Applying service design to the visitor journey. With Paul-Jervis Heath

In today’s Skip the Queue podcast episode I speak with Paul-Jervis Heath, Founding Partner & Chief Creative Officer at Modern Human.

Paul-Jervis Heath is an award-winning product and service designer and renowned design strategist with over 20 years of experience. He is Founding Partner & Chief Creative Officer at Modern Human, a multidisciplinary design practice and innovation consultancy that specialises in imagining disruptive new products, services, experiences and workplaces then making them a reality.

He founded Modern Human to create truly meaningful products, services and experiences that enrich the human experience by empowering and liberating those who use them.

His highly diverse portfolio of projects includes dashboards for autonomous vehicles, smart home appliances, intelligent environments, digitally integrated retail store concepts, libraries of the near future, multichannel museum exhibits and publishing services that accelerate the pace of human progress.

We discuss service design for attractions, and how to apply this to the visitor funnel and visitor journey. We also hear about the brilliant work Modern Human carried out for the Ashmolean Museum in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

“It sounds really odd when you think of the visitor experience as a service because we’re used to there being some exchange potentially between the service provider and the service user. But actually I think service design is the perfect set of tools for looking at the visitor journey. It provides a way of thinking about service in a really holistic multi-channelled way.”

What will you learn from this podcast?

  • Service design for attractions
  • How to apply this to the visitor funnel and visitor journey
  • The brilliant work Modern Human carried out for the Ashmolean Museum in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic

To listen to the full podcast, search Skip The Queue on iTunes, Google Podcasts and Spotify to subscribe. You can find links to every episode and more at www.rubbercheese.com/podcast.

You can also read the full transcript below.

The interview

Your host, Kelly Molson

Our guest, Paul-Jervis Heath


Kelly Molson: Paul, welcome to the podcast. It’s really lovely to have you on.

Paul-Jervis Heath: Thank you very much, Kelly. It’s great to be here.

Kelly Molson: As ever I am going to probe you with a few quick-fire questions.

Paul-Jervis Heath: I am ready.

Kelly Molson: Okay. Are you a cat person or a dog person?

Paul-Jervis Heath: I have a cat. I’m probably more of a cat person. Easier to look after, less maintenance.

Kelly Molson: I’ve been thinking about this because we have two dogs. So we’re recording this in February at the moment it’s very snowy outside, and I’ve been thinking about the convenience of a cat and not having to take it out for a walk. Not getting muddy, not really liking the rain, quite easy.

Paul-Jervis Heath: Very much so. Just kind of open the door, let them out. They do the funniest thing when it’s snowed. They take a step and shake that paw in disgust, and then put the next paw down and do the same, and kind of make their way across the whole garden doing this little kind of paw shaking dance, which is ridiculous.

Kelly Molson: My Dachshund will do that if it’s raining. So she will point blank refuse to go outside in the wet rain. No, it’s not for her. But the minute it snows, it’s the best thing in the world. I don’t know what the difference is between wet water and slightly more solid water, but she’s down with that. Very weird. Okay. Thank you.

And what is currently on your Netflix list or other on-demand TV service?

Paul-Jervis Heath: I am currently re-watching The West Wing.

Kelly Molson: Oh, great.

Paul-Jervis Heath: …which is fantastic. But it looks dated when we think about the Trump presidency. Because the assumption was always that politics was sensible in some way and that they were trying to … All of the conversations in The West Wing are about how the Democrats and Republicans come to some sort of agreement through kind of discussion and trading of tax breaks and all of those kinds of things. And it looks very dated when you think of the state politics as it was up until very recently.

Kelly Molson: I would just rip that off and throw it up in the air. Forget about all of that good stuff.

Paul-Jervis Heath: Reality has kind of outstripped the drama of The West Wing, I think. And everything else on my Netflix is my daughter, who’s eight. So it’s Art Ninja and Blue Peter and all of those kinds of things.

Kelly Molson: Oh, Art Ninja, sounds like something that I might actually enjoy. What is Art Ninja?

Paul-Jervis Heath: Art Ninja is fantastic, and a lifesaver at the moment. It’s a little bit like Art Attack-

Kelly Molson: Right, yes. Newbie Cannon, yep.

Paul-Jervis Heath: Newbie Cannon, yeah. So a little bit like that. It’s a guy who shows kids how to make stuff and it’s been a lifesaver through the lockdown. The number of activities we have borrowed off of Art Ninja on BBC iPlayer to keep busy would be probably embarrassing to admit.

Kelly Molson: I’ve never heard of it. And I’m not going to lie, I’m going get involved in some of that myself now. I like a bit of craft, Paul, so it sounds like a program for me. Okay. Last one of these ridiculous questions. If you have to sing karaoke what’s your song?

Paul-Jervis Heath: I think Rocket Man by Elton John.

Kelly Molson: Great song.

Paul-Jervis Heath: I love a bit of that. I’m not sure how good I would be. It’s a long time since I done … It’s a long time since everyone’s done karaoke, I suppose. But yeah, I’d go for a bit of Rocket Man by Elton John.

