Suzanne Choi, Zahin Ali, Brendon Gouveia, Denise Nguyen

My Role:

UX/UI concept development. Visual design. Primarily responsible for touch table interface and website.


Carnegie Museum of Natural History


4 weeks, Fall 2017

Project background

Museum goers to Carnegie Museum of Natural History (CMNH) often feel disconnected from the experience. Due to generic content descriptions and abundance of museum exhibits and artifacts happening all at the same time, visitors are often overwhelmed and unable to  easily glance which exhibits or artifacts would be interested to them. There are missed opportunities in building greater experiential coherence around the potential connections with and between artifacts and exhibits within the CMNH. 

Museum content creators also struggle to curate relevant exhibits and artifact descriptions to appeal to thier visitors, mainly due to limited information about their visitors' background and interests. 


Project outcome:

Project Aspen

Project Aspen reimagines the museum experience to be more relevant and reflective by facilitating personalized discovery through a mixture of tangible and digital interactions. 


How it works

Project Aspen personalize the museum experience by providing exhibit and artifact suggestions as well as additional content that matches visitor's interest. 

01-02 Museum visitors can program their discovery device, dymaxion cube, with their personal interests during onboarding process.

03 The dymaxion cube then glows in moments of significance and nudges visitors towards artifacts of interest.

04 Digital placard stores information about museum artifacts and allows visitors to capture the information by tapping with dymaxion cube.

05 Museum visitors can find connections with and between artifacts while revealing additional information with the Aspen touch table.

06 Museum visitors can then print their takeaway postcard that summarizes their interaction at the museum. 

07 Project Aspen also encourages exended learning with CMNH website where visitors can connect back to the museum contents and converse with other visitors. 


Project Aspen consists of 5 main parts:

Discovery interface, Digital placard, Touch table, Takeaway post-card, and Webiste.

Screen Shot 2018-03-19 at 8.36.34 PM.png



Discovery Interface

Personal guide

The programmable, zero UI dymaxion cube acts as a personal guide for visitors within the museum to help the visitors discover an interesting artifacts or exhibits. The object is designed to be tactile and non-intrusive. With light and vibration sensors, it emits subtle glows and vibration when visitors are close to artifacts of possible interest, indicating its suggestion. 

The discovery interface takes on the form of a dymaxion cube. This was inspired by Buckminster Fuller’s world map projected onto a isocohedron. We found this geometric representation of space matches with our theme of personalized guidance and wayfinding within the museum. 




Digital Placard


Collect artifacts of interest

The design of this placard displays general information about the artifact to educate the visitor, but also prompts them to collect the artifact to learn more after they walk away. Visitors can capture information stored in the digital placard by tapping the placard with dymaxion cube. Once information in the placard is saved to dymaxion cube, the placard emits soft light to indicate confirmation. It is designed to be low power and minimally complex for simplicity and ease of implementation.




Touch Table

The touch table acts as a canvas for users to reflect on their experience while exploring connections with and between museum artifacts. It allows users to deeply engage with museum content by providing additional contents that matches with user's pre-defined intesrests. And, the touch table reveals relationship between various saved artifacts from user's collection. The touch table is crucial to the overarching experience because it marks a major milestone at the beginning and end of the user's journey.

The interface's visual aesthetic is inspired by the Dymaxion cube. As users offload all their saved artifacts, it's designed to feel like unfolding the cube onto a digital canvas.


On boarding: Personalization

Onboarding process is initiated when users place their dymaxion cube on the designated spot on the table. During onboarding process, museum visitors can specify their personal interest through selecting general interest areas (with pictures) followed by specific keywords (tags). Based on different selection combination, Aspen curates personlized and unique suggestions for each individual visitor. 


Finding connections with and between artifacts

After their museum journey is over, visitors can come back to the touch table to review collected artifacts and find connections with and between artifacts. Once collected artifacts are unfolded on canvas, the interface displays additional contents about artifacts based on user's interest and shows connections between collected artifacts. This reflective part allows visitors to personally engage with museum contents and motivates extended learning outside of museum. Visitors are also encourage to learn from promoted questions based on their personalized interest. 



