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6. Visitors

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"Start your project by asking what your visitor wants, rather than what you or the museum needs! (..) If you are not careful, it is possible that individual, personal, or organisational objectives will overshadow what you do. That is why it is so important to start a project by setting aims and objectives based on what your visitors will get out of it, rather than concentrate solely on what your museum would like to achieve."

From:  10 Top Tips for Museum Interpretation

The success of a Museum or exhibition depends on the number of visitors. To attract as many visitors as possible, Museums spend a lot of time and energy on audience or visitor research.

"Understanding your audiences, knowing who they are, their visit behaviour, their motivations, their needs and expectations, brings a huge amount of insight into helping you to make your organisation resilient.

Knowing who isn't engaging with you, but who has the potential to become a visitor, is also important in being able to build and diversify your audience base." (from Understanding your Audience, see below). 

Information that helps Museums attract (more) visitors:

    • How to reach (new) visitors: where can they find them? On the internet -  and where on the internet? Or is it better to use print media? 
    • What will attract their attention in advertisements and posts, Abd: in the Museum or exhibition itself?
    • What will make visitors stay? What will make them come back?
    • What will make them tell their friends and networks about the Museum in a positive way?

To find the answers, Museums do market research - see below - to find out more about people who have not visited their Museum or exhibition yet. 

They do visitor research, to find out more about the people who are visiting the Museum or exhibition. Who are they, what age, education level, home town? Why have they come to the Museum or exhibition? How are they interacting with the exhibition: where do they go, how much time do they spend in front of an exhibit? Do they visit the restaurant or Museum shop?

Museums use all this information to make the Museum or exhibition attractive to old and new visitors.  Because the success of the Museum, and its survival potential depends on the number of visitors. 

To make visitors come back, mainstream Museums send out newsletters to visitors and other people interested in the Museum. They organise special exhibitions so that visitors will return to see new things. A Museum cafeteria or shop also helps; visitors may come back for the cafeteria or shop - and then decide to visit the Museum as well. 

Further reading: 

Young People and Children

Young People and Children

Young people are an important target group for today's Museums. Market research shows that young people want exhibitions to be interactive, immersive, and above all: Instagrammable.  

Studies that looked at the demographics of Museum visitors (e.g. age, income, education level) on the other hand show that the majority of Museum visitors at  the moment are 50+ or older. The expectations and preferences of this age-group may be quite different from those of younger people: Instagrammable may not be high on their list. 

Museums that want to attract young visitors, adapt their exhibition design and marketing strategies to meet the needs of this target group. They may use mobile and pop-up exhibitions (see Chapter 3). They involve young people in the design of exhibitions. They use Instagram and influencers (see Chapter 7) to reach this target group.


For example, see the Youth Collective : a group of 18–24 year olds working to inspire other young people to engage with the British Museum.

The GLAMers

IO1 GLAMers 300x300The GLAMers (GLAM: Galleries, Libraries, Archives and Museums) is a EU project that 

  • "will provide a collection of good practices involving youth engagement as a means of GLAM recovery during the COVID-19 pandemic. This collection will be enriched with an analysis of challenges, opportunities and hidden potential of the value of youth engagement in GLAMs’ rebirth;
  • offer advice and training opportunities to support GLAMs in their digital transformation through the participation of youth. 
  • allow GLAMs to implement and then assess the digitally-enhanced activities involving youth;
  • map social changes in relation to attitudes, stances and behaviours amongst GLAMs and youth (young persons, cultural youth organisations, young artists) in regards to cultural and civic values for better societies."

See: https://glamers.eu


Some  Museums include some exhibits or exhibitions especially for an even younger target group. Exhibits for children are generally interactive, immersive, and/or use a game format. An example from the Werstas Museum (Tampere, FI), the Museum that is also in charge of the Deaf Museum in Helsinki: 



Further Reading:

Market Research

Market Research

Museums do market research to find out more about their audience.

On the one hand: the people who are already visiting the Museum or exhibition - this is often called visitor research or audience research, see below.