Kelly Molson: It’s a great song. It’s a crowd-pleaser as well, Paul. I think you’ve got to choose something that the crowd is going to be really behind you with karaoke. And then honestly, it doesn’t matter about the quality, does it? I can’t sing for coffee, but I’d always go for one that the crowd is going to join in on.

Paul-Jervis Heath: Something with a strong chorus that everybody can join into.

Kelly Molson: I’m with you. Great choice. All right. Okay. We always ask about your unpopular opinion on this show, so can you tell me something that you believe to be true that nobody agrees with you?

Paul-Jervis Heath: Oh, I think that’s a really tricky question for me. I think I’ve lost track of all the unpopular opinions that I’ve had or ever had. I think because it happens daily. Well, I’ve just realized how disagreeable that makes me sound, but it’s not that. It’s just that doing what I do you often have to be a contrarian. A client will consider something is impossible, and then you calmly have to ask why it’s impossible or why they can’t do it. And so, one of any designer’s superpowers is doubt. Kind of doubt that things will always be the way that they are now, or doubt the way that an organization operates and can’t change. Or doubt that the future might not be like the present.

And it kind of reminds me of Arthur C. Clarke’s first law of prediction. Arthur C. Clarke said that when a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he’s almost certainly right. But when he states that something’s impossible, then he’s probably wrong. And I think you can substitute the scientist in Clarke’s first law for a distinguished executive, a distinguished business leader, a distinguished CEO. And so, I think one of the keys to creativity is doubt. And I think the other’s belief as well. The belief that in the human capacity for ingenuity and creativity and belief that we can solve any problem that’s put in front of us.

And so, inevitably with what we do at Modern Human, I end up diplomatically disagreeing with a lot of people. And so, it’s really hard to say how many unpopular opinions I had yesterday, let alone how many I’m holding in total. The role just puts me in that kind of role as a contrarian.

Kelly Molson: I totally agree with you, Paul, being someone in a role myself. But you do feel like you’re being slightly argumentative in some way on most days.

Paul-Jervis Heath: Yes. You’re constantly in a situation where you’re disagreeing because it’s so … People will fall into a pattern of operating that is … We all do it. We all fall into habits, whether it’s professionally or kind of in our personal lives. I’ve just talked to you about my habit of watching the West Wing so that I don’t have to troll Netflix to choose anything. I’ve got seven seasons of the West Wing to go at. And it’s that habit-forming. But the problem with those habits is then they become assumptions and those get baked into the way, when you do it professionally, into the way an organisation operates and the beliefs that an organisation has.

Arthur C. Clark, again, he talked about two failures of prophecy and the first was the failure of nerve. And the failure of nerve is when, even given all the relevant facts, a would-be prophet can’t see that they point to an inescapable conclusion. And I think that happens very rarely in business. That actually it’s not so much a failure of nerve that happens. I actually think that organisations are really good about looking at data and interpreting data. And sometimes there’s a bias and there’s what gets measured gets managed, and all of those kinds of failures.

But I think the failure that happens in business a lot is that the second of Arthur C. Clarke’s failures of prophecy, and that’s the failure of imagination. And that arises when all of the facts are completely appreciated, they’re marshalled correctly. But actually when really vital facts are undiscovered, actually we don’t know something. And the possibility of their existence is not even admitted. And I think that that happens quite a lot. That actually that organisations don’t know what they don’t know and have a kind of blindness to it because of all the things they do know pushing out all the possibilities of the things that they don’t. And so, I end up playing the contrarian. I end up playing the professional contrarian quite a bit, I think.

Kelly Molson: Well, this leads us perfectly onto what you do and what Modern Human does. I mean, you’re the founder of Modern Human. Could you give us a little bit of kind of info about your background leading onto how you founded Modern Human and what you guys do there?

Paul-Jervis Heath: Yeah, absolutely. I’ve been a designer for nearly 25 years. In that time I’ve designed just about everything. I’ve designed dashboards for driverless cars. I’ve designed connected home kitchen appliances, libraries, call centres. Just about everything. Like a really kind of broad and varied portfolio. I spent some time at Cambridge University as their Head of Innovation. And stepping out of the London design scene. And I inevitably have clients calling and asking what I was doing, asking if I could help them with things. And I ended up running a workshop for a couple of clients that I’d worked with before, and that just led on to finding Modern Human. And we’ve kind of grown sustainably over eight years. We’ve been a practice for eight years and we’ve grown sustainably over that time.

We’re now almost 15 people and designers of different types, design researchers. We do a lot of ethnography so we’ve got anthropologists on staff. We’ve got design researchers on staff, ethnographers. As well as service designers, product designers, workplace and environment designers as well. So we’ve tried to stay varied and that’s actually really hard in design because it’s very easy to concentrate on digital design or on architectural design or whatever it is. It’s actually relatively hard to build quite a varied portfolio. So we’ve been very lucky to be able to do that and work on some fantastic projects with some fantastic clients.

Kelly Molson: So, that’s something that I want to talk to you about is the variety of what you do. Because I think one of the services that you offer is around service design. When we first spoke what I found quite interesting was service design for me has always been something that I’ve really associated with kind of public sector, but very much kind of government services or NHS services. But that isn’t the case for you at all, is it? It’s completely different sectors that you work with?

