Category Archives: User research

Transformation: Business as Usual

Transformation is made one day at a time. Ideas, mistakes, doing and refining. Ship early, ship often. There are no ribbon cutting moments just the quiet satisfaction that a tool or way things are done become normal and it’s seen as business as usual. I love this transformation.
To counteract my nervous energy on my Dublin to New York City flight I made a brief list of things we’ve introduced in the recent past.
We’ve introduced new roles including Head of Digital and user researchers. New as in never been seen in the service before. How cool is that?! We’ve pushed as many decisions out from management as possible to keep the responsibility with whomever has the direct expertise and to release the bottleneck of waiting for the four of us. Yes we can still override a preferred course of direction.
We’re getting digital tools (basecamp and trello, emu) into position as THE way we do business – freeing up meeting time and being transparent. We’re also chipping away at a culture of being a ‘cultural business’. And that’s just on the staff front. All things to be super proud of from those across the team. What I love though is how “normal” all this is now. Tools like Basecamp were seen as for the nerds like me back in 2014 in the team. Yet in 2016 I can see we now use it for project managing all exhibitions as a matter of course.

We’re cooking on gas using google drive now too as the spreadsheet sharing and linking data gets more critical eg for kpi work. Accurate information over live/ancient information.
The public are seeing some of this work through our ‘Pay What You Think’ approach to our own in-house programme. Tinkering with pricing and value.
Stroll into Bristol Museum & Art Gallery and you’re now greeted upon entry and asked if you’d like to donate without delay.
All of the above are super closely aligned to our core value of “excellence” by focusing on the needs of the user – staff or public. You may be asked on your visit about any number of our services and we use this to make our service better.
Long live business as usual.

A special welcome for every visitor at Bristol Museum & Art Gallery

Photo showing our new welcome area with the public at the desk

Image credit: Oliver Merchant

Post by Valerie Harland

If you have been at Bristol Museum & Art Gallery within the last week, you might have noticed that our street-level entrance lobby is now a much more welcoming place for our visitors.

Staff at a new Welcome Desk now greet everyone as they enter the museum. Visitors are asked if they’ve been to the museum before, if they’ve come for a general look around or for an exhibition, talk or particular gallery or artefact.

Welcome Desk staff state that there’s no general admission fee and that donations are welcome, adding any highlights or their own personal favourites from what’s on display.

The visitor map has been improved to more graphically show the layout of the museum and share some of the highlights in the galleries. Finally, visitors are asked if they would like to make a donation today to Bristol Museums Development Trust (the independent registered charity that raises funds for Bristol Museums and Archives).

To explain why we are asking for donations, the editorial on the reverse of the visitor map explains that behind the scenes curators, conservators, documentation professionals and a host of other specialist staff are working to care for the collections, create new displays and encourage people of all ages and interests to discover more.

Illustrated examples of how the £5 suggested donation could help are also provided in the visitor map, for example to conserve an artefact, examine minerals more closely, or conserve a painting.  The visitor map also outlines Bristol Museums’ sources of funds: this is approximately 40% from Bristol City Council, 30% from Arts Council England, and the remaining 30% coming from our shops, cafes, event hires, Friends groups, and fundraising from a variety of sources including visitors.

It is anticipated the new Welcome Desk will give passers-by more of an idea of what happens inside this Edwardian building, resulting in more people crossing the threshold. It should also significantly increase the donation per head (currently 7p per head at Bristol Museum & Art Gallery), thus bringing in much needed funds that will enable us to do more with our collections and thus improve the visitor experience.

The Welcome Desk is being trialled for four months, until the end of October. If you have any comments about the Welcome Desk project, please contact Valerie Harland at valerie.harland@bristol.gov.uk

Text to Pay for Museum Exhibitions: A Step-by-step guide

Paying for Pay What You Think

In 2013 Bristol Museum & Art Gallery (BMAG) ran its first Pay What You Think pricing model at the temporary exhibition; Taylor Wessing: Photographic Portrait Prize. The principle is very simple – visitors enter the exhibition for free and pay the amount they feel the exhibition was worth by putting money in a box at the end of their visit. It was a success and visitors responded well to it. But, there was one sticking point; because we were only accepting cash payments our visitors were telling us that they were either not paying or paying less because they didn’t have cash on them.

