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This master thesis describes the design of new wayfinding system to help families find their way in the museum of Naturalis, situated in Leiden, the Netherlands. Next to being a museum Naturalis is a Biodiversity Center with a research institute, an academic working group, and university programs in biodiversity and taxonomy. Resulting from a fusion between several institutes and university collections in the Netherlands, Naturalis is going through a renewal. The collection has grown to 37 million biological and geological objects. Due to this renewal a lot is going to change, but those changes are still unknown. One thing is sure: Naturalis will be a family friendly museum when they open their new doors in 2016.
Becoming a family friendly museum is a trending topic these days in the museum world. Literature shows that being a family friendly museum is more then focussing on children, it is the combination of adults and children in a family that makes it interesting. Children’s museums mostly forget the adults, who only have a facilitating function during the visit, for instance when the children are participating in an activity adults only have to wait and watch. At a family friendly museum the whole family should be involved at all times. It is not possible as a museum though, to fully cover the facilitating role. The adults will always be responsible for the children in the family group. The museum, however, could make the facilitating tasks of adults easier by offering enough services and clearly indicated facilities. This makes it possible for adults to enjoy their visit as much as their children do, and diminish the worry about taking care of the children. One of those services is the wayfinding system in the museum. Visitors will not directly refer to the wayfinding system when they are asked about their experiences in a museum. Nevertheless it does influence the experience of a visitor. As stated above, families are a special kind of visitor groups, resulting in an extraordinary wayfinding process.
In order to create and design a new wayfinding system, values and desires of families need to be studied as well as their behaviour and wayfinding process during a visit.
A model of guiding themes was formed to conclude the research. These themes describe the important influences of a family visit, on the one hand there are the aspects directly related to the family, and on the other side there are the aspects related to the wayfinding process. Nevertheless all aspects influence on both the family and the wayfinding process. Families visiting the museum are on an activity aiming to spend quality time together. Therefore the ‘together experience’ of the family during their visit is very important, also for the new wayfinding design. The facilities are the most important part of the wayfinding system. When these are difficult to find and to reach it can have a large negative impact on the success of the visit. All families are very different and all these different families should feel at home, meaning a safe surrounding, with enough service and facilities, and where they can do everything on their own way, like they normally would as a family.
The focus of the design phase is on the together experience and on the preparation and orientation phase of the visit. The final concept is a new wayfinding structure for family friendly museums. A new family friendly museum wayfinding model is designed to explain this structure. The model shows the wayfinding means that communicate together through visuals. Visuals are very important for a family friendly wayfinding design, as both adults and children should be able to use and understand the design. The design should appeal both parties, which makes colours and graphics very important. The visuals should return in all the wayfinding means, starting at home on the website, when entering the entrance area, when studying the wayfinding tool, when finding the way in the museum with signs and directions, and when reaching the entrance of the destinations. Repetition is very important to gain recognition and to support the learning process of the wayfinding system.
The structure is translated into a design for Naturalis. For this design the current structure and exhibitions are used as a base. The pesthouse, which serves as the current entrance and is connected to the main building by the zebra bridge, will not be part of the new museum. In the design the new entrance is located at ground level as that will be best for the orientation of the visitors. All wayfinding means are worked out graphically and an overview is developed where each floor has its colour and each exhibition and facility its unique icon. The website, the interactive overview at the entrance, the wayfinding tool, a collecting game, signs and directions are all worked out. The website consists of an interactive design with the visual overview of the museum, which is used at the entrance area as well. The ticket of the museum is part of a collecting game throughout the museum that will function as an alternative checklist to see if you have visited all floors. When all the cards are collected the family is able to build a 3D puzzle of a dinosaur at home while reviewing the nice visit and creating a nice physical memory. The puzzle changes each two months to keep it interesting for frequent visitors. Old puzzles can then be sold at the shop to let people collect all animals.
By means of guidelines the requirements for introducing this new wayfinding design of Naturalis are described. It is also possible to use these guidelines to translate the design for another museum that wants to become family friendly. The model is used as a format to create the wayfinding design, and it is important that all the wayfinding means are present and use the same visuals. The repetition, stimulating recognition and the learning process, is the important base of this concept.