A Worthy Objective

Goals are general intentions; objectives are precise.  Goals are intangible; objectives are tangible.
Goals are abstract; objectives are concrete.  Goals are not measured; objectives are measured.

Example exhibit goal: Provide interpretive opportunities to enhance visitors’ appreciation of this area.

Example exhibit objective: Double the number of visitors each year for the next two years.

As an interpretive planner of a creative firm, I prefer exhibit goals.  Goals are the stuff of brainstorms.  Goals are concepts not yet exposed to the rigors of budgeting.  Goals are inspiring.  Objectives?  Objectives can seem restraining.  Objectives can seem to fetter design.  Objectives can seem so…numerical.

This being said, objectives are necessary.  Effective, efficient design firms need objectives if they plan to design well into the future by the very fact that they limit and measure.  For those out there that prefer goals to objectives, I want to reveal an objective that can save a designer-client relationship: the success objective.

The success objective is a communication tool that interweaves the client’s goals and the designers’ goals. It establishes an over-arching, common objective for exhibit success, namely how the client will measure and judge the success of an exhibit.  This objective is established by asking the client to complete this sentence: Our exhibit will be deemed successful if and when___________________________________. Since objectives are measureable, both the client and the exhibit designer can test the exhibit for results.

Once the objective is set, it fixates what is occassionally a moving target.  Once the objective is set, it should be advertised, so all the client’s stakeholders are aware of the metric.

Years ago, Taylor Studios, Inc. was awarded a small contract to design and build an audiovisual exhibit for a visitor center.  The schedule was extremely tight, so both teams (Taylor and client) agreed to streamline the design/build schedule.

Our client formed an abbreviated design team (as opposed to their standard, larger design team) in order to simplify input, exhibit reviews, and signoffs.  Their abbreviated team was composed of state-level decision makers.  The local park staff were not fully represented; they were asked to sit this one out.

The project kickoff meeting was successful-the client’s team was prepared, excited, and engaged.  I left the meeting satisfied; it appeared as all team members were on the same page.  As an interpretive planner, I left with a prized possession-a list of the exhibit’s interpretive objectives.  The success of the exhibit would be judged by how well it met these interpretive objectives.

Taylor Studios and the site’s team met the challenging exhibit deadline without a hitch.  With that concern behind us, it was time for the client to evaluate the exhibit product.  Like a producer or playwright awaiting initial newspaper reviews, I prepared myself for feedback.

Relief came once the client’s team praised the exhibit.  The client’s team evaluated the exhibit by the objectives that were established at the onset of the design process.

The following day, I returned to the site to tie several loose ends.  The local park staff also had their first opportunity to evaluate the exhibit.  And they were none too pleased.

They shared their disappointment and diapproval of the final product.  The park staff had established a different set of success criteria.  The interpretive objectives that the exhibit faithfully addressed were not the objectives that the local park staff had in mind.

Continually looking to improve our products and services, Taylor Studios evaluated the situation to prevent this circumstance in the future.  Thus was born, the success objective. It requires the client’s staff to set the primary, overarching measurement of success and then announce it to all stakeholders.  Since objectives are measureable exhibit success or failure becomes evident.

Establishing the success objective does not preclude additional exhibit objectives or goals.  In the above circumstance, the client established interpretive objectives for success.  Management objectives and action objectives are two other types of objectives that could be used for success objectives.  With an advertised success objective in the preceding scenario, Taylor Studios would have been able to ensure that all stakeholders were working towards a common understanding of success.

Anyone reading this want to share a useful exhibit objective?