Paul-Jervis Heath: Yeah, we do. We actually don’t do a lot of public sector service design at the moment. It’s all commercial service design. If you think about how you service your credit card, for example. Obviously, in the 21st century, you will do that on a day-to-day basis probably through an app or you’ll have a standing order set up. But every now and again you’ll need to ring the bank. And that’s the nature of service design. Service design is all about the multichannel. Not just about the kind of digital touchpoints. But what happens when somebody calls? When do you want someone to call as well? Because what you notice about a lot of organisations now is, obviously, when somebody calls you there’s a cost associated with that. And that cost might be anywhere between 8, 12 pound a call, 15 pounds a call depending on how your call centre operates.

But if you think about it. If you’re only interacting through an app then there’s a danger that you become commoditised. Actually, you become a remote service in the customer’s mind, and then you’re completely interchangeable. Every bank’s got an app, so why wouldn’t I change from this bank to that bank and use their app, because their app looks as good as that app? None of us can tell how good the apps are when we’re choosing a bank, for example.

And so, service design is really all about those moments where you actually want to use digital touchpoints because they’re cheap, fast, convenient, all of those things that we all know about as consumers. And actually then what happens when you perhaps don’t want somebody using an app or that you want to speak to them. And how do you build your value through those interactions? Because typically those interactions are the most difficult. They’re complaints. When you complain to an organisation, how is that complaint dealt with? We’ve worked with a financial services company and managed to reduce the time that it takes for them to handle a complaint down by two thirds. And so, more customers getting more complaints dealt with more quickly and increase their customer satisfaction at the same time. And that’s by looking at what happens when somebody calls, and how that call gets triaged, and who deals with it, and how can they deal with it better at the first point of contact so the first person that you speak to doesn’t have to put you on hold and pass you around departments and all of those kinds of things.

And so, that service design lens really lends itself to thinking about how organisations operate in the 21st century, excepting that digital touchpoints are a really important kind of part of the mix. But that actually human touchpoint, whether that’s on the phone or in person, actually we’re all looking for that. And I think we’re actually looking for it a little bit more at the moment because we’re all shutting and in lockdown and craving human contact.

Kelly Molson: Yeah, absolutely. And this is one of the reasons that I thought getting you on the podcast would be a really great idea. Because what you’ve described is very much how attractions need to look at how they’re operating at the moment. You talked a little bit there about the customer service side, which is interesting. So a lot of the attractions that we’ve spoken to are actually having more, not necessarily customer complaints, but actually more customer interaction than they normally would at certain touchpoints because they’ve had to launch with a 100% ticketed and pre-booking. And for some that uptake for guests has been a little bit difficult or maybe what they’ve had to launch with has been a slightly cumbersome user journey. And so, there’s a barrier there, there’s a challenge. And then they’re getting more kind of customer calls about how do they do certain things. And it’s just not super clear.

And so, when we started speaking I was like, well, this is … We talk about that experience very much as a kind of visitor experience. But actually, it’s service design that covers the whole spectrum of that. We look at it very much from a digital perspective, others will look at it very much from an inexperienced perspective, but the services on it actually covers both.

Paul-Jervis Heath: And that kind of moved to a 100% ticketing is one of the greatest opportunities, I think, for attraction.

Kelly Molson: Absolutely.

Paul-Jervis Heath: Knowing who’s coming through your door and getting their permission to contact them after their visit, even if that’s just to ask how their visit was. And actually, when you think about it in that inter-lockdown period, that was the best visitor experience you were ever going to have at the museum. Because I wanted to go to the Louvre during that period where there was going to be a 100% ticketed. Because normally you stand in front of the Mona Lisa and you’re bopping around looking between people’s heads. But you’d have an uninterrupted view because there would be no more than kind of three people in the gallery sort of thing. And selfishly as a visitor that would be a fantastic experience and all those kinds of fantastic attractions we’ve got in the UK as well.

I think it sounds really odd when you think of the visitor experience as a service because we’re used to there being some exchange potentially between the service provider and the service user. But actually, I think service design is the perfect set of tools for looking at the visitor journey. It provides a way of thinking about service in a really holistic multi-channelled way. And so, while it might sound a little bit odd to refer to a museum visit as a service, actually the tools of service design are perfectly suited for the job. That kind of service blueprint and that kind of experience mapping looking at where digital touchpoints come in where the in-gallery visitor experience can be improved. How you help people who are struggling with tickets.

Even things like how you deal with people who didn’t know that they had to buy a ticket and have just turned up. Because some of those people might be your most loyal visitors, and they just haven’t thought about it cause they’re so used to just kind of walking in. Or their members haven’t thought about the ticketing experience. You don’t really want to send them away to have to book a ticket. How do you recover from those moments?

And I think that’s the other thing that service design is very good at, thinking about service recovery and how when something goes wrong, you pick up the thing that’s gone wrong and you deal with it quite often in a non-digital channel. What are the human workarounds that you’ve got to resolve some of these situations and get that visitor back on track and into your attraction and having a great experience again?

Kelly Molson: It’s a vast challenge, isn’t it? I’m listening to you describe all of these touchpoints for digital and human, and it’s a huge challenge. But you’ve actually been through this process with the Ashmolean quite recently, haven’t you? Could you just talk us through what you did for them and how you implemented the changes there?