04 - 05

Extended Learning

Learning does not end at Museum. Museum visitors are encouraged for extended learing and community engagement outside of museum envrionment with takeaway post-card and website. 


Takeaway post-card: Remembrance

At the end of their museum experience, visitors have option to print out takeawy post-card that summarizes overall experience at the museum. The takeaway post-card takes a form of unfolded dymaxion cube and have instruction for folding. The post-card also contains unique user id that users can use to sign into CMNH website.

Museum Takeaway_Color.png


CMNH website: In-depth learning and community engagement

At home, users can access their museum collections through CMNH website. Collections are organized by dates of visits, so users can grow their collection with multiple visits to CMNH with Aspen experience. In each collected artifact page, users can review information about artifact and connections they found, and exchange questions with other CMNH visitors about the artifact. The website provides the opportunity for users to recall and reminisce activities from specific visits.


So, how I got here?


Understanding the problem

We visited CMNH to understand the problem space better. We initially had these three questions in mind:

  1. What role may individual stories play in engaging users?

  2. How might we provide users an experience to reflect and reinterpret their relationship with nature?

  3. What role can technology play to facilitate and communicate these interactions to an audience with varying stories?



To better understand current situation, we interviewed 12 Carnegie Museum visitors. We informally asked their opinion on the purpose of museum, their overall museum experience, personal connection to museum content and nature, areas they liked least and most in their previous museum visits, and personal pain points they experienced in their museum visit. 

Our interviewees included repeated and one time museum visitors. In this group, there were millennials, elders, and families with parents, guardians and children. We also supplemented the in person interviews with observational research, watching how people moved through exhibition spaces and interacted with artifacts. 

We also spoke with three employees of the museum: Jonathan Gaugler, Media Relations Manager; Mandi Lynn, Program Development Coordinator; and Laurie Giarratani, Director of Education. Jonathan mentions that the museum struggles with how much content to show for each artifact. Mandi said that in the past, the museum has suggested a route to walk through the museum and that was successful. Both Mandi and Laurie wished the the Museum could have more data about the visitors (e.g. which artifacts they like, what questions they might have, etc.). Capturing this data and generate flexible content can help the museum design future exhibits.



To gather broader perspectives, we sent out a survey to potential museum visitors and received 24 survey responses. We asked their opinion on the purpose of museum, their overall museum experience, personal connection to museum content and nature,  areas they liked least and most in their previous museum visits, and personal pain points they have experienced during past museum visits. Survey results pointed towards urban dwellers craving some sort of genuine exposure to nature while certain niche users acting as museum aficionados. 


Defining stakeholders

We created stakeholder map to see all the stakeholders involved and to study their interrelationships. There are three main categories: Museum Visitors (both one time and repeated), Museum Employees (both front stage and backstage), and Museum Non-Visitors. 


Defining problem indicators

Based on our research, we created a ‘before user journey map’ to highlights pain points that the Carnegie Museum of Natural History visitors are currently experiencing.

We found 5 main problem indicators

  1. Wayfinding within museum is really difficult due to unclear description of exhibits signage.

  2. Visitors struggle to find artifacts that interests them because of the abundance of artifacts in the museum.

  3. While exploring exhibit, visitors struggles to find relevance to museum content due to generality and briefness of the artifact description.

  4. Museum content creators also struggle to find appropriate length and language of the artifact description to make it relevant to the visitors because they simply don’t have any data about that.

  5. And after a museum visit, there was no way for users to connect back with museum content.


Key insights

Based on our primary research, we came up with these 6 insights: 

  1. What you bring [ personal stories ] to the museum is just as important as what you get out of it.

  2. Museum goers desire content with greater depth and diversity.

  3. Quality of discovery depends on searching for something new and unexpected.

  4. People have richer experiences with more tactile and immersive experience.

  5. Well considered technology can better support the communication and enhance museum content.

  6. Parents bring children to museums primarily for quality bonding experiences


Design principles

From these insights, we developed design principles: 

  1. Our design should have some personalization.

  2. Our design should allow the visitor to engage with the artifacts in a deeper way.

  3. Our design should include elements of discovery.

  4. Our design should have have a tangible element.

  5. If using technology, our design should make the technology as seamless as possible with the museum. The priority of the technology should be enhance the museum experience.

