Team: Suzanne Choi, Zahin Ali, Brendon Gouveia, Denise Nguyen
My Role: UX research and analysis. UX/UI concept development and visual designs. Primarily responsible for touch table interface and website.
Client: Carnegie Museum of Natural History
Project Aspen reimagines museum experience to be more relevant and reflective. Aspen provides personalized museum experience through a mixture of tangible and digital interactions. With personalized experience, Aspen enables museum visitors to deeply engage with museum contents while making meaningful discoveries.
For this project, we were tasked with designing for the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Our design could focus anywhere from one interaction in the museum to the entire context of the museum.
During our first meeting, Carnegie Museum of Natural History (CMNH) expressed that they are having difficulty making museum contents relevant to museum visitors. With this concern in mind, we wanted to create an engaging museum experience that is more personalized, reflective, and desirable.
01. Understanding the problem
We visited CMNH to understand the problem space better. We initially had these three questions in mind:
- What role may individual stories play in engaging users?
- How might we provide users an experience to reflect and reinterpret their relationship with nature?
- What role can technology play to facilitate and communicate these interactions to an audience with varying stories?
Interviews and surveys
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 being flexible with the 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 experienced in their museum visit. We also asked they what they think the purpose of a museum is. Survey results pointed towards urban dwellers craving some sort of genuine exposure to nature while certain niche users acting as museum aficionados.
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:
- Wayfinding within museum is really difficult due to unclear description of exhibits signage.
- Visitors struggle to find artifacts that interests them because of the abundance of artifacts in the museum.
- While exploring exhibit, visitors struggles to find relevance to museum content due to generality and briefness of the artifact description.
- 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.
- And after a museum visit, there was no way for users to connect back with museum content.
Based on our primary research, we came up with these 6 insights:
- What you bring [ personal stories ] to the museum is just as important as what you get out of it.
- Museum goers desire content with greater depth and diversity.
- Quality of discovery depends on searching for something new and unexpected.
- People have richer experiences with more tactile and immersive experience.
- Well considered technology can better support the communication and enhance museum content.
- Parents bring children to museums primarily for quality bonding experiences
From these insights, we derived design principles:
- Our design should have some personalization.
- Our design should allow the visitor to engage with the artifacts in a deeper way.
- Our design should include elements of discovery.
- Our design should have have a tangible element.
- 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.
- 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?
02. Concept development and user testings
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.
- 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.
- Wayfinding with AR is useful
- Highlighting ‘easy-to-miss’ objects with AR promotes unexpected discovery
- Displaying personalized content on phone may make people spend too much time glued to a screen
- Tangible takeaway could be unexpected to promote sense of surprise
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.
After testing the second concept, we found:
- People liked that the physical object vibrated to nudge them to look at things they would otherwise miss. This promoted free form discovery.
- People liked information that was catered to them through the digital plaques. The reveal of information also served as a pleasant surprise.
- Some people liked the collectibles. People questioned how the Cabinet of Wonder could be more useful.
- Tangible takeaway could be unexpected to promote sense of surprise
From the feedback of the two concepts, we decided to combine elements that resonated with people.
Our final combined concept is to personalize the museum experience by considering the interests of the visitor and then facilitating unexpected discovery by suggesting to them artifacts that they might like, but would have otherwise missed. The visitor is also able to tap the plaque to save the artifact and then display and engage with it later a multi-touch table and then on a website when they are home. They also receive a take-away postcard as a physical souvenir of their museum exhibit. This takeaway doubles as a DIY dymaxion cube and instructions for visiting the website.
Our concept involved five main parts: a vibrating hand held object in the shape of a dymaxion cube, a tap-able placard, a multi-touch table, a website, and a paper takeaway postcard.
Proposed journey map
This after journey map highlights how our users will go through Aspen experience:
This logic map highlights how data collection and exchange will happen:
This value proposition diagram highlights how museum will benefit from the proposed Aspen experience:
03. Prototyping and making design decisions
Gathering visual Inspirations
For our visuals, we want 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
Our project is called 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 is a great metaphor of our project which touches upon the connection between different artifacts in the museum and the connection of these artifacts to us.
We chose the dymaxion cube because it relates to a historic map format, which is in line with our theme of connectedness. The shape of the dymaxion also allows for integration between both the 2d and 3d space. When unwrapped, it lays nicely on a flat surface or piece of paper. When folded up it fits nicely into the palm of one’s hands.
Defining visual language
We considered the design system of the Museum of Natural History. The CMOA 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 angled corners to make sure it goes well with the visual system we decided upon, which include triangles. The dymaxion cube is made up of triangles, which is the strongest geometric shape. Oftentimes, triangles are used to bridges and buildings because they offer the most stability.
We studied overall color system as well. Through the use of color, we wanted to express ‘sense of nature’ through earthy tone color scheme.
Our object 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 to be helpful for our theme of wayfinding in the museum. Once folded out into a map form, we felt the tiles could better serve to tell the progression of a story of a person’s journey through the museum.
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 which allows 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.
We experimented with different type of placards. Initially, we had a digital placard, but decided that there would be 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 classic placard option. From there we could integrate technology more thoughtfully (preventing the addition of technology for technology’s sake). 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.
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.
Building 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 you could build one at a relatively affordably (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
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.
- Define personal interest in the beginning to personalize museum journey [on boarding]
- Engage with the museum content by exploring in-depth information about the saved artifact [reveal personalized information based on user defined interest]
- Find relationship between artifacts that user saved [connection]
- Reflect on museum experience by asking questions about saved artifact [question triangles]
- Engage with community by adding tags and interpretation to the artifacts [tags are attached to each museum artifact]
- Find exhibits/ artifacts that may be personally interesting to user via suggestions [artifact/exhibit suggestions based on tag selected]
Return Interaction Wireframes
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.
Our take-away postcard as a physical souvenir of their museum exhibit. This takeaway doubles as a DIY dymaxion cube and instructions for visiting the website.
Website helps users to access their personalized curation after their visit to the museum. The Aspen cloud stores all user interactions happened in the museum [i.e., artifacts user saved, time user stand in each exhibit, questions user reviewed and asked, tags user interacted with and added, etc]. User’s unique information saved in the cloud is displayed back to the 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.
- Upon arrival, user enters user’s unique number to access the collection.
- 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.
- 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.
- When clicking on the tag, users can see other artifacts (that they have saved in the museum that shares the same tag.
High fidelity mock up
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.).
We also delivered website and touch table specs with general visual design guidelines to Carnegie Museum of Natural History for seamless implementation of our concept.