Paul-Jervis Heath: We sort of work in two or three phases with the Ashmolean. We’ve worked with Oxford University’s gardens, libraries, and museums on several projects. And one of those was looking at the digital customer user journey if you like. So, where was it digital involved in the visitor journey? Where was it not involved as well really importantly and why? And what was the behaviours that led to that? And we looked at that for all of the gardens, libraries and museums at Oxford University. And then Ashmolean got back in touch after the first lockdown and said, “Actually, we’re planning on reopening. This piece of work feels important, not just for now but for the future.” We want to think about what the next 12 months look like. And we’re in a very different situation because we’re looking at reduced visitor numbers. What will the visitor experience be given the constraints that we now have around Coronavirus, distancing, ticketing? All of those things?

It really looked at both the challenges that that creates, but also the opportunities it creates for the Ashmolean museum. And we created kind of a two phase kind of deliverable for them. The first was looking at their reopening and their reopening was, I think, two or three weeks away from when we started. We helped them think about what’s the visitor experience going to be of reopening. And we thought about actually as museums and visitor attractions were reopening between lockdowns, what we concentrated on was the very best kind of visitor experience that you can imagine having at these attractions. Because there’s going to be fewer people there, and actually, therefore, how do we … Yes, you’re going to have to buy a ticket beforehand. Yes, you’re going to have to think about your visit a little bit.

What that means that when you get there, you’ve got this kind of experience where you wander around without the crowds, and actually get a chance to look at everything that you want to. And the director of the Ashmolean was really keen that we didn’t go down the same route as the National Portrait Gallery, where we laid out particular routes that people have to stick to.

Kelly Molson: Okay.

Paul-Jervis Heath: And I think that was really key to the briefing in many ways because the Ashmolean has such a wide variety of things. It’s got the Egyptian gallery where they’ve got a mummy, and it’s got Egyptian tombs and some fantastic kind of Egyptian artefacts. It’s got the Greek and the Roman. But it’s also got an art gallery upstairs. And so, it’s a really varied collection.

The sensible question was, “Well, how would we even construct a route through all of this stuff that would interest everyone?” It’s such a varied collection that actually some people do just want to go and spend hours looking at Egyptian artefacts. And some people want to take the tour and see a little bit of everything. We really had to think about, well, okay, how do we move people through this space safely, first of all? But also how do we engage them at a level that’s deeper than they’ve ever been engaged before with the museum? Because there’s going to be fewer people here. They can have the deepest experience they want of these artefacts. And for some people, they won’t want that. They’ll they just want somewhere to wander that isn’t their own four walls and something different to see. And you know what? That’s fine too. It’s a perfect place for that too.

And so, what we came up with was this idea of a spotlight trail. 12 objects that really gave a sense of the variety of things that were available at the museum. But the key thing about that was that it acted like a spine. So rather than being a mandatory kind of trail, “You can just do this.” That actually it led you through the gallery in a sensible way that you could then jump off, spot something you were interested in like a massive Greek statue and go, “Oh, I wonder what that is.” And potter off to that, have a look at that, and then come back to the trail and follow it around the rest of the museum and then deviate in all of those kinds of things.

Kelly Molson: Nice.

Paul-Jervis Heath: And there were a few areas where actually, because of safety, we had to create a one-way system. There’s a few pinch points, one-way staircases and things like that. But actually, the museum did a lot of thinking about that because they know they knew their space very well. We had a long day where we spent the time walking around the museum working out which bits were one way, which bits were going to flow in what way and how that leads people around making sure that nobody ends up at a dead-end and didn’t know where to go. All of those kinds of hygiene factors.

But one of the things we noticed during that first lockdown is do you remember when we started coming out of that first lockdown, a lot of the restaurants had QR codes for menus. And so, when you went to a restaurant like just after that first lockdown, I think the government was doing a scheme, like eat out kind of discounts. I can’t remember what they call that.

Kelly Molson: Eat Out to Help Out scheme. That’s the one.

Paul-Jervis Heath: That’s the one, yeah. And the restaurants were very keen to get people back in. And they’d all put kind of QR codes to their menus and you could order, and then they’d bring the food and stuff like that. And so, we were like, “You know what? This could be a resurgence of the QR code.”

It was an old technology that had sort of died and become a bit of a joke because they got used on the London underground quite a bit where you haven’t got a mobile signal and things like that. They’d been put high up on a billboard where you’ve got no chance of getting a photo of it as you sped past in your car or whatever. They’ve been used using some really daft places. But seeing this behaviour and seeing even all ages, all kind of a demographics using QR codes when they were going out on the Eat Out to Help Out scheme, we thought actually what if we used the QR code in the tour as well so that actually, if you’re interested in the artefacts on the spotlight tour, you can scan the QR code and get a much deeper engagement.

And whereas that might be troublesome when there’s lots of people in the gallery to have a few people who are on their mobile phones, trying to capture the QR code and read the information that’s there. Actually, when there’s fewer people there, there’s fewer people to kind of bump up against and all of those things. So if you want more information about that historical artefact that isn’t on the little kind of board that you perhaps get next to it. Well, now’s your opportunity to discover everything that the Ashmolean knows about that particular artefact. And everything that they know might include some of the darker history of that object. Where the object was procured from. Some of the contested history behind that object. Some of the things that they can’t put on the little plaques for room and things like that.