A quality experience, thank you M Shed for providing it! Ps. I only have a little cash with me, but would like to have paid £5…

Some of the portraits were very moving… P.s. I gave less than £5 – all the cash I had.

This got us thinking about alternative ways of collecting payments from visitors for our next Pay What You Think temporary exhibition – death: the human experience (24 October 2015—13 March 2016). Card payments were deemed unfeasible as the Pay What You Think system is not staffed in the same way as standard ticketing – so card payments cannot be taken securely. The next thing that came to mind was payment by text message. Taking payment by text is relatively common nowadays – it can often bepudsey text to pay seen in things like charity appeals and car parks. Anyone who has used a text to pay system before will know that it is a very simple way of making a payment as it generally doesn’t require sign-up or registration. Instead, the user simply sends a text message containing a specific word to a specific number and a set amount of money is paid (I’ll explain in more detail below).

With a month to go before the opening of death: the human experience at BMAG I set about to organise a text to pay system for the exhibition. Here I run through a step-by-step guide to text to pay. Nb. there’s a bit of a catch at the end with collecting payments – the phone companies (3, EE, Vodafone etc.) will probably want to take a slice of your earnings…

Text to pay: a step-by-step guide

Searching for a Premium SMS service provider

The very first steps in setting up the text to pay were trickier than I expected. This is because I didn’t know the proper name for ‘text to pay’. Naturally, I went to google and searched for ‘text to pay provider’ (+ various versions of those words). I found a few websites, but it wasn’t immediately obvious which service I was looking for and who could provide it. I called a couple of companies who offered similar texting services but not exactly what I was looking for. Eventually, I learnt that what I wanted was called a ‘Premium SMS’ service provider. You will have much more luck searching for Premium SMS than ‘text to pay’.

So, once I had found this out I found a couple of companies that provided the s
ervice and requested quotes from them both. I got quotes from the companies Oxygen8 and txtNation (I’m sure there are oxygen8 logomany more options out there). The better quote was given by Oxygen8 – so I went with them.

Compliance and regulation

One of the things that struck me was the amount of regulation and compliance there is involved in Premium SMS. This is actually quite unsurprising as Premiuim SMS is used when you pay for app downloads and in things like TV competitions and voting on programmes like the X Factor. Premium SMS services are regulated by an independent regulatory body called PhonepayPlus – their Code of Practice is regulated by Ofcom.

gif PPP Logo

Before you can setup and run a Premium SMS service you have to register with PhonepayPlus and ensure compliance with their code of practice. All the information you will need on how to do this can be found here on their website. It is pretty straightforward; it requires some form-filling and a payment of an annual registration fee of £155 +VAT. Once you have done this you will be assigned a PhonePayPlus registration number. Ours is ORG837-51289-03976.

Setting up ‘keywords’ and ‘shortcodes’

There are two key elements of a Premium SMS system – the Keyword and the Shortcode.

It’s very simple, to make a payment the user sends a prescribed keyword (e.g. PAY5) to a shortcode (a five digit number; e.g. 63333).

Pay by text close up

The keyword is a word that the user can send in order to make a payment. In the case of our exhibition we have five different keyword options – death1, death2, death3, death5, and death10 – each of which allows for a different level of payment. When a user sends an SMS containing one of these keywords to the shortcode 63333 a payment will be made to the value of the number included in the text; e.g. text death5 and the user will be charged £5. (The payment is either taken from the remaining credit of users with pay as you go phones or it will be added to the bill of users on phone contracts).

The keywords and shortcodes are also the bit that you have to pay your provider (in our case Oxygen8) to setup. There is a charge to setup the shortcode and then a monthly fee for that shortcode – the provider is effectively renting it on your behalf. Then there is a charge to setup each keyword. In total, to setup and run the Premium SMS for the five month duration of the exhibition it cost us approx. £320.

