We had been involved in the redesign of the 4 Period Rooms of the Marquise Palace, also called the Palace of Secrets, in Bergen op Zoom. This design was based on the biography of a historical figure: Marie Anne van Arenberg, whose dramatic life was marked by secrets. Each of the 4 rooms represents a turning moment in Marie Anne’s story: the official marriage, the secret marriage and the betrayal, the dilemma and choice, with, in a final room, the epilogue. These different episodes are reflected in the way the rooms are furnished: the ballroom, the bedroom, the dining room.
The Secret Marquise as design and exhibition has brought more visitors to the museum. As designers and researchers, however, we were interested in understanding more about this success, and, in particular, in understanding the visitors experience, both emotionally and sensorially at different moments/situations during the story-driven experience.
In the fall of 2021, the visitors’ lived experience was evaluated using different approaches: a quantitative approach using biometric measurements to register people’s emotions during their visit, and a qualitative one consisting of a combination of observations, visual imagery, and interpretative phenomenological analysis (IPA).
Qualitatively, our aim was to understand how respondents made sense of Marie Anne’s story in the way in which this was presented throughout the exhibition. We specifically looked at the personal context and frame of reference (e.g., previous experiences, connection to the visitor’s own life story, associations with other stories from other sources).
In the design of the rooms, we used a combination of digital/interactive elements (such as a talking portrait, an interactive dinner table, an interactive family painting), and traditional physical objects (some 17th century original objects, some reproductions from that time). The second focal point of the study is to understand how these different elements lead the visitors experience.