The redo of the Helsinki City Art Museum meant redesigning everything, from desks and the museum shop selection to visitor service paths. Not to mention the whole new name: HAM.
Dust is flying and a drill screams sharply as it hits a concrete wall. There is scaffolding everywhere, along with builders in their neon-yellow vests.
Tennis Palace in the centre of Helsinki is once again going through a transformation. Completed in 1937, the functionalist building was originally meant to be a temporary auto repair shop to be demolished later.
But things turned out differently. The building stayed and was the country’s most important tennis centre for a long while. A car dealership, shopping mall, and flea market have all operated in it. The biggest upheaval in the history of “Tennari” happened in 1999, when it opened its doors as a cultural centre after huge renovations. Today, the building is known for its cinemas and museums.
Compared to that transformation, the current one is more like a small facelift. For the Helsinki Art Museum upstairs, however, it marks the beginning of a new life.
From autumn 2015 the museum will be operating in a space twice as large as before. The area will grow to three thousand square metres, and a number of units previously functioning in different locations will settle under one roof.
Almost everything from the gift shop to the lockers will be renewed in the upheaval. The art museum will even get a new name: HAM, which stands for Helsinki Art Museum. Marketing Manager Saara Suojoki pulls out an iPad and shows conceptual images of the future museum.
“Two of Kari Cavén’s pieces will go over there. The café and guest areas will have Vitra furniture that came out in 1934. So they are almost the same vintage as Tennis Palace.”
The chairs or sculptures are yet nowhere to be seen. All the furniture will be installed in the month leading up to the opening. Although the actual furnishing happens fast, it has been preceded by over a year of planning, with the aim of making the museum into an even more fully functioning entity. That is why the staff has been working intensively together with urban planners from Design Driven City and Masters students from Aalto University.
“Without them, many points of view would probably have gone unnoticed. It is really good that we have listened to outside experts,” says Suojoki.
She has led the transformation together with the art museum director Maija Tanninen-Mattila. However, the whole staff has been included in the planning process, from customer servers to technicians.
How does the visitor feel?
HAM has been thinking about the museum first and foremost from the customer’s perspective. Firstly, familiarity and visitor research was carried out. Based on the results, customer feedback, and other research, nine research-based customer profiles were drawn up and potential visitors mapped. One of the places the staff practiced its own focus group thinking in was Tallinn, where they visited local museums.
“Everyone got a role. You got to be 52-year-old Helene from Eira, for example, and view Tallinn’s museums from her perspective.”
Suojoki says she too understands the customers’ needs better now.
“People are different. Someone wants a playlist to listen to in the museum. Another requires a traditional printed guide and someone else enjoys guided tours. Or maybe they wish to have brunch and see a nice exhibit afterwards.”
Because not everyone can be pleased, the nine visitor profiles were eventually cut down to three focus groups by motivation: art lovers, early adopters, and those who want to do and experience things together.
The new museum has been designed with these needs in mind. This can be seen in hundreds of details, from signposts to the gift shop’s selection.
As well as urban planners, the museum received help from Aalto University’s space planning students who solved furnishing problems.
An assembled team of outside experts dealt with marketing. Instead of hiring an advertising agency, the museum got its hands on an experienced art director and copywriter as well as a couple of seasoned professionals from the media industry.
“This way the whole process was under our control and we also learned at the same time. Among other things, we thought about the museum’s identity and its own voice.”
The art museum has a lot to gain when it comes to how well known they are. Tennis Palace has attracted about two million visitors per year, while the art museum has had “only” 100,000.
Visibility will be emphasized in the future, with video screens appearing outside the building for example.
After the opening, it will be seen how the customer journeys work and whether new customers will also find their way there.
“I hope that everything goes well, but I’m sure things also need polishing. This project won’t end yet in the autumn. It’s an ongoing process.”
Key lesson: The people make the museum, service, or department. That’s why the staff needs to get information about customers and the possibility to stand in their shoes: what does our work feel like to the people we are doing it for?