Displaying and advertising your Premium SMS service

IMG_20160104_145827052

As you might expect there is a bit of compliance to get through when advertising a Premium SMS service. Basically, you have to make it as clear to the user as possible that if they text one of the keywords to the number then they will be charged, and what they are being charged for. Sounds simple, but it took a few emails back and forth with our provider to get this right. The accompanying text also needs to include contact details and your PhonepayPlus registration number. (Your provider should help you with this).

Collecting Payments (here’s the catch)

I’m sorry to leave this till last but there is a catch to all of this. If, as we are, you are collecting payments using a Premium SMS service for anything other than a registered charity then the payments you receive from your visitors/customers will be subject to a levy from the phone companies (see here if you’re a charity). In other words, if one of our visitors texts to pay £5 then we will not see the whole £5, the phone company (3, EE, Vodafone etc.) will take a slice of the payment. How much they take depends on the initial value and on the phone company – but typically they take around 25%.

Our visitors to death: the human experience are responding to the text to pay service we’re offering. We know this because we can follow payments on Oxygen’s very handy online dashboard. The individual payments reach us as a single payment from our provider at the end of the exhibition (we had the option of monthly payments).

Next steps

The Premium SMS service has one final advantage – you gain access to the mobile phone contact details of your visitors. Bristol museum will not be doing any kind of follow-up messaging using our text to pay user details – this is explained to visitors in the advertising material. Other organisations may choose to use mobile phone contact details as part of their marketing.

To some extent, the Premium SMS service we’re running for death is a bit of an experiment both to make our exhibitions as user-friendly as possible and to explore different options for income generation. It’s difficult to judge the success until the exhibition has finished – but we already thinking about using Premium SMS for our one-off events and talks.

If you have any questions or comments and would like to get in touch with me directly, my email is – darren.roberts@bristol.gov.uk

Museum Retail: Small display – Big impact

Banksy book display

One of the focus areas for improvement at Bristol Museum & Art Gallery (BMAG) and M Shed is our retail offer. Over the past year Zak Mensah (Head of Transformation) and Helen Lewis (Retail Manager), with input from Peter Holloway (retail consultant)  and myself (User Researcher), have implemented a  number of big and small changes in order increase income generation in our shops but to also make them more appealing, relevant, and exciting parts of the museums.

This post is about a small but seemingly effective change we have recently made within the shop at BMAG. It follows the Phase One refurbishment of the shop in October 2015. The shop refurb included the purchase of seven new nesting tables; one of which we have designated to display products outside the entrance of the shop. Here I look at what impact this small change has had.

IMG_20151230_120445070

We began using the shop-front display table on the 11th December 2015, and we have been surprised with the positive impact it has had on sales. The display is dedicated entirely to a range of books about Banksy – the world renowned Bristol-born graffiti artist. We know from sales data that the Banksy books are an important product within the BMAG shop. To date in 2015-16 the book Banksy’s Bristol: Home Sweet Home by Steve Wright is our fourth most popular product, and overall it is the most popular book that we sell. If you’re interested, it is now also available through our online shop.

Following the general retail rule of putting the most popular items forefront and centre of the shop, Helen displayed the Banksy books on the shop-front display table.  In total we stock four books dedicated to the work of Banksy:

  • Banksy’s Bristol: Home Sweet Home – £14.00
  • Banksy: Myths and Legends – £5.95
  • Banksy: Wall and Piece – £14.99
  • Planet Banksy – 12.49

It wasn’t until the table was in place that we realised how much of a natural fit the Banksy book display was. Directly outside the shop is BMAG’s very own piece of original artwork by Banksy – Paint Pot Angel. The iconic piece was given to the museum by Banksy following the hugely successful exhibition/takeover of Banksy’s artwork in the museum in 2009 – Banksy versus Bristol Museum. The display table is in the eye-line of the Paint Pot Angel and it’s the perfect moment to capture visitor’s interest in Banksy, and ultimately to generate sales of Banksy related products.

IMG_20151230_120502330

What’s been the impact on sales?

Between 2nd May 2015 and the 30th December 2015 we have sold  a total of 205 Banksy books at BMAG. (Our retail sales records for this year  excludes April, it begins in May 2015 as this is when we moved to Shopify).

