Interpretation can be tricky if you aren't in tune with what visitors are actually interested in learning when they come to your institution. Many institutions we speak with still struggle with getting past the very traditional 'institutional voice' and moving towards a more visitor-centric story. This brief blog post from the ever brilliant Seema Rao highlights some of the themes in interpretive content, and for whom they are most appropriate.
Not surprising is that the very simple question of 'what' is top of the list in what is most accessible and desirable for all audiences to know. What makes Antenna most excited however, is the second category she points out, or the 'what's cool, odd, weird, or curious' about the object in question. People love a juicy story, scandal, or off-the-beaten-path fun fact. Dates, names, and locations are harder to remember; but tie in a shocking or stirring tidbit that situates the object in a story and gives it a life of it's own, and your visitors will walk away better remembering and understanding your collection.
Interpretive content should serve both an institution's mission, and the visitors who come to explore. Balancing basic facts with a story that will really grab visitors is an artform, and it's great that more thought leaders in this space are exploring how to more effectively achieve this.
The graphic highlights the types of information on the scale of ease and impact. Ideally, museums should strive for balance. An exhibition with only top-level information (“the thing” in the graphic) might hit the broadest audience but will leave die-hard patrons cold. Similarly, an interpretation that only drills down will be irrelevant to the majority of visitors.