  6. Our design should amplify the educational nature of the museum.


How might we create a more personalized museum experience centered around connected-ness and discovery?



Concept development and user testings

Concept 1

With those insights in mind, we rapidly developed two concepts with a goal to personalize the museum experience while facilitating unexpected discovery via wayfinding. The first concept utilized an augmented reality map and CMNH mobile application.

User testing

Screen Shot 2018-01-08 at 11.13.46 PM.png
  1. People felt a connection to museum content with suggested tour route and content based on user’s personal interest. Using data from social media would be interesting.

  2. Wayfinding with AR is useful

  3. Highlighting ‘easy-to-miss’ objects with AR promotes unexpected discovery

  4. Displaying personalized content on phone may make people spend too much time glued to a screen

  5. Tangible takeaway could be unexpected to promote sense of surprise


Concept 2

The second concept, involved a tangible hand sized object that vibrates when they were near an artifact that might have missed. The purpose was to get people in the museum to notice things they may have otherwise missed. In that regard, we were trying to promote a more free form kind of discovery. They have the ability to save the object and view it later.

Storyboard 2.png

User testing

After testing the second concept, we found: 

  1. People liked that the physical object vibrated to nudge them to look at things they would otherwise miss. This promoted free form discovery.

  2. People liked information that was catered to them through the digital plaques. The reveal of information also served as a pleasant surprise.

  3. Some people liked the collectibles. People questioned how the Cabinet of Wonder could be more useful.

  4. Tangible takeaway could be unexpected to promote sense of surprise

  5. Dynamic content display on digital placard may put burden on content creators on generating contents.



Project Aspen

Combined concept

From the feedback of the two concepts, we decided to combine elements that resonated with people.

Our final combined concept is around connected museum experience which facilitates unexpected discovery with subtle suggestions towards artifacts and exhibits that match users' interest. The visitors are also able to collect artifacts by tapping on placard and engage with artifacts later at touch table. At the end of their museum experience, visitors receive a take-away postcard as a physical souvenir and can re-access their collections via website. 


Proposed journey map

This after journey map highlights how our users will go through Aspen experience:


Logic map

This logic map highlights how data collection and exchange will happen:


Value proposition

This value proposition diagram highlights how museum will benefit from the proposed Aspen experience:



Visual design decisions

Gathering visual Inspirations

For our visuals, we wanted to keep the branding of the Carnegie Museum of Natural History and use a color palette that had a nature feel. Before deciding on our visual language, we looked at various inspirations on interface design, color scheme, space design, and signage systems.


Logo developement and naming

We named our project Aspen. We chose the name Aspen because Aspen is a type of tree that has a connected root system that talks to each other. This was a great metaphor of our project which touches upon the connection with and between different artifacts in the museum.

We chose the dymaxion cube for logo because it relates to a historic map format, which is in line with our theme of connectedness and wayfinding. The shape of the dymaxion also allows for integration between both the 2d and 3d space. 


Defining visual language

We considered the current design system of the Carnegie Museum of Natural History. Their brand, for the most part, uses Klavika as its logo and title font, and PT Serif and Franklin Gothic Book for body content. 

We used a typeface called ‘United’ that is similar to Klavika, but has more angular corners to match dymaxion cube shape. 

We studied overall color system as well. Through the use of color, we wanted to express ‘sense of nature’ with earthy tone color scheme.





Discovery interface object


In order to craft the interaction of a person wandering through the museum and having their object “sense” a relevant exhibit, we began exploring different kinds of sensors to fix to an exhibit to sense users walking by. We decided it would be too difficult to prototype a high level of computing logic to recognize precise users or precise exhibits so we focused on looking at the notion of detecting proximity and motion.