Period One – without shop-front display table

  • Prior to the 11th December (223 days) 163 books were sold
  • Average of 0.73 books sold per day

Period Two– with shop-front display table

  • From 11-30th December (excluding 25/26th Dec) (18 days) 42 books were sold
  • Average of 2.3 books sold per day
In tBanksy book charthe period we have displayed the Banksy books on the shop-front table, there has been an increase in sales of 219.8%

To some extent these figures may be inflated by the Christmas sales, but there are other notably busy periods within the period between May and December so it is likely that this increase in sales cannot be attributed to Christmas alone.

The lessons of this small change it seems is that it can be good to experiment with change in museum retail, especially if you use the  available evidence you have to inform those changes. The Banksy books are  also a great example of the need to provide visitors with products that are relevant to their experience of the museum – they respond well to them.

IMG_20151230_120015023

On a regular basis I will see visitors come into the museum, go straight to Banksy’s Paint Pot Angel, take a photo of it and leave. There are only nine pieces of Banksy’s artwork remaining in Bristol, two of which are displayed in our collections – the Paint Pot Angel at BMAG and the Grim Reaper at M Shed. The two that we display are the only ones displayed in-doors and so we have a great opportunity to provide the Banksy books and other merchandise that fans of Banksy want. As I noted above, we already knew that our Banksy products were popular; even before the shop-front display of the books, the Banksy products were already in our top-ten most popular products. So the big lesson is that when looking to increase income generation it is a good to start with popular items and ask whether they could do better still.

The Final report for The Hidden Museum project

We’re pleased AND relieved to share with you our final report on the Hidden Museum project. The project was 12 months of graft and a partnering up with Aardman Animations and the University of Bristol. We rolled our sleeves up with ibeacons, user research and working in a truly agile and remote manner.

We’ll have app publicly available very shortly and we’d love you to come along and give it a go.
Direct link to Report (PDF)

Museums & Temporary Exhibitions: Getting the price right

It is only in the recent history of Bristol Museums, Galleries & Archives that we have been charging an entry fee for some of the temporary exhibitions – the first paid exhibition ‘Eye for Fashion’ took place in early 2012.

In the intervening time a number of approaches to pricing have been tried and tested including, for example, a ‘pay what you think’ model for the Photographic Portrait Prize in 2013. We are currently planning a similar model – ‘Pay what you can’ – for the Death exhibition (24 October 2015—13 March 2016). Over the past few years we have also been collecting data on pricing in the exhibition surveys via questions about ‘value for money’ – responses to which vary according to the exhibition in question. Despite having some data related to pricing, further research on pricing is needed. As such I undertook a short two week exploratory research project looking into temporary exhibition pricing and I discuss some of the findings here.

The research involved four days of survey collection whilst the Hogarth exhibition was on in Bristol Museum & Art Gallery (early July 2015). Hogarth Exhibitions CartoonThe survey consisted of nine questions focused on the pricing of temporary exhibitions (see below). A total of 39 surveys were completed by a random sample of museum visitors. The key questions to highlight are three and four. These questions ask about firstly the price point of an exhibition that directly appeals to the visitor, and secondly about promotions that would help to incentivise exhibitions which have less direct appeal. The aim is to understand how pricing and promotion relate to different kinds of exhibitions.


  1. Have you been to or intend to go to the Hogarth exhibit? Y/N
  2. Did you come to the museum specifically to see the Hogarth exhibit? Y/N
  3. Thinking about an exhibition that appeals to you, which statement do you most agree with?
  • I am unlikely to pay for a temporary exhibition
  • £5 is too high, but would pay a lower entrance fee
  • £5 is reasonable and would be prepared to pay it
  • I would not be put off if the price was higher
  1. If you were unsure about paying to enter an exhibition, would any of the following promotions make you more likely to buy a ticket?
  • Pay once and return as many times as you wish
  • A discounted annual pass for temporary exhibits
  • Discount in the Museum Cafe and Shop
  • Discount for visits during quiet periods e.g. weekday mornings
  • Free tea or coffee with adult ticket
  • 2 for 1
  • Family tickets
  • 50% off promotion
  • None
  • Other (please specify)
  1. If we had a ticketing promotion how would you like to hear about it?
  2. Have you previously paid to visit a temporary exhibit in this museum or M-Shed? Y/N
  3. Have you previously paid to visit a temporary exhibit in other museums and art galleries? Y/N
  4. Have you bought anything in the shop or cafe on your visit? Y/N
  5. Do you understand why there is a charge for this exhibition and where the money raised from ticket fees goes? Y/N

In line with the previous visitor feedback on ‘value for money’, the results from the survey suggest that paid entry  is not necessarily a barrier to visitors, nor is the current price point of £5. Moreover, the results potentially suggest that a higher price point would not always negatively affect the decision to pay for a temporary exhibition. Below I highlight two key findings and then suggest some further questions that may need addressing with further research.

