The Smithsonian’s IPOP Exhibition Framework: Lessons for a Human-Centered Content Approach

Digital Gov, Dec 8. 2016

One of the great challenges in designing a product — digital or otherwise — is stepping outside yourself and climbing into the minds of your users. You love the wonderful new app you’ve designed, but will it appeal to others? Fortunately, the field of user experience design (UX) gives us tools to understand our users through surveys, interviews, card sorting, and user testing.

The Smithsonian Institution’s Office of Policy and Analysis has another tool to consider for your UX toolbox: IPOP. IPOP is model of experience preference created by Smithsonian behavioral scientists led by Andrew Pekarik, in collaboration with Professor James B. Schreiber of Duquesne University. It was formed to guide exhibition design, and born from years of research studies and interviews with Smithsonian visitors. Though created specifically for museums and physical exhibitions, IPOP is useful for anyone wanting to widen appeal and engagement.

IPOP is a useful framework for building a content strategy and thinking about audience diversity and preference differences. The model names four dimensions of experience. Individuals are drawn to each dimension in varying degrees and usually have a dominant preference among the four:

  • I: Ideas — an attraction to concepts, abstractions, linear thought, facts and reasons;
  • P: People — an attraction to emotion, human connection, affective experience, stories, and social interactions;
  • O: Objects — an attraction to things, aesthetics, craftsmanship, use, ownership, and visual language; and
  • P: Physical — an attraction to somatic sensations, including movement, touch, sound, taste, light, and smell.

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