Fun, as we shared last week, can be a loaded word when it comes to museums. While many museum-going parents and younger adults think about museums as “fun” experiences, a good segment of older adults are less comfortable with the idea that museums can be “fun.”
Our post elicited some interesting comments (with those commenting pretty firmly in the “fun” camp, understanding that “fun” and education/learning are not mutually exclusive concepts). The comments raised some good points including:
- “Fun” may be a word younger museum-goers use to describe museums, but it is not necessarily a word the general public might choose. We simply don’t have enough data on the public’s perceptions of “fun” and museums to draw strong conclusions at this point.
- Additionally, “fun” is one of many motivations for visiting museums. For some people, “fun” is the primary motivation. For others, “fun” is a secondary motivation. And for some, “fun” is not a motivation at all (though that does not mean they do not enjoy museums).
- And then there was the idea that the word “fun” might translate to mean “play” for some visitors. That is, for older adults who would not use the word “fun,” it may be because they don’t care for the idea of museums as playgrounds. Whereas parents do, indeed, often comment about museums being playgrounds for their young children. For young adults, “fun” museums may be places to play with ideas, concepts, art, science, etc.
We wanted to consider the third bullet, which originates out of Colleen Dilenschneider’s comment, more carefully, so we took a quick look at some of our data from last winter’s study of 40,000+ museum goers.
In that study, respondents were asked why they visited museums, and were asked to choose one of the following:
- Family time
- Learning opportunities for children
- Only visit on vacation/for something specific
Each choice then went to a follow-up question asking why curiosity/family time/fun/learning were important to them, why they only visited infrequently, etc. We then examined these open-ended responses to look for the word “play.”
Turns out, Colleen is, indeed, on to something. Respondents who selected “fun” were significantly more likely to use the word “play” in their responses, being twice as likely to use “play” than the family time or learning respondents, and over 22 times (yes, 22) more likely to use the word “play” than curious respondents (keep in mind that most older respondents to the survey chose “curiosity,” so this makes sense).
OK – all fair enough. But I want to add on another layer, inspired by a recent article in Fast Company on Stanford marketing professor Jennifer Aaker, who teaches a class on “Designing Happiness.” In her work, she has found that the concept of “happiness” shifts as people age. Young people are happier when they are excited (think kids and dinosaurs!), while older people are more likely to link happiness with peacefulness.
Cue the light bulbs going off in my head like crazy. Her findings mirror ours around the word fun. If excitement = happiness, then it isn’t a huge leap to conjecture the following:
- For younger respondents, play = excitement = happiness = fun
- For older respondents, play = excitement = fun ≠ peacefulness, ergo play & fun ≠ happiness
Since a segment of museum-going older adults go to museums to relax and escape their everyday lives by seeing beautiful things and stoking their personal curiosity and interests, “fun” may, indeed, imply to them a noisy, boisterous environment that is anything but relaxing. Their reactions to the word “fun” to describe museums (or simply their not thinking of using it at all), now makes more sense.
Does this mean you should avoid the word “fun” when working to attract and engage more visitors to your museum? Not at all, so long as you understand that the word has many meanings to different segments of museum-goers (as well as non-museum-goers).
What do you think? Does fun = play? Can museums be playful, for adults of all ages? What about adults who are happiest when in more relaxing (i.e., quieter) environments? We'd love to hear what you think. To share, simply click on “comments” below. (If you are reading this from your e-mail subscription to the blog, please go to our blog's website to add a comment.)