You can unlock things like black history. You can unlock alternative voices around that objects, alternative critique of the object. All sorts of things. Because in a digital sphere, you can put unlimited amounts of information about an object and allow people to navigate it kind of sensibly much more than you could put on the boards that have behind the artefact. And so we thought about that as well.

Paul-Jervis Heath: We also thought about the kind of visitor funnel as it were and likened it to the conversion funnel the commercial organisation would go through. And actually, thought about how do you entice somebody from casual visitor or somebody who’s considering a visit to an attraction through to actually becoming a member and a repeat member through a one-time donation to a kind of repeat and regular member? Because I think when you’re faced with the situation where you’re going to have massively fewer numbers, you have to be much more efficient in a business sense about encouraging people to spend money, whether it’s spending money in the cafe, whether it’s spending money in the gift shop, whether it’s becoming a member.

And of course, that’s where the opportunities of ticketing come in. That if you ask to gather people’s data while they’re ticketing and reuse that data, then, yes, you can send them a survey afterwards to say, “How was your visit?” But you can also tell them about all of the great work that the attraction does. You can tell them about the artefacts afterwards. You can do all kinds of things to deepen and extend their engagement after their visit. I think that’s really important.

I also think when it’s your one cultural visit that you’ve done after lockdown, that actually buying a souvenir and maybe doing it from home when you get home rather than browsing the shop while you’re at the attraction, that’s something that kind of ticketing kind of enables as well. So there’s loads of opportunity in that tickets in situation. And I was speaking to the client at the Ashmolean the other day, and they said, unlike other attractions that they’ve spoken to, they’ve had no complaints about the trail. I think 25% of visitors have followed the trail and they’ve seen an uptick in their spend in both the gift shop and the cafe. And so, it’s been really kind of successful in that way.

Kelly Molson: Do you think part of that is because how you didn’t make it rigid? So when you were describing the trial, it felt very loose, it felt very comfortable. Like you weren’t being forced in a certain direction, which is we don’t like that, do we? We don’t like to be forced to do something or follow rules. Let’s face it.

Paul-Jervis Heath: If you’re told you can do one thing, or you’re told that you have to follow this trail, the first thing that you think about is like, “Well, what are all the things that I’m missing? What are all the things that I’m not seeing?” And I think when you design, you know that you’re influencing people’s behaviour. And you often design to influence people’s behaviour. And that gives you an ethical responsibility as a designer to only kind of influence in positive ways. But I think that’s the magic of service design that actually you influence people to do things that they sort of wanted to do anyway, but are sort of convenient to the institution that you’re designing for at the same time. And so, in that influencing people, I think rather than telling people what they can’t do, you influence them to do the things that you want them to do. And in doing that you make it easier to behave like a good visitor and make people less likely to behave like a bad visitor, whatever that may be.

Kelly Molson: Yeah, I love that.

Paul-Jervis Heath: The other part of the Ashmolean project was all about a 12-month program of work as well, looking at not only the reopening but then post reopening. What are the things that they ought to be doing over the next 12 months to really underpin the visitor experience? And actually create a situation where they can thrive in what is a really adverse situation for visitor attractions. And I think that’s still there. And obviously, they’re closed again at the moment. But when I know that they’re working behind the scenes to put a lot of those things in place because the commercials of visitor attractions have changed radically. And so, for attractions to thrive again, we would both, both Ashmolean and Modern Human, were really keen that we put together a 12-month program to say, “Actually, how do we create a sustainable commercial kind of model, if you like, or a sustainable way for the Ashmolean to retain and engage visitors?”

Kelly Molson: Does that plan look at when we’re in a situation when we’re past this? Because one of the things that you mentioned earlier around the QR codes was really interesting where you said at the moment, huge opportunities to go and see something beautiful that you wouldn’t necessarily be able to see that well because there would be too many people there. And you mentioned about the QR codes and people in a crowded situation, it would be quite challenging to have a lot of people around that trying to find out that extra information about that item. So what does that look like when attractions can go back to having 80%, 90%, 100% capacity? How will they have to change things?

Paul-Jervis Heath: I mean, the 12-month vision was all about that. And I think that is the majority of work that we’re doing at the moment. What happens not just in visitor attractions either. We’re currently working with three different clients on how they’ll work after coronavirus. They’ve sent everyone home. Everyone’s working from home. And in the interim, some of the companies have closed part of their office real estate and so their question is: How does the purpose of the office change? And that’s partly physical workplace design. But it’s also redesigning their ways of working, how they manage people, how work is distributed and completed. You have to really imagine or reimagine what work means and how it’s done in order to answer that question.

