Observation at Edinburgh Zoo
I recently went on a trip to Edinburgh Zoo. I went with my year group from my course as part of Design Studies and the 21 Century Designer module so as you may imagine I didn’t go for a fun day out just to see the animals and the Pandas, I was there to observe the people who were there watching the animals – to observe reality. As a designer I need to be able to understand people, what their needs are and step into their shoes and feel their emotions. This was an introduction to the field of Ethnography.
I found that to start with I wanted to look at the animals but knew I had to take observational notes about the people at the zoo. The first thing I noticed was people were gathering when there was an information talk being broadcast over a PA system about a sea-lion. This held their attention and was an opportunity for spectators to take photos and video footage as the sea-lion was being fed and came out of the water and was visible for most. There was a high wall round the pool so some parents were holding their young children up and putting them on their shoulders so they could see over the wall. In this instance some adults left their children in their prams, for whatever reason and therefore were unable to see the animals. Perhaps some glass build into the wall, hand-held monitors or some kind of wall high safety seats would be devices that would make young children viewing this particular animal easier.
During my visit I observed that there were lots of families with young children in prams, some couples, one school trip and some adults in small groups. I didn’t see anyone alone apart from one man who looked as if he was there taking photos. It was obvious that some parents were interested in their children getting the most out of the trip by holding them up to see whenever their child’s view was restricted, by talking to them about the animals and having a chat to the animals through the cages or through the glass. Some parents stood back from the animals once the child was in a position where they could see clearly and left them without talking to them. Some parents got down to their child’s height and were engrossed in conversation looking at the animals with their child. Other parents did not seem to engage with their children and left them in positions where they couldn’t see. I noticed one parent take her child away from an interactive information board when the child was obviously interested in it. Watching this made me consider if adults with children visit the Zoo for themselves or for their children or some other reason.
I noticed that couples without children seem to spend longer viewing animals than families. More observation would determine if this was the case for only certain animals or not. The couples get up close to the glass and were engrossed in conversation together. I presume they were interested but probably chat about other things whilst spending time together. They also read the information more readily than adults who have children who they have to constantly supervise. Personal interaction by volunteers at the bird house encouraged people to stay and listen to a talk and become more interested. It seemed people were prepared to wait for the talk than read the information that was displayed.
Further observation during my trip I saw that people seem to talk to the animals when they are up close to them and they move mirroring the animals’ movements following it in its enclosure. People are also drawn to others and they seem to cluster in groups. If there is a small group forming other people join them, I presume in the hope they have seen something interesting or know that something is about to happen especially when the cameras are out. People are willing to wait in queues especially to see the Pandas. I didn’t really know what to expect and waited along with the rest of the group for our time slot to move into the Panda enclosure. We received a talk before going into the Pandas and this talk continued inside. It was interesting but don’t remember all the facts we were told. A leaflet would have would have been something I would have made use of. There was only one Panda on show, Tian Tian, and she was behind a glass window. It was difficult to see as we were a large group but I managed to get a good photo or two. Some of the group were totally engrossed in the Panda and stayed up close to the glass for the whole visit even after we were asked to switch positions so everyone could have a good view. We were also asked to switch off the flash of our cameras and even after several reminders some people were still using a flash. I wonder if they were oblivious as they were so engrossed or just chose to ignore the instructions. A large screen in this area filming the Panda would have possibly eased the congested situation.
I don’t remember being at Edinburgh Zoo before so I relied on Beth (who was the map keeper) and Chloe (who had visited the Zoo more recently) to get me round. I noticed a few people as did we, look at a notice board the “You Are Here” kind of information board. The people I observed were touching the notice and moving their finger around trying to work out where to go to next, what had been seen and what was left to see (similar to using a touch screen device). This led me to think about how a route could be planned in advance – choose the animals you want to see, choose how much time you have (we were on a time schedule) and what your priorities are for the day and an individual route could be planned. As well as the route a dev ice such as a phone app or hand-held device provided by the Zoo could also provide information on the animals as you reach them. Different routes could promote the less popular animals or animals more likely to be “on show” at different times of the day or year.
The play park in the zoo was an area where, as you would expect there were lots of children playing and climbing around along with the adults standing around supervising. This seems to have been placed in an area where spectators congregate for the penguin parade so was in an ideal location. I had seen the notice earlier that the penguin parade was on at 2.15 pm. I assumed that this would be quite a popular attraction but second after the Pandas. The penguin parade was announced and more spectators started to gather. I found it amazing that when asked everyone stood behind the “yellow line” or safety and to create a “human wall”, they did what they were instructed to do just so they could see the penguins strut their stuff along the path!
In general people seemed relaxed, looked happy and walked slowly, although I did spot a a mum run along with a child in a buggy and and second child child run along side – one way to tire him out for the rest of the day! People were were wearing warm outdor clothes and lots were carying backpacks with cameras and pack lunches inside I presume, probably trying to save money not buying a lunch after paying the family entrance fee to the Zoo.
The gift shop is positioned so people walk through it at the end of thier trip round the Zoo and spend money. There is a whole wall of soft toy pandas stacked on shelves of varying sizes and these were really popular with visitors. The shop was really spacious and had a good variety of gifts covering a range of prices and most of which didn’t look too tacky.
All in all I enjoyed my trip to the Zoo although I feel a bit sorry for the animals and birds. I think it seems a bit cruel especially for the big cats that were pacing around their enclosures but they did seem to look healthy and well cared for. I found my first official “people watching” research experience better than I had thought it would be and all in all it was an interesting day out and chance to practice for my next assignment – At the Bingo!