I visited the new LEGO store at the Mall of America this morning.
It reopened this weekend after a major renovation.
I was immediately struck by the amusing sense of scale of the enormous characters constructed of giant Legos.
It triggered an instant appeal to my childlike awe at giant things.
The monstrous size of the saber tooth tiger and the Transformer
There was lots of inventory of boxed sets in well-lit shelving on the walls. There were plenty of places to sit and make things. Computer screens circled a work table to allow Lego engineers to log into the Lego resources for answers on how to construct well, I guess, anything you could imagine.
There were row after row of bins of Legos that covered the front wall.
They stretched out in a seemingly endless supply of wonderful colors.
It was almost too tantalizing to resist sticking your hands in some of the bins, grabbing some Legos, and sitting down at a table to build something magical.
James Chung and Susie Wilkening recently wrote in their blog Museums are Awesome! about the memorability of experiences that play with our sense of scale: “Over the past few weeks, we have been sharing some of our research into early childhood memories of museum visits. A recurring theme has been what we call the “wow” factor. Time and again, people wrote about being “awestruck” by what they saw at a museum. Unsurprisingly, most awesome memories were about scale. That is, buildings and objects that were larger-than-life were more likely to create that sense of awe in children.”
Or the iconic “Spoonbridge and Cherry” at the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden at the Walker Art Center.
Nina Simon recently posted a story about how museums could consider borrowing some ideas from the retail world. She highlighted a few points from a recent workshop she attended by Bob Gibbs, an urban planner who designs malls and shopping districts around the US.
Here’s Nina’s take on the workshop in abbreviated form:
- Within two seconds of entering a store, 70% of people know whether they will buy something. Stores use simple window displays and a “front and center” table to convey what’s hot, and most train a staff member to welcome customers immediately upon entry.
- An open door generates 35% more business than a closed door. Doors that are flush to the sidewalk are more inviting than recessed doors. How many museum and library entrances are hard to find, dark, and require opening a heavy door?
- The highest-performing malls and shopping districts (in terms of sales) have lots of clear sight lines from one storefront to another. In a museum or library, this translates well to being able to see across to other exhibits or areas (especially when visiting in a family group that frequently splits and recombines).
- 75% of American spending occurs after 5:30pm and on Sunday. Stores should be open when people want to shop.
- The average shopper in America does not like shopping. She’s a single mom with very limited time. She wants to get in and out quickly, with a good deal on the thing she needs. The only time she likes shopping is when on vacation. Shopping is one of the most popular vacation activities, and many Americans plan their trips in part around shopping.
These data are startling in some ways, yet, on reflection–this is how each of us approaches “store fronts” whether it’s a retail space, like the Lego store at Mall of America, our favorite artist’s studio or gallery, or a museum.
Museums frequently have an object or a collection that suggests an opportunity to play with scale, whether large or tiny, or even to highlight scale in terms of magnitude, such as the volume of items in the collection. I am always transfixed and awed by the display of beetles and–in a completely different way–by the glass flowers at the Harvard Museum of Natural History, Harvard University.
Perhaps it makes sense for museums and for artists to take some cues from Gibbs and the Lego store on making the experience seem enticing while mixing in elements of scale.
Maybe it just takes thinking like a five-year-old.
Update 1.15.11: A story in the Columbus Dispatch (Ohio) presents Paul Janssen’s part-time project for over two years to build a replica of The Ohio State Stadium. Using one million Lego pieces his quest would have cost about $75,000 to $100,000 if he had to purchase all the pieces new. The 8′ x 6′ model is another example of scale– going the other direction–scaling down a giant piece of architecture to have the humans peer inside and marvel at the detail. He is considering using it as a fundraising focus “for his research on heart failure and muscular dystrophy. The stadium can be filled with up to 6,000 Lego people, he says, each of which could represent a donor.” I love that idea!