The New Museum of Contemporary art is a pioneering New York art museum embracing a diverse and thought-provoking array of art from around the globe. In 2021, they approached MHM with a twofold problem.
The New Museum needed to find out:
1. How can we better understand, and connect with our audiences?
The New Museum wanted to explore visitors’ perceptions of contemporary art in general, as well as the visit experience itself. What is a visit to the New Museum like, and how does it compare to other major art museums in the city? What motivates visitors to come, and return?
The team also wanted to know about those who weren’t attending. Were they unaware that the New Museum exists, or was there an inherent barrier preventing a visit? If so, how could New Museum make the offer more inclusive and welcoming?
2. How can our website better suit the needs of our visitors?
In advance of the redesign of their website, the New Museum needed more insights on what users wanted to get out of their online visits. As well as the practical, visit planning information, how could the New Museum engage more deeply online, pre- or post-visit, with educational resources like conversations, workshops and tours?
The New Museum, exhibition view
Complicated questions require thoughtful planning to fully answer. We decided to build insight into the New Museum’s audiences using multiple qualitative and quantitative methods to get a thorough understanding of the Museum’s visitors (and non-visitors), and their unique motivations and needs.
Five audience groups
Our analysis identified five distinct market groups within the New Museum’s audiences, which would each require different strategies to build or maintain trust.
The audience research showed the New Museum’s engaged and current visitors fully understood the brand and were confident in engaging with the art, as much or as little as suited them.
But for lapsed, potential and undecided groups, contemporary art’s reputation as exclusive or ‘difficult to get’ was creating a barrier to attending the New Museum. These groups needed reassurance that people of all levels of artistic literacy would find it rewarding and relevant to engage with the collection. In other words, communicate that when it comes to contemporary art there is no ‘right’ answer – anyone can make their own meaning.
New Museum, exhibition view
Armed with the insights on the audience groups, we could turn our attention to the New Museum’s website refresh.
We looked at how the website was performing for practical planners – those looking for information such as opening times or ticket prices – as well as specialists –art experts and professionals who spent longer than average on site and were looking for deeper engagement with the Museum’s collections.
Wayfinding at New Museum
The good news was that users found the site easy to navigate. Respondents also thought the minimalist branding and style of the site reflected the Museum’s position as a leading contemporary arts organization.
Specialists loved the educational content that was available on the website, such as talks, workshops and archival materials. Respondents commented that these resources covered topics not frequently discussed at other institutions; they were excited by the conversations the New Museum is having with artists and visitors.
However, for those who had not yet made a visit to the Museum, the offer was not immediately clear. What exactly would they see once onsite? Many potential visitors were unsure of whether the Museum had a permanent collection. Others queried whether a standard adult ticket included entry into all exhibitions. Similarly to the findings from the research into the New Museum’s in-person audience, the main barrier was a lack of knowledge around what to expect from the experience.
For those less familiar with the Museum, more clarity on the website on what to expect would increase confidence and enthusiasm about the prospect of a visit.
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Finding out what your audiences think about you.