Since size and portability were important design constraints, we decided we needed a physical computing platform with wireless connectivity. We spent much time configuring a working particle photon module and tried to get a system of two photons with proximity sensors to speak to one another. This became too difficult to implement and we began looking at easier options to communicate or wizard of oz the interaction within reason.

We looked at the idea of using a light sensor and designing a light controlled environment. We also looked at other technologies such as RFID tags and magnets with switches. Finally we discovered the particle tinker app will allow us to control certain ports on the photon. Thus, we could control photons connections to light / vibrator outputs using our phone. We decided that this wizard of oz element would be sufficient to communicate the idea during a demo. 


Digital placard

We experimented with different type of placards. Initially, we had a digital placard with dynamic content display, but figured that it would put too much burden to place on CNHM to generate flexible and unique content for every single artifact in the museum.

We decided to go with a low-power, static placard with some digital component. The design of our final placard displays general information about the artifact to educate the visitor, but also prompts them to collect the artifact to learn more after they walk away. 

We built an affordance with the light sensor / tap area for artifact collection. The placard contained a vellum lining around the exterior edge to afford a diffused effect to the LED glow, when lit. 


Touch table

We wanted to build a Multitouch Display in order to have a more convincing presentation. After doing some initial research we discovered that that we could build one at a relatively affordable price (under $200). The table uses a hacked infrared webcam, infrared leds, and a projector to capture multi touch inputs and display content.

When deciding on the height and dimensions of the table we had to balance the requirements of the hardware and the requirements necessary to communicate our idea. We landed on a table roughly 39 inches tall with a 24”x36” screen. We felt this size was natural for an average sized person to stand comfortably and interact with the display. 


Touch table UI wireframes

touch table ui.png

There are multiple touch-points with touch table interface during user’s journey in the CMNH. While wireframing touch table interface, we explored different ways to help users. 

  1. Define personal interest in the beginning to personalize museum journey [on boarding]

  2. Engage with the museum content by exploring in-depth information about the saved artifact [reveal personalized information based on user defined interest]

  3. Find relationship between artifacts that user saved [connection]

  4. Reflect on museum experience by asking questions about saved artifact [question triangles]

  5. Engage with community by adding tags and interpretation to the artifacts [tags are attached to each museum artifact]

  6. Find exhibits/ artifacts that may be personally interesting to user via suggestions [artifact/exhibit suggestions based on tag selected]


Onboarding wireframes

onboarding flow.png


Return interaction wireframes

connection flow.png



Touch table UI high fidelity mock up

For the high fidelity mockup of the touch table interface, we incorporated our visual system: triangular shapes that reflects dymaxion cube, earthy tone color scheme, United typeface that matches our visual language. With the high fidelity mockup, we detailed out interaction and flow.




Return interaction (Connection)

Framer prototype to show interaction 



Takeaway post-card

Museum Takeaway_Color.png

Take-away postcard acts as a physical souvenir of visitor'museum experience. This takeaway doubles as a DIY dymaxion cube and instructios for visiting the website. 



Website helps users to re-access their personalized collection outside of museum. The Aspen cloud stores all user interactions happened in the museum display back to thes user through the website. The website encourages user to reflect on their museum visit and facilitates social connection via allowing users to ‘comment’ and ‘follow ’on each other’s questions. 

  1. Upon arrival, user enters user’s unique number to access the collection.

  2. User sees all the artifacts saved during their previous visit (all the artifacts are color coded by exhibit). The user can click on each artifact to go to detailed page.

  3. The detail page features information about the artifact, tags associated with the artifact, question user asked about the artifact during user’s visit, other people’s responses to user’s question, and related questions that other people asked based on the keywords user used for her question.

  4. When clicking on the tag, users can see other artifacts (that they have saved in the museum that shares the same tag.


Wireframes and visual study


High fidelity mock up

Concept video




Next Step

In the future, we imagine a user can place the object directly on the touch table instead of placing it on the the frame. The table should also be bigger and allow more than two people to interact with it at once in order to facilitate communication between visitors. Also, perhaps the touch table can provide multi-use functionality (e.g. with addition of drawing activity, short quiz, etc.).