The new Stedelijk Museum: working towards the A+


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The Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam which houses the modern art collection has finally reopened after 8 (!) years in renovation.

During the opening week, the museum received unflattering press (1). In short, if we’d asked the critics to do the Experience Scan, it seems like it would have been a C-.

Perhaps not the best opening week, if it weren’t for the fact that the museum is selling like hotcakes, and everyone’s going.

So what’s going on?

At C.Note, we were interested in what visitors experienced and why. Lilian and Emma from our office stood outside the museum on 2 different occasions and interviewed 40 visitors, using the Experience Scan, a 3 question tool to evaluate customer experiences on function (ABC or F), on understanding needs of visitors (a ‘+’, ‘-‘, or neither) and on Wow factor (a ‘+’ or not).

Overall, the visitors were much kinder on the experience than the experts. In terms of function, over 85% of those interviewed gave it an A or a B.

What did the “A+”s love?

The “As” (14 out of 40) were there to experience the new Stedelijk and “see art”. On both accounts the experience positively overwhelmed them, from the installations where the art practically sings off the made-to-measure walls, to the potpourri collection that encourages discovery, to the delights of the new and refurbished buildings.

“Surprising, so much variety, overwhelming even” – a Dutch father and daughter visiting Amsterdam

“So big, so much to discover, so much room to walk in” – an Asian tourist who works in tourism

For many of them the art and installations themselves led them to award an additional “+” for a Wow factor – they would definitely tell others of how fantastic the experience is – pointing to the highlights like the Dan Flavin installation in the stairs, or the escalator in the new wing.

And why did the “Bs” not give it an “A”?

The “Bs” (21 out of 40) also felt the art experience worked fine, but as a group they wanted more help to navigate and understand the collection. For them, the curator’s choice that the collection does not have a “fixed narrative or circumscribed route” made it harder for them to love the experience.

There is no emphasis on one thing. It is too big, too many decades of art are represented – German tourist in her 20s with an interest in modern art

We saw what we expected, but some art was hard to understand – a small group from Germany

Fantastic art, inspiring – but what a maze : the tour in the Hermitage is better organised. There is no story line or logic – Dutch family from Amsterdam, visiting for the first time

And the “C”s?

The 5 interviewed gave it a C or an F were either “experts” who felt that the exhibited work was too “safe” or tourists who didn’t like modern art.

Work to do on the “Bloopers” in the experience

After asking about function – did the experience work – we ask whether the visitor felt understood. Would they add a bonus “+” to the grade if they felt that the museum understood their needs at every turn or a malus “-” if it irritatingly did not?

Explanatory text is often posted in the doorway between 2 rooms, leading to traffic jams

Only 1/3 of visitors felt that the museum anticipated their needs as visitors at every turn. They gave it a bonus “+” for the restaurant that was a good place to rest, or the roomy, light exhibition spaces that made it easy to enjoy the works of art.

But 2/3 felt the museum didn’t do enough to understand their needs. There are many “bloopers” in the experience, from the hard to use card readers at the entrance, to not letting subscription holders pass the line (as in other museums) to unhandy text placement.

No clear directions on where to go, no clear map, no German information. – German couple visiting Amsterdam

I miss the explanation if you don’t take an audio tour – there’s not enough information to explain the relationships – Dutch couple in their 50s visiting Amsterdam

You couldn’t tell that with an eTicket you could skip the line. It felt like we were “cutting” . – Dutch couple with eTicket from Amsterdam

Net, a good experience that is going to be great

OK, 40 is not a huge number. But this mini-Experience Scan already points the way and gives suggestions on how the Stedelijk can improve. From just this 3 hour effort, we came up with these ideas

  • Stimulate the Wow factor : help those who find it an A+ to post on Pinterest, Twitter, Facebook – perhaps an interactive place to let people pin foto from the room itself — or digitally collect what they love as they walk through for sharing later
  • Offer self-guided tours for each type of visitor from “The Best of” to “Surprise me” to “I love Graphic art” – can be on app and on handy plastic “Walk Cards” for the non-digital visitor
  • Create a fast lane entrance for subscribers and eTicket holders (like at Disneyland and airports)
  • Create a line plan : what to do to entertain and delight when lines form (see also our post on lines)
  • Create a clear families entry & routing with a kids pack and clear place to park strollers
  • Get an app with detailed info per piece and room and tours (assume this is on the way if not there already)
  • Fix all the basic bloopers in maps, signs and entry

And, if the Stedelijk could execute the Scan more, the results would become more robust, and 5-6 “visitor groups” would emerge from the results. These are visitors who share a similar attitude towards visiting and have separate needs which the museum could use to improve the experience for them. It’s not hard, it doesn’t cost a lot or take much time, and the benefits to the visitor’s experience will be enormous.

In any case we’re proud of the Stedelijk. It may not be 100% there yet, but it’s on its way. And for us, and many of the visitors, the Stedelijk has already made the world top, expert opinions aside.

(1) Unflattering Press around the opening

The Los Angeles Times lambasted the building as an overscaled monument flagrantly aloof from its surroundings while the NRC proclaimed Stedelijk won’t make it to the world’s best museums. The Parool, the local Amsterdam paper, devoted a 2 page spread on how hard it is to get around. And the new logo spawned its own hate channel among the Dutch designers who found it too simple and obvious.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Lea Ward
Director at C.Note, a customer experience design & strategy firm based in Amsterdam. Active blogger & author of Trust Equity: How to create products & services that matter. Award winner IxDA 2012.


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