And I think that’s part of what we did with Ashmolean to say, actually, let’s think about the different scenarios that might happen in a post lockdown kind of situation. And it would be lovely to think that by April we’ll have all had our jobs and that there’ll be no social distancing and all of that kind of thing. But the truth is probably more like the world is irrevocably changed in some ways. And actually, it won’t be quite like it was before. What you have to then plan is what is the likelihood of things continuing and which things will continue. And actually what you can then say is, which things do we want to continue? For example, would we actually ever want to retain the situation where we’ve got 100% ticketing? Actually, that ticketing situation is an opportunity and we might not be turning people away anymore when they come without a ticket, but we may do something to capture some details and give them a kind of virtual kind of ticket on the door sort of thing.

In a situation where nobody knows what’s going to happen, you can actually choose your own future in a much more effective way, because you can say this is how we’re going to deal with it. This is how this is what we’re going to do. Actually, we can throw our assumptions aside and actually go in a different direction. And I think that’s really important. It comes back to that thing before about kind of being a contrarian. It’s like the world probably isn’t going to go back to exactly how it was before. Then it’s about choosing the changes that you want to retain, the changes you want to discard and say, actually, how do we want to do things? Because people’s assumptions about what a museum visit is or what a visit to a cultural attraction entails have been broken. There’s actually a discontinuity between what exists, what has existed up to now and what will exist in the future. There’s a real opportunity to insert yourself into that discontinuity and actually say, “This is what we’re going to do going forward.” And I think that’s a [inaudible 00:34:25] every organization.

Kelly Molson: It’s exciting as well, isn’t it, Paul? Because it gives you an opportunity to actually be proactive about the situation. Because that’s one of the biggest frustrations with a lot of the clients that we’ve been speaking to. Is that they’ve been in such a reactive state all the time with having very little timeframes between being told when they can open and you’ve got a week where you got two weeks to prepare, and actually making that decision to say, “No, this is when we’re going to plan to open. And it might be a couple of months after we’re allowed to. But this is when we’re going to, and this is what it’s going to look like. And this is our opportunity to own that and make it a positive experience for the organization as well as the visitor.”

Paul-Jervis Heath: It’s a huge opportunity for all organisations to say, rather than say, “How quickly can we go back?” To say actually, “How are we going to move forward?” And that’s true of museums. It’s true of every organization that’s got, employees. I don’t want to sound Pollyanna-ish about how great the opportunities are after coronavirus. It’s been a terrible situation. People have missed out on an awful lot of things. A lot of people have died. It’s certainly not a positive situation. But I think there are positives that we can take from it. And I think one of those positives is a discontinuity between the assumptions of the past and what’s possible in the future.

One of the areas where this is really stark is working from home. So many organisations said it is impossible for our staff to work from home.

Kelly Molson: And I look at us.

Paul-Jervis Heath: And now look at us. Somehow we’ve all managed it. Now, we might not right now in February in the UK be enjoying working from home, but it is possible to work from home. There were organisations that said you can’t do creativity remotely. And of course, that’s nonsense as well and it’s been shown to be nonsense. You can be creative in a group remotely, you just have to do it differently. And so, that lack of imagination that organisations have had has disappeared. Actually, we’ve busted that assumption that it’s not possible to work from home. It’s not possible to do creative work remotely. It’s not possible to do a client meeting over Zoom or … Whatever those assumptions were.

And I think that discontinuity exists when it comes to our free time as well. It’s broken a lot of the assumptions people have about what it means to visit a cultural attraction, how they go about that, what’s expected of them when they do and all of those kinds of things. And that means that it can be rebuilt in a way that is very different to perhaps how it looked before.

I also think a lot of cultural attractions have done some really great stuff during lockdown to keep people engaged. Some of the Zoom talks and stuff like that. I bought my parents a Zoom cheese tasting for Christmas. Cheese and wine pairing. They got the cheese and wine sent to them and somebody taught them through it on a Zoom call. Brilliant. I know a lot of cultural attractions have been talking about some of their kind of objects and artefacts on Zoom and going really deep into that.

When you’re kitted out to do that, you can’t believe that perhaps that wasn’t happening beforehand. But that kind of necessity is the mother of invention has really made people get creative about what they do to keep people engaged, and engage people in the collections, and provide extra value to members of their institutions and all of those kinds of things. And I think that’s something that actually gives us a really good kind of jumping-off point for going forward rather than just going back.

So it’s inevitable that some things will have to change. So the QR codes that you mentioned, we put on floor decals. I’m showing, Kelly, how big they were, which works brilliantly on a podcast, right? Me showing you in with my hands, how big they are. But so they’re about 20 centimetres across something like that. I can’t remember the 20, 25-centimetre decals and they’re stuck on the floor next to the object with an arrow pointing to the object. So you can tell what object they correspond to. You can stand by that and scan it on your phone. And even in a dark gallery, they’re bright enough with high enough contrast that you’d be able to scan them.

Paul-Jervis Heath: But when there’s lots of people in the gallery, you can imagine somebody might be stood on the QRS code that you want to scan or something like that. And you then have to take a choice. Do we dot more QR codes around it? Or do we do something actually clever with the technology? Do we do something kind of geo-fencing, for example, so that actually when somebody’s in this room, we can tell them about the objects in this room on their mobile device? And I think this all depends then on people’s behaviour in the space. And our whole ethos behind any type of design that we do is that you have to watch people understand their needs.