On the other hand: to find out more about the people who have not yet visited the Museum or exhibition. Maybe because the Museum is new or doesn't even exist yet. Then, the Museum researches 'the market' to find out if the plans are viable. How many people will come to the Museum? What will they expect to see and experience in the Museum? What can the Museum do, to make as many people visit the Museum as possible?
Because as we said before: the success of a Museum or exhibition depends on the number of visitors. 

Existing Museums will also do market research  to find out more about the people who are not visiting the museum yet. How can they reach them, what can the Museum do to attract new visitors or visitor groups?

Four Methods

The 4 most common ways to find answers to these questions:

    • Surveys: the museum can post an online survey on a website, on Facebook, or on the website or Facebook page of related organisations or groups. They can canvass people in the street: "Can I ask you a few questions?" Or they can do this at a workshop, another museum, at a conference, an event.
    • Interviews: in an interview (in person or online) the interviewer can ask more questions, get more insights.
    • Focus groups: the museum can ask a number of representatives of the target group to sit around the table - or to meet on Zoom - for an open discussion. 
    • Observational research: researchers can watch while representatives of the target group visit the museum or exhibition. If the museum or exhibition is not finished yet: They can use a pilot version or mock-up of the museum to find out how visitors respond to displays.  

"Focus Groups do not have to be expensive or time consuming. They can be informal discussions with a group of people who know about the needs of your target audience. You probably already have volunteers who can help make contacts among their friends and families. If that does not work, the best tip is to approach existing groups for help. Often the promise of refreshments and the opportunity to have special access to your museum is enough to convince people to help you."

from: 10 Top Tips for Museum Interpretation

Further reading:

Visitor Research, Monitoring

Visitor Research, Monitoring


The easiest way to collect data on how visitors respond to an exhibition is by asking them directly.  Museums ask visitors to fill out a printed survey before they leave, or they give visitors the link to an online form. 

Museums also use their websites and social media channels to collect data: the number of visitors, the number of likes, shares, followers.

Observation and Tracking

Museums can observe what visitors do: by having someone follow visitors and marking down on a floor map where visitors stop, read and wander. This can be done in the old-fashioned way with pen and paper or on a tablet or I-Pad.

Of course, visitors can also be tracked electronically. Visitors are asked to wear a tracker, or the Museum uses software to track the mobile phones of the visitors. 

Data that can be collected in this way:

    • Where do people spend the most or the least amount of time, as they move through a museum or an exhibition?
    • Is there a particular item that is really popular with visitors? Are their items that are ignored by all?
    • Where do people stop and read text panels?
    • Are interactive displays working and easy to use?
    • Are there any blockages with the general flow of visitors?
    • Are there any blockages or queuing because of audio tours or people taking photographs?
    • In the case of couples, families and groups – is there some discussion about particular objects, interactives or related topics?
    • Are there any visitor comments which should be recorded as feedback?

It is now even possible to use eye-tracking: what does the visitor look at in a painting or display?

All this data can be used to improve the museum, the exhibition, the displays, the labelling and the navigation.


A heat map showing the total number of interactions at all computer-based exhibits in the travelling exhibition “Heart over Heels,”,

annunciazione dispositivo 

Italian Museum Uses Cameras to Track How Visitors Engage With Art

Or: a museum just asks people to write their comments, questions, suggestions on a post-it and put it on a wall before they leave:


Three types of visitor?

Some researchers say there are 3 types of visitors: Skimmers, Swimmers and Divers.

    • Skimmers are people who visit an exhibition, get what they need, and leave in short order. They want information in the most straightforward fashion possible. 

    • Swimmers are willing to go a little deeper. They want bold, dramatic exhibits, labels, stories. But not too much. 

    • Divers want the full story, in as much detail as possible.  

To meet the needs of all three kinds of visitors, museums can use interactive displays or use QR-codes to enable visitors to access online information. Of course this is easier to do in an online Museum or exhibition. For each item, you can provide 3 'levels' of information. 

Online exhibitions

When a museum or exhibition is online, visitor data can simply be collected by using Google Analytics: the number of visitors of the site, the number of unique visitors, what countries and cities do they come from, what devices do they use (desktop, tablet, mobile phone), what are popular pages, and more. Facebook, Instagram and other social media can provide a lot of useful data, too.

