Increasing Adult Attendance at the Design Museum

Sponsor: Design Museum
Sponsor Liaison: Olivia Bailey
Student Team: Julie Andrade
Lillie DeHaemer
Mira Kirschner
Dylan Shanes
Abstract: We explored ways to increase adult attendance at the London Design Museum’s events following visitor decreases due to the pandemic. Interviews and surveys with event attendees, exhibition visitors, and the general public revealed topical interest was the primary factor influencing attendance, and some audiences are underrepresented. Our recommendations support promotional strategies that utilise relevant social media–including Instagram and TikTok–as well as different types of events to attract a broader audience.
Link: Increasing Adult Attendance at Design Museum Events

Executive Summary

Museums in England have seen growth in attendance over the past 20 years (DCMS, 2020). However, in early 2020, the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic forced 93% of museums to temporarily close (NEMO, 2021). While the UK lifted most restrictions by May 2021, data from five major London museums revealed that in-person visitor attendance was only 13-40% of what it was in May 2019 (Harris, 2021). The Design Museum in London has also suffered the brunt of this decline, particularly in their event attendance.

Our project focused on recommending the most effective ways to attract new and returning adult visitors to attend Design Museum events following visitor decreases due to the pandemic. We accomplished our goal by fulfilling three different objectives. We first determined which demographic groups are attending Design Museum events and how these groups differ from general UK museum visitors. Second, we identified and reported the reasons why people choose to attend events. Third, we recommended promotional strategies the Design Museum can use in the future.

Our methods included five sets of semi-structured interviews, a demographic questionnaire, two surveys, and an analysis of existing attendee data. The two surveys contained similar questions but differed slightly due to the different needs of the Adult Learning and Public Programmes departments. We interviewed five separate groups and achieved a total respondent sample size of 177. We interviewed and surveyed Design Museum event attendees (n=80) at the ASMR Workshop, Designing For Your Future Self talk, and Manifestos: Architecture for a New Generation talk. We investigated attendees’ motivations for attending and how they found out about the event. Next, we interviewed Design Museum exhibition attendees (n=30) to determine if they would attend an event at the museum. We interviewed attendees at other museums’ events and the general public (n=67) to find out if they would attend Design Museum events and why or why not. We also interviewed event planning staff at the Design Museum and other London museums to investigate what advertising methods they employ and if they are effective. Finally, we obtained data on past event attendees’ ages from the Design Museum’s database.

Key Findings
We separated our findings into four distinct groups: our understanding of the current audience, factors influencing attendance, desired event modes and topics, and how people hear about events. We found that certain demographic groups, including men, older audiences, gender non-conforming individuals, and those without a higher education degree are underrepresented at events. From the three events we attended, we found that the average event attendee at the Design Museum is a white female who is between the ages of 20-34 and highly educated. Compared to general UK museum visitors, Design Museum event attendees are more diverse: greater proportions of event attendees identify as LGBT, belong to an ethnic minority, or have a disability or long-term health condition. The gender gap is even wider among Design Museum event attendees than UK museum visitors, with over 70% of attendees identifying as female. People aged 65 and over comprise less than 4% of Design Museum event attendees, despite representing 23% of UK museum visitors.

When analysing why people choose to attend events, we found that topical interest was the primary factor influencing the decision to attend. The most popular topics were science, technology, research, and crafts/making. Conversely, we found that people choose not to attend because they feel that the Design Museum covers topics that are too similar to topics covered at the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A). We also found that lack of access to childcare posed a barrier to attendance for adults with children.

Respondents (n=177) indicated a stronger interest in talks and workshops, with screenings, lates, and courses being less preferred options. We found discrepancies between the amounts people expect to pay and the actual costs of events. Across almost all event types, the expected cost ranged from 5-20% less than the actual cost of events.

We found that participants mainly learn about events through social media such as Instagram or institutions displaying the information. We also found that when participants learn about events from another person, that person is typically a friend.

We recommended different types of events to hold, platforms to advertise on, and further research to conduct. Participants primarily expressed interest in topics involving science and technology, research, and crafts/making. The Design Museum has held events on these topics in the past, and we recommend continuing to host events on these topics for consistency, brand solidity, and maintaining the interest of their current audience. However, the Design Museum can benefit from holding events on unusual topics to draw new audiences who are passionate or curious about those topics. We suggest the Design Museum continue to hold events on internet trends and connect them to the world of design. Potential event topics include cryptocurrency and trending celebrities.

We also recommend holding workshops where attendees are encouraged to bring their friends. Encouraging friends to attend events together may be effective in increasing attendance, as people are likely to hear about events from a friend. To accommodate adults who lack access to childcare, we recommend holding events designed for families or having a supervisor who can watch the children while the parents are participating in the event.

Our results support the Design Museum’s plan to reinstate late nights, an event where attendees interact with the museum after-hours and museum staff provide food and beverages. To build an audience, we recommend hosting evening workshops with beverages and food to get audiences accustomed to lates at the Design Museum. We recommend that the Adult Learning team conduct follow-up research on attendee opinions to determine interest levels in attending a late as a standalone event. Similarly, we recommend combining screenings and talks to establish an audience for screenings.

To target younger audiences, we recommend advertising on social media platforms such as Instagram, Facebook, and TikTok. To increase the age diversity of Design Museum event attendees, we recommend conducting additional research to explore why people in the 65+ age group are not attending. To best attract older age groups to events, we recommend advertising in the newspaper and continuing to send out email advertisements.

By offering popular and unique events while advertising on platforms proven to attract event attendees, the Design Museum can maintain and broaden their audience. Targeted advertising can draw in underrepresented demographic and psychographic groups. These recommendations can help increase attendance of new and existing audiences at Design Museum events.