I think one of the mistakes that any organisation makes is that they’ll run surveys or they’ll run focus groups, and try and diagnose what people need from a survey or a focus group. And of course, a survey assumes that you know the right questions to ask. And a focus group is really just a way of kind of gathering opinion. But if you want to understand what they really need, you really have to observe their behaviour because people don’t necessarily know what they intuitively need, particularly not their latent needs. So they can tell you about needs that they’re already having satisfied in some way. But what they can’t tell you is about their undiagnosed needs because often they haven’t diagnosed their needs effectively either. But when you watch their behaviour, you’ll see them do something that’s kind of a tell as to an unmet need, and then you can dive deep into kind of how people behave and why they behave like that and identify kind of what’s missing in their experience.

The key thing is we made the decals liftable so if they’re not working you just take them up, put more down. But actually, by observing the people’s behaviour in the gallery, you can work out then how many people are engaging with that information? How much of a need is there for that information? And then what other ways could you provide? What adaptations do you need as more people come into the gallery? I think the key thing is not to stop yourself from making a change because you can already think of the problems.

If there’s obvious problems with an idea then you need to kind of kill the idea and move on to something that will work. But actually, the number of times that people will discount an idea because it doesn’t work in outlying situations is really high. And actually sometimes what people will do is they’ll discount an idea for a situation that will never, or very rarely occur. And so, actually much better to watch people’s behaviour and design for the behaviour you do see, then imagine the behaviour that you might see and design for imagined extremes.

Kelly Molson: Because one of my questions was going to be around what do we think the visitor behaviours and expectations are going to be as we move further into 2021. But would that be your advice to attractions that are … At the moment we’re still in a knockdown. Let’s say most attractions at the moment are probably planning for reopening around Easter time, just after Easter. Is that your advice to them? Open safely and then watch your visitors. Really observe their behaviours and how they’re interacting with your venue.

Paul-Jervis Heath: I think that’s certainly part of the equation because unless you’re doing that, and I’m sure attractions will, but unless you’re doing that there’s a danger that you assume that their behaviour will change in a certain way. And then get confounded when it doesn’t or when people bring their own new assumptions into space. But you can also kind of predict likely behavioural changes from the situation as well.

It’s a balance of the two, to be perfectly honest. I think what you want to do is you want to think forwards and try and identify how people’s needs have changed. And rather than the tasks that people do, when you look at the goals behind why they do them, all’s very rarely changed for people, but tasks change all the time. And so, in any great shift, like we’ve had, what you see is that the goal behind why they were visiting the cultural attraction, the goals behind their visit will stay the same, but the tasks that they might do to fulfill that visit might be very different.

I always kind of counsel organizations to look for their users and visitors goals. Why are they coming? Because those won’t change or they’ll change much less than a task. Where actually they might need to book a ticket now, for example. So, there’s an extra task that they didn’t have to do before. Completely new task. But if you think about why they’re coming, they’re still coming to get … There was always an element of a change of scene. There was always an element of entertaining the kids. There was always an element of providing an experience for someone else. Actually, somebody’s visiting and I want to show them something. And therefore, I’m facilitating their visits actually to a cultural attraction and showing off where I live, or the life I have, or something like that. There’s fulfilling a passion that I have. I’m really interested in Vikings and I’m going to go and see some Viking artefacts.

Those goals are still there. And once you understand those goals, you can then say, “Well, how have those goals changed as a result of coronavirus and lockdown and things like that?” And then you can then identify what behaviours might be more prevalent after you reopen. I would always say go back to the goals. If you understand your visitor’s goals and you understand that they’re the reasons that they’re visiting, then you can then start to think about have those reasons changed, how will the things that they do in order to facilitate that visit change in line with that goal? And it gives you a way of thinking very differently about the types of visitors that you get, rather than just thinking about them as a demographic. That all young people visit like this or all over 65 visits like that. It’s actually a much more accurate model to say, these are the reasons that people visit, these are the goals that they have, and here’s how they facilitate those goals. And that gives you a much better way of thinking about kind of visitor behaviour as you go forward as well.

Kelly Molson: That’s super advice. Thank you for sharing that. I’m sure that it’s going to be really useful to a lot of attractions that are currently planning how they’re going to reopen after all of this. If attractions are thinking about, “Actually this is something that we need to speak to Paul about, we need to speak to Modern Human.” What are those triggers for when people might call you in? What are the kind of challenges that an attraction might have that they would think to pick up the phone and speak to you?

Paul-Jervis Heath: I think the big one is clients usually come to us with some kind of business problem rather than a design challenge, to be perfectly honest. And the big one with visitor attractions is the funnel. How do we turn people who are considering visiting into actual visitors? And how do we convert actual visitors into donors? And how do we convert donors into members? And I think that kind of funnel of how you convert through that funnel to get people closer to the institution is one of the key questions that we get invited in by institutions to talk to them about. I think understanding visitor behaviour is another. We do a lot of ethnography and understand whether that’s understanding how people choose a visitor attraction or how people visit a visitor attraction through watching their behaviour either longitudinally.

