & Hermanson(1995) , they distinguished between the situational interest, which occurs when we come across things of interest,  and the personal interest, which relates to our “enduring preference”. Csikszentmihalyi & Hermanson thus indicated that if visitors gain personal interest in a particular part of the exhibition, this opens the possibility of further involvement and development of the individual.[2] Edmond (2006) continued the discussion, suggesting that various attributes of artifacts in the exhibit spaces could play different roles: “attractors” stimulate situational interest, and “sustainers” help sustain the interest. [2]

If looking at visitors’ information interaction from this perspective, it can be concluded that situational interests and personal interests are two main factors deciding visitors’ actions, and thus it would be make more sense to categorize personas based on their situational or personal interest or both.

One thing I learned from my interviews is that people have different levels of appreciation. Some might value visual appeals more than any other information. They like looking at things that they find visually intriguing, cool, or amazing. They might reach for more information, especially stories and anecdotes, but they really don’t like labels and are unlikely to take more actions after the visit.

Some might invest time in things they find interesting. They are not driven mainly by visual appearance, instead, by things that are beyond their personal experience. They read labels and are more likely to use the audio guides and apps for more information. They usually engage in discussions with companions.

Some might be more specific about what they are looking at because they are either trained or self-taught as professionals in art or curation. They are attracted by things they find visually appealing, interesting or strange. They spend long time standing in front of one piece to look at every detail of the piece, from the brushstrokes, depths of paints, cracks; they examine the piece from every angle, standing at a distance, stepping closer to an alarming distance (which attracts security guards), the first visit, the second visit, their own perspective and other visitors’ perspectives. They might do more search or make more notes after the visit.

Based on the above introduction, three types of visitors could be concluded: visual visitors, motivated learners and expert visitors. The three types of personas are not real categories, but more like a spectrum, most people might be in-between two types of personas. Also, according to my research, they differentiate from each other but also share some similarities, which would be further described in future posts.



[2] Dindler, C. & Iversen O.S.,  Motivation in the museum-mediating between everyday engagement and cultural heritage, 2009,  http://www.nodem.org/admin/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/motivationinthemuseum.pdf

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