Design Factors in the Museum Visitor Experience 348658/s4254715_phd...Design Factors in the Museum...
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Design Factors in the Museum Visitor Experience
BSc (Hons) Grad Dip Sci Comm
A thesis submitted for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy at
The University of Queensland in 2014
Business School (Tourism Cluster)
Over the past half-century, museums have evolved from being predominantly cultural repositories
to playing an important social role as venues for educational leisure experiences. Accompanying
this development has been an increased emphasis on optimising the visitor experience. The physical
context of the museum has long been recognised as an important facet of the visitor experience
(Falk & Dierking, 2000). However, the way that visitors perceive and respond to different types of
exhibition environments on a holistic level has received relatively little research attention until
recently. A key limitation in advancing research in this area has been a paucity of methods for
quantifying and analysing visitor perceptions of the exhibition environment beyond simple
measures of satisfaction. In order to address this gap, this thesis describes the development of a
model for characterising how visitors perceive different exhibition environments Perceived
Atmosphere and relates it to different facets of the visitor experience.
As part of this study, a quantitative instrument known as the Perceived Atmosphere Instrument was
piloted and refined. This allows the relationship between exhibition environment and visitor
experience to be explored in greater depth. Development of Perceived Atmosphere was informed by
environmental psychology, in particular environmental cognition, theories of spatial perception and
the research field known as atmospherics (Kotler, 1974). Atmospherics is the study of the influence
of retail environments and other service settings on customer attitudes and behaviour, and this study
applied similar methods to a museum context.
Both qualitative and quantitative data were collected to explore and compare visitors perceptions
of different exhibition environments at the South Australian Museum, a large natural and cultural
history museum located in Adelaide, Australia. Qualitative data were collected through 12 pre-
arranged accompanied visits to the museum, while quantitative data were collected from 602
visitors to the museum who agreed to participate in the study by completing a questionnaire that
incorporated the Perceived Atmosphere Instrument. In addition, a small number of participants (n =
60) were unobtrusively tracked prior to completing the survey, allowing some preliminary analysis
of the relationship between Perceived Atmosphere and visitor behaviour.
Factor analysis of the 30 semantic differentials that comprise the Perceived Atmosphere Instrument
produced a four factor solution interpreted as Vibrancy, Spatiality, Order and Theatricality. There
were statistically significant differences between galleries on three of these four dimensions. These
differences were interpretable in light of each gallerys physical characteristics, but also indicate
that a spaces perceived affordances are as important as its measurable physical properties. Of the
Perceived Atmosphere dimensions, Vibrancy is the strongest predictor of affective, cognitive and
behavioural engagement. Spatiality is a predictor of a sense of relaxation in the exhibition
environment. There is a negative correlation between Order and a sense of cognitive overload.
These results show that quantifying Perceived Atmosphere in an exhibition setting is technically
feasible, theoretically coherent and capable of providing novel and useful insights into the
As well as advancing our theoretical understanding of the environment-experience relationship in
the museum context, these findings make practical and methodological contributions to the field.
The Perceived Atmosphere Instrument is a novel, easy-to-administer research tool that can be
applied to a wide range of museum settings. The ability to characterise exhibition environments by
their Perceived Atmosphere properties, in particular Vibrancy, Spatiality and Order, will be useful
for exhibition planners, designers and evaluators.
Declaration by author
This thesis is composed of my original work, and contains no material previously published or
written by another person except where due reference has been made in the text. I have clearly
stated the contribution by others to jointly-authored works that I have included in my thesis.
I have clearly stated the contribution of others to my thesis as a whole, including statistical
assistance, survey design, data analysis, significant technical procedures, professional editorial
advice, and any other original research work used or reported in my thesis. The content of my thesis
is the result of work I have carried out since the commencement of my research higher degree
candidature and does not include a substantial part of work that has been submitted to qualify for
the award of any other degree or diploma in any university or other tertiary institution. I have
clearly stated which parts of my thesis, if any, have been submitted to qualify for another award.
I acknowledge that an electronic copy of my thesis must be lodged with the University Library and,
subject to the General Award Rules of The University of Queensland, immediately made available
for research and study in accordance with the Copyright Act 1968.
I acknowledge that copyright of all material contained in my thesis resides with the copyright
holder(s) of that material. Where appropriate I have obtained copyright permission from the
copyright holder to reproduce material in this thesis.
Publications during candidature
Forrest, R. (2013). Museum atmospherics: The role of the exhibition environment in the visitor
experience. Visitor Studies, 16(2), 201-216.
Peer-reviewed industry publications:
Forrest, R. (2014). Exhibition narrative: The spatial parameters. Exhibitionist, 33(1), 28-32.
Forrest, R. (2011). Surveillance inside the museum. Artlink, 31(3), 46-48.
Forrest, R. (2014). Perceived atmosphere: A novel way for characterising exhibition environments
Paper presented at the Visitor Studies Association Conference, Albuquerque, USA, July 2014.
Forrest, R. (2014). Perceived atmosphere: A tool for quantifying visitor perceptions of the
exhibition environment. Paper presented at the Visitor Research Forum, The University of
Queensland, February 2014.
Forrest, R. (2013). Understanding audiences: What psychology can tell us about visitor
experiences.Keynote presentation at the Interpretation Australia Masters Series, Sydney,
Forrest, R. (2012). Design factors in the museum visitor experience. Poster presented at the Visitor
Studies Association Conference, Raleigh, USA, July 2012.
Publications included in this thesis
No publications included.
Contributions by others to the thesis
No contributions by others.
Statement of parts of the thesis submitted to qualify for the award of another degree
Being able to take time out mid-career to pursue a PhD is an immense privilege. I am grateful for
the financial support of an Australian Postgraduate Award, which allowed me to focus full-time on
my studies. I was also incredibly fortunate to have had such an exemplary supervisory team:
heartfelt thanks go to Dr Jan Packer for her steadfast day-to-day support and attention to detail; and
to Prof Roy Ballantyne for never letting me lose focus on the bigger picture. I also appreciate the
welcome extended to me by the rest of the staff and fellow students in the Tourism cluster, who
took my status as an external student in their stride and provided me with much assistance during
my candidature. In addition, I thank the numerous fellow students and researchers across the globe
who frequently offered advice and links to valuable references via #phdchat on Twitter.
Thanks to all the staff of the South Australian Museum and Artlab Australia for providing me with
office space and treating me as one of their own during my candidature. It made my PhD journey
feel much less like a solitary one, and having a home institution made piloting and data collection
that bit easier. In particular I wish to thank Robert Morris for facilitating my coming to the
Museum, Cameron Midson for producing the gallery plans used in the tracking sheets, David Kerr
and Jenny Parsons for providing background information on the Museums galleries, the security
team for their practical and moral support during the long days of data collection, and Alexis
Tindall, Keith Maguire, Jo Wood and the digitisation volunteers for being friendly and supportive
office mates. Thanks also to Carolyn Meehan from Museum Victoria for allowing me to do some
additional piloting at Melbourne Museum, Chris Lang for sharing the Australian Museums visitor
tracking protocols, and Angela Lush for proofreading this thesis.
I am privileged to have a supportive network of family and friends, who have encouraged me