In recent years, there has been increasing pressure for museums to adapt to a changing society. For one, following the 2020 global protests for racial justice, GLAM institutions have been called to reckon with their problematic legacies. At the same time, with a new generation of "digital natives" becoming a critical visitor demographic, museums have increasingly been exploring the possibilities that technology can bring for both education and visitor engagement. How can museums adapt to this new demographic of museum goers who are more technologically fluent and more passionate about social justice?
Through a literature review consisting of both scholarly and grey literature, we identified the three key insights about Gen Z that guide our design process.
Gen Z cares about social justice
Deloitte's "Welcome to Generation Z" report states that Gen Z don't just care about quality of product or service, but also take into account a company’s ethics, practices, and social impact and whether or not they align with their own; to appeal to this demographic, companies must “demonstrate their commitment to a broader set of societal challenges.” This generation is more critical of the museum, questioning things like who is producing knowledge and whose knowledge is being represented (Wineski, 2021). Overall, Gen Z is pushing for a reform, holding institutions to higher standards (Klibanoff, 2021) and interrogating systemic issues like how museums uphold colonial histories
Gen Z wants to curate their own experiences
With Gen Z being a lot more critical of information presented to them, they enter these spaces wanting to learn through dialogue over being told what they should care about. Gen Z are less engaged with the formal institutional museum space because of their more fluid understanding of art and creation - for them, “daily life provides constant opportunities to be both artist and subject” (Ittelson, 2019) and museums generally fail to reflect this understanding. Gen Z needs an active over passive experience with art and are no longer interested solely in this sense of quiet contemplation.
Immersive and integrated experiences where Gen Z visitors can curate their own museum experience have been widely successful (Klibanoff; Gat, 2019), emphasizing the sense of responsibility to the community that Gen Z expects museums to have. As a student in the WAM Collective states, “the future museums will 'use art as a way to really anchor our community. The future museum structure can actually be inherently supportive of new and untold stories rather than just holding objects. And so, from a collection of objects and cultural properties, we can become a collection of community connections.”
Gen Z likes to learn... but they do it differently
While there is often the rhetoric that Gen Z are less interested in education, most still value knowledge and learning when visiting a museum (Yang, 2017). The majority of Gen Z have grown up on social media and use it as a tool to learn and engage more deeply with the world.
A small-scale interview study was conducted to further understand Gen Z visitor engagement in our local museum. The results from this study reinforced the fact that while Gen Z uses technology to enhance their experience at the museum, their primary goal is still to learn. Participants would use technology to look up more information about paintings and take photos of works that stood out to them to reference later. Although the participants all expressed that they were receptive to museums using technology to help create more immersive experiences for visitors, not all implementations of technology are received positively - museums that use technology in outdated ways run the risk of being seen as "tacky" by Gen Z. Technology should be used in ways that meaningfully engage visitors with the art over simply being "for the Instagram photo."
Through our primary and secondary research, we defined the following product guidelines:
Figure 1. Log-in integration with existing social media platforms like Facebook and TikTok make the sign-in process for new visitors more seamless.
Figure 2. An onboarding quiz helps identify a visitor's unique interests, curating their app - and museum - experience to fit their personal needs.
Figure 3: Specialized tours that present alternative narratives encourage more repeat visitations to the museum and allow for both more experimental and timely exhibitions that are not possible physically.
Figure 4: Referencing the widely successful Spotify Wrapped, post-tour quizzes provide an educational opportunity for visitors. While more simple than traditional modes of knowledge mobilization, it can be effective in emphasize certain ideas like (as indicated in the photo) the idea of African art being antiquated and "premodern."
Figure 5. AR technologies can also allow for more engaging experiences. While physical development of exhibitions is timely and costly, digital exhibitions allow for experimentation that can be used to identify what topics museum visitors are most engaged with.