Paying attention: It’s at the heart of learning, an aspect of aesthetic experience, how we make meaning, a topic of recurring interest among those who design museum exhibitions. So how do we get people to pay more attention? In a major review of the topic commissioned by the Visitor Studies Association, Steve Bitgood offers background and practical guidance. Attention, he writes, “is a three-level continuum (capture, focus, engage) with a different combination of variables influencing attention at each stage.” People are making judgments all the time about where they direct their attention, he says. So “attention is perceived value (a ratio of utility/satisfaction divided by costs such as time and effort) of the exhibit element.”
The article offers a framework for thinking about things most of us already know, if only from being museum visitors ourselves. Fatigue, distraction, too many things to see and do all at once all work against attention.
But what about the value proposition–how do we make an exhibit that compels people to turn attention that way? It comes down to two simple things, Steve writes: “(1) by selecting high interest exhibit content; and/or (2) by designing exhibit elements that stimulate curiosity.” The heart of exhibition design, its mystery and challenge–and the reason we get to know the people we’re designing for.
“An Attention-Value Model of Museum Visitors” was published by the Center for Advancement of Informal Science Education (CAISE) and is available as a downloadable PDF on the CAISE website.