Disgruntled visitors complained that they were not able to find their way around the 10, 000 m² attraction, that signs were difficult to read and interactive exhibits were broken. Others complained that they basically did not learn anything from their visit to the DKK 700 million aquarium.
By Mikkel Sonne (right)
Only two months after opening, Blue Planet CEO Dorte Gleie (pictured below) decided that something had to be done with this operational and communication crisis. She hired biologist and communications expert, Dorte Andersen, to work on a solution with the in-house team.
Dorte Andersen started by evaluating the current situation. She observed visitors in the aquarium, timed how long they spent in different exhibits and conducted countless interviews. The aquarium staff were also involved in the process, helping with visitor feedback.
The survey revealed that the core products – the fish, the tanks, the zoning of the aquarium and the facilities such as F&B, retail and outdoor areas were good. It also revealed that a percentage of visitors left without seeing all of the aquarium because of poor signposting and that there was a real desire for more information about the animals.
‘Old-fashioned’ and ‘not what we expected from a brand new aquarium’ were common complaints.
Delighted that their visitors were hungry to learn, The Blue Planet started to write a new script for the attraction – a vision of the ultimate visitor experience. And, this script was the beginning of a journey that culminated on July 1st with the inauguration of the new ‘exhibit’ layer.
“I honesty never know what to call what we have done, ” explains Dorte Andersen (left). “Some people say it is an exhibition, other a communication layer. I call it everything you see apart from the building, the tanks and the fish.”
After visits to other attractions, including aquariums and museums in Denmark and Europe, The Blue Planet handed the work over to Atelier Brückner, Germany. “We decided to go with Brückner because of the positive feedback from their clients and because they seem to never repeat themselves. All of the projects we visited were completely different and unique, and we felt that they would be the right partner for The Blue Planet, ” says Andersen.
"We decided to treat it like Grand Central Station."
The first stop on the journey with Brückner was the visitor entrance. “Once you come through the turnstile, the first space you enter is a big circular room with a projection of water overhead, giving the feeling of being under water. The architects conceived this room as a space for reflection, a place to reset the mind, meeting the wonders of the oceans and then decided which of the 3 zones to visit first. In reality it was more like Grand Central Station, a busy hub in the middle of the building with people zigzagging in-between each other. So we decided to treat it like Grand Central Station, ” Dorte explains.
The 3 zones are now easily identified with ‘light ports’, giving directions to each zone. The ports function like giant signs with a clear number, a name and a colour. Dorte says: “Some people remember a colour, some a number and others a title. We use all 3 indicators in our new way- finding to make it easier for all of our visitors.
”Once you enter a zone, the first thing you encounter is a short introduction. “People don’t come here to read. We are not a magazine or a book, we are an aquarium and the fish are the stars of the show. So, we decided to have very short introductions to each zone, starting with the most important message such as ‘where are we’ and ‘what is special about this’, ” explains Andersen.
This approach was used for all text in the new Blue Planet. What is most important comes first: “When we write about the fish we always try to state the most obvious, the most characteristic feature about it first.”
The information around the tanks used to be traditional screen-printed signs at the bottom or at the side. Now, all tanks have a panel with a number and a touch screen.
“The number helps people find their way around. Most people will subconsciously start at the lowest number and this helps in making sure people see everything we have to offer. And, the touch screen is the best tool for us as we move fish from one tank to another from time to time – some die, we get new ones, etc. and now we can always keep the information up to date and relevant.”
The digital signage is synchronised with the aquarium’s new app, using iBeacon bluetooth technology.
This enables The Blue Planet to know exactly which tank the visitor is standing in front of and shows updated information about the fish in that particular tank.
Andersen: “Our app is an extra layer to the visit. It is an integrated part of way-finding and communication, and has something for children – a treasure hunt – sending you out in the aquarium to find answers and scan your phone to get points. It also has a feature where you can design your own fish and see it come alive on a huge screen in the central hub – as well as more in-depth information for adults. And, of course, it tells you about special events on the day of your visit, from feeding times to special offers in the shop or cafe.”
"The family is our core target group."
On the subject of children, Dorte adds, “Every text has been written for children aged 12 years and up to understand. We are a family attraction and have taken great care in our texts which are short and to the point. We know from experience that parents will read the text and then tell the small ones about the fish. At an early stage we also decided not to speak to the experts. People with a lot of knowledge about fish are absolutely welcome, but we don’t address them in our communications. The family is our core target group.”
All texts are in Danish, Swedish and English, Swedish being the second language on the list because of the aquarium’s close proximity to Sweden (it is located right next to the bridge to Malmö and Copenhagen airport).
The new overlay took three months to install and had a budget of DKK 14 million, and received support from Nordea and Augustinus foundations. The work was carefully coordinated so the aquarium could stay open. The digital layer and the app were developed by York, with Jesper Kongshaug responsible for the lighting design.
With 700.000 visitors a year, Andersen has noticed one thing in the short time since the new enhancements were unveiled: ‘We don’t get emails about people getting lost anymore!”
Image of Mikkel Sonne kind courtesy Stuart McIntyre. Images of the aquarium kind courtesy Jens Bangsbo/Den Blå Planet.