Ignite 2023: Max Evjen

Public is a Myth: There is no "General Public"

MCN 2023 Conference
November 8, 2023
World Café Live, Philadelphia


All right, let's do this. Okay. So if you know me, you've probably heard me say something about this, but really, there's no general public for which you can design experiences. I put Taylor on this thing so you guys would think I'm cool and it's not working. Anyway you know, it's fine or it's not fine to say that you serve all people, whatever. But for those who design experiences, which includes all of you, it doesn't apply. So say it with me. One, two, three. General public is a myth! Yeah, exactly. Right? And this applies to everything. Everything that we do in museums, right? Think about it, like, onsite digital, web design, programs, registration, all of it.

This definitely means all of you, right? Now, when you're targeting general public, the big problem with targeting the general public is that you're ultimately targeting yourself. And you're probably targeting from an able-bodied perspective. And you're not thinking about other people. And that's the thing is that you gotta remember no matter the job, no matter everything you do in a museum is for other people. And if you don't think so, well I'm sorry, but you're wrong. Right? You gotta get specific about who your offerings are for. It's the only way to make experiences meaningful to anyone. Right? You have to choose a target. Right? Why? Because different audiences have different preferences and needs, and you can't design any experiences for all of those preferences and needs.

You have to just choose one. And when you pick one, it doesn't mean that other audiences aren't gonna enjoy it. They do! They just—it's not really for them—but they enjoy it too. Think about it, a different family and something is for the kid, the parents are gonna be happy, right? Like, so you have to make sure that you just pick a particular audience. And, you know, think about, like, French rap. Like, it's targeted to francophone audiences, right? And we can all enjoy that, don't we? Okay, maybe not. That might be a ridiculous thing, but consider how meaningful things could be for specific audiences. Now, let's take the Barbie movie, for instance.

Now, there's a whole lot of people who saw this movie, and you know, a whole lot of people who didn't play with Barbies when they were young, and they enjoyed it, but how meaningful was it for those people that did play with Barbies, right? Think about that. And how meaningful will your experiences be for you when, for those people when they know it's for them, right?

Choosing a target has all these benefits, and more. So, you know, if you do it already, well that's, that's great. But I really challenge any of you who do this already to go further. How many museums are claiming inclusion as a core value but that don't include audiences in their planning processes?

When real co-creation is valued, only good things happen. Like, the most attended exhibition at the Aukland War Memorial Museum with the Gallipoli Minecraft thing. And the Finding Your Voices thing at the MSU Museum had lots of awards. And Colleen Dilenschneider talks about people equating affordable access with admission pricing and saying that it's a big engagement blunder that you're welcoming all versus welcoming each, right?

So, don't be scared to say that who your experiences, and what your experiences are for, because it doesn't mean you're excluding anyone. There are many reasons, like this, you know, that people feel excluded. And “experiences were meant for me” is not on that list, right? So make sure you're attracting the people that you're targeting, and this is for all the marketing people out there.

So, just because you build it doesn't mean people will come. You've got to actually target your audiences. You've got to actually, like, go to places where you haven't gone before, right? Think about who is excluded from your experiences and how you can make experiences for them. Like, trust me, you can make a difference in your organization.

I'm going to tell you a story. I used to work at the MSU Museum. And they…picture's coming up in a second…there it is. They used to form for anybody from the university to submit an exhibition for a temporary or traveling exhibition, right? And on the form, there was a checkbox for general public.

And guess what happens? Everybody checks the general public box, right? And, you know the thing is it's a knee-jerk reaction. People think it equals inclusion, but that doesn't hit the mark. Welcoming all versus welcoming each, right? And the thing is we have the data on what 1st to 3rd graders need, what 4th to 6th graders need, what 7th to 8th graders need, what teens need, what adults need.

What we don't have is data on the general public, because it doesn't exist. So, the museum staff that I was working with, they removed the checkbox. And that was a small organization with like 30 people in it. But even if you work in a large organization, and a lot of you do, with, you know, hundreds of people, you can still make a difference.

Insist that experiences are designed with a target from the outset. So, tell me, you know, what are you working on? Did you choose a target? If not, go back and do that. Make experiences meaningful to your audiences. Build affinity with your organization and tell everybody from, from the rooftops, everybody, say it with me. General public is a myth! Thank you.