So we’ve done studies, for example, on why people visit Scotland as a destination. And how people choose to visit Scotland versus other places. And so, we got people who were planning visits to Scotland from all over the world to keep diaries of that planning, and looked at how they chose or didn’t choose to visit Scotland, for example. And then down to what attractions did they visit while they were in Scotland? How did they kind of keep that visit alive after they visited Scotland? All of those kinds of things. So, looking longitudinally at a visit and understanding visitor behaviour is another thing that people kind of ask us to help them with.

And then within that, you’ve got all of the usual, “How do we encourage us just to stay longer, spend more? How do we appeal to different types of visitors or reveal more about that collection as well?” Quite often the frustration for museums particularly is that they know so much about artefacts that they’ve got, and they can put only so much on all about those artefacts. When you’ve got some of the most fantastic artefacts in the world, you’ve perhaps got the only one of something in the world, how do you tell people everything that you know about that and also discuss some of the issues around it? Around British colonialism, for example. And the checkered past of the acquisition of some of these objects and all of these kinds of things.

How do bring in alternative voices and maybe tell, wherever that artefact is from, how do you tell that kind of culture’s story of either artefact, not just the anglicised version of it? All of those kinds of things are questions that we get involved with. How do people extend their relationship with visitors? How do they deepen the relationship with visitors? That’s really key in a lot of those questions.

Kelly Molson: Amazing. Thank you. Well, I mean, that’s given our listeners, I’m sure, plenty of food for thought on why they might want to book a chat with you. And we will supply all of Paul’s contact details in our show notes as well.

But Paul, it’s the last question of the podcast, and it’s a question that I ask all of our guests, and it’s: Is there a book that you would recommend? And this can be something that you really love that has either helped you throughout your career? Or just a book that you really love and has become part of you.

Paul-Jervis Heath: I think the book that I read, and I read it every January, is Chris Hadfield’s autobiography. For anyone who doesn’t know who that is, Chris Hadfield is a Canadian astronaut, and he was captain of the International Space Station. And the biography tells, like many biographies, it tells the story of how he became an astronaut and his life story, and fills in some of the details behind that. But one of the key things in this book is something that Chris Hadfield talks about, expedition thinking. And that’s the fact that you’re going into this hostile environment as an astronaut and you all have to come back alive. It’s not about who’s the best astronaut.

When you think about astronauts, they’re typically fighter pilots, they’re typically test pilots. They’re usually very, very competitive people. They’re usually alpha people that get selected for the astronaut program. And one of the things that you have to learn as an astronaut is this kind of idea of expedition thinking. That it’s actually we either all get home or the mission was a failure. And that runs counter to that alpha thinking. And he talks about this idea of grading your involvement in anything as either a minus one, a zero or a plus one. You never want to be a minus one. You never want to detract from whatever is happening. Because even fixing the space toilet has the opportunity to go massively wrong and result in death. So you never want to be a minus one. You never want to be detracting from the work of your team and your teammates.

The best in many situations you can hope to be is a zero. That actually you go, you play your part, you don’t detract from the work of the team, but you assist the team, you do everything that you can. And in the odd situation, you will get to be a plus one. You’ll get to be that kind of outstanding astronaut, that outstanding leader. But if you go in trying to make every situation into the situation where you’re the plus one, you very quickly become the minus one. You quickly become the one that everyone in the team is having to workaround.

And I just think the idea of expedition thinking is the brilliant way of thinking about how a team works and how a team works together. And how, yes, everyone wants to shine, but really the only way you can shine is everyone shines together. And sometimes that means assisting others to shine, not necessarily being in the limelight yourself. And I read it every year to just kind of remind myself about expedition thinking. And remind myself that I can’t always be the plus one. And sometimes the best I can do is sit quietly and help the team. And that is enough.

Kelly Molson: That sounds like a perfect book to read it at the start of every year, Paul. And actually, a perfect book if you are running a team of designers and developers like we both are. So thank you for that recommendation personally.

Paul-Jervis Heath: You’re welcome.

Kelly Molson: And if you want the opportunity to win Paul’s book then you just need to head over to our Twitter account and you retweet this podcast announcement with the words, “I want Paul’s book.” And then you’ll be in a chance of winning that later on in the year.

Paul, it’s been a pleasure to have you on. Thank you for joining me today. And we’re going to put all of your contact details in show notes, as I said earlier. But where’s the best place that people can get hold of you if they would like to chat about what we’ve talked about today?

Paul-Jervis Heath: Best thing to do is to drop me an email, paul@modernhuman.co. Or look me up on LinkedIn I’m Paul-Jervis Heath on LinkedIn.

Kelly Molson: Fabulous. And again, we will put all of those details in the show notes. So you’ll have all of those available to you. Paul, it’s been a pleasure. Thank you very much for coming on today. I’ve really enjoyed it.

Paul-Jervis Heath: Thanks very much, Kelly.

Do you know someone we should be talking to?

Do you know someone fascinating we should be talking to?

If so, email us at info@rubbercheese.com – we’ll get back to you shortly.

Paul Wright.
Kelly Molson Managing Director

Host of the popular Skip the Queue Podcast, for people working in or working with visitor attractions, she regularly delivers workshops and presentations on the sector at various national conferences and universities including The Visitor Attractions Conference, ASVA and Anglia Ruskin University.

Read more about me

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