Finding One

The graph below shows combined data from the Q.1 Have you been to or intend to go to the Hogarth exhibit? and Q.3. ‘Thinking about an exhibition that appeals to you, which statement do you most agree with?’. It shows the following:

  • The majority (69%) of all respondents who had and had not been into Hogarth agree with the statement ‘£5 is reasonable and would be prepared to pay it’.
  • Of the 22 users who had been to Hogarth, 41% agreed with the statement ‘I would not be put off if the price was higher’. A potential insight that the audience who are visiting Hogarth (60% over 55) would not be put off by higher ticket prices.
  • Only a small minority (2.5%) of all respondents agreed with the statements ‘I am unlikely to pay for a temporary exhibition’ or ‘£5 is too high, but would pay a lower entrance fee’.

q1 v q4

Wider Insight: There may be a need to re-assess the fixed price structure of £5/£4 con/Free U16s across all paid temporary exhibitions in order to maximise the different offers of each one. We know that different exhibitions appeal to different audiences and therefore further research may be needed on how prices points are perceived by key target audiences for each exhibition.

Finding Two

The graph below shows data for Q.4 – ‘If you were unsure about paying to enter an exhibition, would any of the following promotions make you more likely to buy a ticket?’ It shows the following:

  • 85% of users selected at least one pricing incentive option which would make them more likely to buy a ticket for an exhibit they were unsure about. 15% selected the ‘none’ option, meaning they would not be convinced by a pricing incentive to buy a ticket for an exhibit they were unsure about.
  • The most popular discount pricing options were ‘2 for 1’ (41%) and ‘Free tea or coffee with an adult ticket’ (28%). This result is perhaps unsurprising, however, pricing discounts would need further research.
  • The ticketing schemes we presented were also popular. The option of ‘pay once and return as many times as you wish’ was selected by 31% of users and the Discounted Annual pass was selected by 15%.
  • Of those who said they had paid for exhibition in Bristol Museum and Art Gallery or M-Shed previously (Q.6), 28% selected an annual pass. This may indicate a stronger desire for an annual pass from already returning visitors.

q4

Wider Insight: The data in this graph is indicative of openness among users to re-consider exhibits that they are unsure about given the right pricing incentive or promotion. This needs further investigation, including experimenting with pricing incentives.

Emerging questions and issues

As hoped at the outset of this short piece of research, a number of questions and issues emerged which need further investigation. The first one concerns what place temporary exhibitions have in the overall experience of a museum visit, for example, ‘are visitors using multiple offers in the museum: the permanent exhibitions, the temporary exhibitions (paid and free), the shop, and the café?’ Related to this, there is a need to better understand how temporary exhibitions relate to other paid-for elements in the museum. For example, ‘if the café is currently doing well, should we use its success as a means to increase visitor spend in the shop and in temporary exhibits (i.e. use the café as a direct marketing opportunity)?’

Perhaps the widest reaching insight, which would require further research, is that arguably the primary barrier to entry to any given exhibition remains a perceived lack of interest in a given exhibition. Previous research from the Hidden Museum project, however, revealed that a perceived lack of interest among visitors is often founded on assumptions and bias, but that this can be resolved given the right tools and approach.

Finally, it is part of my task as the new user researcher (audience development) to design and facilitate research which can address these questions and feed the findings back into decisions about how we shape the temporary exhibition offers that we have across Bristol Museums, Galleries & Archives.

If you have any questions about the digital or audience development research we do at Bristol Museums, Galleries & Archives feel free to get in touch with me darren.roberts@bristol.gov.uk