Sometimes the results can be disappointing: 

Further reading: 

Visitors of Deaf Museums

Visitors of Deaf Museums

Market Research

Most Deaf Museums are run by volunteers, with (very) limited funding. They do not have the resources for market or visitor research. 

Deaf visitors

The primary target group for most Deaf Museums are Deaf people in their region or country. Some also want to be relevant and interesting to hearing people. Not only people with some link to the Deaf community such as families of deaf children, teachers in deaf education, sign language students, but also the general public.

Hearing visitors

The Deaf Museums involve hearing visitors in different ways (see our Survey of Deaf Museums). All Deaf Museums of course welcome hearing visitors, but in  most cases these visitors have some link to the Deaf community. They are sign language interpreters, sign language students, or friends or family members of Deaf people.  
In the survey, The Norsk Døvemuseum writes that they were at that time (May 2022) discussing who their main target group is and how this will affect the story of the Museum: " We have a debate among our employees these days; is this a museum for the deaf community, or for the hearing to learn about the deaf community? We think this is difficult and have not come to a conclusion yet."

Or maybe a Deaf Museum can be of interest to both Deaf and hearing visitors? 

"Peruzzi described the museum (the National Deaf Life Museum at Gallaudet University) as serving “a dual role” for those visitors. “For members of the Deaf community, it is a place to see themselves, learn about their history, and develop their sense of personal identity, For hearing visitors, it offers a chance to learn about our culture, examine their own expectations and experiences of Deaf people, and feel the vibrancy of our signing community.”

In: The Washington Post, August 6, 2022

Children, young people

Most Deaf Museums consider Deaf children and young people as important target groups of their Museum. Children and young people must learn about the Deaf Community and its history. Most Deaf Museums however do not have the resources to organise special activities for Deaf children and young people.

The Norwegian Deaf Museum in Trondheim is an exception. They offer organised tours for different age groups.

For primary schools:  Sign Language School

"Is it possible to listen with the eyes and communicate with your body?
«Sign Language School» is a teaching concept where we want to give the students greater knowledge of being different. Maybe not so different anyway? We use deaf and deafness as an example in dialogue and teach students about their history, culture and language."

For Middle and High School:  «Normality Check»

"Is it possible to be normal? The «Normality Check» is an instructional concept where we want to let students participate in a dialogue about being normal and abnormal. We use deaf and deafness as an example in the dialogue on technological development in order to help or normalise, and about genetic engineering and ethical aspects of stigmatisation and diagnosis."

Source: https://norsk-dovemuseum.no/en/education

Visitors from other countries

Most Deaf Museums do not see foreign visitors as a target group. Their websites are in the national language and/or sign language only. Information at the Museum is in the national written and sign language. As far as we know, none have guides who sign International Sign or a foreign sign language. 

Number of visitors

The number of visitors to most Deaf Museums is small. Some are only open on one or two days a week, some only by appointment. 

The target group of a Deaf Museum, deaf or hearing, local or national, is important because the story that the Museum tells (see Chapter 2), the selection of exhibits to display and the design of the exhibition, must all take the needs and preferences of the target audience into account. 

In our survey of Deaf Museums, we asked for the number of visitors - in pre-Covid times:

Kuurojen museo (FI) About 2000 visitors per year. But In our web-museum we have 20.000-40.000 visitors per year.
Norsk Døvemuseum (NO) Usually, we have about 3000 visitors a year (a low amount).
Døvehistorisk Selskab (DK) 100 people per month visit our collection
Musée d'Histoire et de Culture des Sourds (FR) The number has continued to increase since the museum opened in 2013, except during the COVID health crisis; last year we had 235 visitors; in 2020: 168, and then in 2019: 419.
Deaf Heritage Centre UK Visitors book their visits and come to open days. (No numbers reported)


 In our Survey for Mainstream Museums, we also asked about the number of (pre-Covid) visitors. The numbers vary between 700.000 to 1.8 million per year.  





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