When I was in Iceland last year, I noticed a pattern with the guest books I was signing. As I visited museums and cultural sites I saw plenty of standard guest books – the ones on tables, the ones next to exits. The standard guestbooks usually had standard entries – names, hometowns, “Great museum,” “What a fun day,” and “Kaitlin and Justin Bieber 4Eva.”
But I also saw non-standard guest books. The non-standard guest books were locked inside metal boxes at the top of steep paths up even steeper mountains. They were on the other side of lakes full of freezing-cold glacial runoff, only accessible by snorkeling. The non-standard guestbooks were at the hidden hot springs you have to ford a fjord to find. And the entries in those guest books? They were extraordinary.
The guest books that people had to work to reach, the ones they paid for the privilege of writing in with their effort and experience, were full of gorgeous stories, confessions, hopes, dreams, and ideas. It was beautiful to see how open and honest visitors were about themselves and the experiences they were having in that moment.
Some of my examples in Iceland were extreme, but they reinforced something I’d already seen in museums – that the experiences visitors have to work for are often the ones that lead to the most meaningful comments. Coming back to Germany, I saw the same pattern. When museum exhibits asked little of the visitor, little was left in the guest book. But when exhibits invited visitors to challenge themselves and accomplish something – to try something new, to take risks, to ask questions, or to push themselves into and through a new experience – the guest book entries were full of reaction and reflection.
Just another reminder that the content visitors give back to you – whether in a guest book or on a Post-It Note wall – if often a reflection of the experience you’ve given to them. Not every visitor will climb a mountain to get to you, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t keep looking for ways to make their visit momentous.
Have you seen similar patterns in your own museum and/or adventure experiences? When it comes to effort in the visitor experience and effort in the visitor response, do you think correlation equals causation?