Empowering museum visitors to curate their own journeys.
Team: Zach Bachiri, Katie Herzog, Joe Hines, Mary Tsai
Role: Concept development, low + hi-fi UX/UI, digital prototyping
Duration: 4 weeks
Tools: Sketch, Illustrator, InDesign, Photoshop, Arduino
Brief: Design an intervention to enhance the visitor experience and encourage deeper engagement with the content at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History.
Curio is a system designed for the Carnegie Museum of Natural History that allows museum visitors to curate their own museum experience. Throughout their journey, Curio users interact with four primary touchpoints to discover thematic narratives across museum exhibits while learning about their personal interests. The system allows for a deeper connection with museum content, a more active visitor experience, and enables the generation of valuable data for museum staff.
As our project brief was very open-ended, we were free to define our own design challenges.
Through a combination of visitor observation and personal exploration of the museum, we decided to work towards the goal of enhancing the total visitor experience (rather than focusing on an individual exhibit or facet). Ultimately we identified several opportunities for improvement:
1. First, we discovered that museum visitors are not engaging as deeply with content in the museum as they could be. Traditional museum plaques present content in a static way, creating a passive relationship between viewer and information.
2. Second, while content is grouped into exhibits and displays, the museum lacks a visible way to construct thematic narratives across exhibits. This makes it difficult for visitors to find meaning in their experience as a whole, and limits the museum’s ability to present new and diverse subject matter.
3. And finally, there is room for greater dialogue between visitors and the museum. Currently, the transfer of information is primarily one-way (from the museum to the visitors) without the opportunity for visitors to find their own voice.
How might visitors connect more personally with content at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History?
With our design challenge in mind, we enumerated primary and secondary objectives for our intervention. Collecting and ordering these objectives allowed us to clarify our individual thought processes and unify our priorities moving forward. They served not only as guiding principles throughout concept ideation but would also serve as touchstones for evaluation should our concept be implemented.
Then through a series of generative design exercises, conversations with museum staff, and exploration of past precedents, we created a number of concepts to consider. This brainstorming process led us ultimately to a concept focused on the joy of self discovery.
OBJECTIVES & IDEATION
01. Allow visitors to form a personal connection to museum content.
02. Facilitate the discovery of new objects.
03. Allow for both individual and group exploration.
04. Encourage reflection about oneself.
05. Allow for personalization/customization.
06. Integrate with the museum environment without creating physical or technological barriers.
01. Encourage and allow for further exploration beyond the museum.
02. Draw connections between content in varying exhibits.
03. Direct visitors to previously unexplored areas of the museum.
04. Generate valuable data for museum staff.
Encourage personal connection with content
Facilitate discovery of new objects
Allow individual and group exploration
Through our conversations with museum staff, we determined that the following four themes represent major threads currently found across museum content: anthropological,
biological, geological, and anthropocentric. These themes form
the foundation of the Curio system,
and if implemented, all objects in the museum will be categorized with one or more of these themes.
The first touchpoint occurs as museum visitors purchase admission and receive their digital lapel tag at the museum desk. Once the user pins their tag in a visible location, he or she can begin
collecting items to build a unique
If a visitor is interested in an artifact, they can detach their tag from its clip and tap the specified location to add it to their collection. The tag will then change colors as more items are collected to signify the addition of themes to the visitor’s profile.
As a user collects objects throughout the museum, their tag will change color to reflect the new themes of the objects they collect. The tag color will act as a type of passive navigation tool for visitors, implying connections between their color profile and museum objects. This abstract form of exploration encourages discovery without becoming prescriptive.
Since museum goers often visit as a group, Curio has the option to sync each visitor’s tag with others to create a collective profile. As users travel through the museum and collect items, they will see the colors change to encompass the interests of the whole group.
*My Primary Contribution
As visitors enter the galleries, they encounter a series of plaques (analogue and digital) throughout the exhibits. Each plaque contains an RFID contact, enabling visitors to “collect” individual objects or displays. Color-coded icons along the top of each plaque provide a visual indication of the themes represented in a particular display,
allowing museum-goers to identify potential objects of interest at a glance.
To accommodate existing displays, we developed 4 plaque typologies. As a way of minimizing cost and impact to museum infrastructure, we included analogue plaques and stickers glass applications, as well as larger, digital plaques equipped to deliver multimedia content, allowing for deeper visitor engagement and an opportunity for material rotation.
Plaque iteration - initial ideation through final concept
Referencing the United States Access Board regulations for signage, we determined a recommended height of 40” above floor level for wall-mounted plaques.
At this height, the plaque’s contact point is accessible to children 5 years of age and older as well as adults and those in a wheelchair.
At the end of a visitor’s museum experience, a Reflection Wall encourages them to reflect on their museum experience, allows them to understand how they relate to other visitors, and inspires them to engage further with the museum.
The wall consists of two parts: first, a console designed for individual interaction allows users to return their tag, review their journey, and receive a takeaway; second, a larger display above shows the day's popular artifacts and a collective profile of all museum visitors.
The sticker visitors receive as they leave the museum not only reflects their individual color profile, but also acts as a QR code leading to a mobile web app. Through this experience, visitors can revisit their collection of objects and further explore the themes they
discovered. These both act as tools for
discovering relevant content from the museum’s archive, opening up further opportunities for exploration and deeper understanding.
If implemented, Curio creates opportunities for museum staff far beyond those presented above. Data gathered could generate insights to aid staff in making more informed curatorial decisions as content, events, and marketing efforts could be tailored to respond to visitor interests.
Staff could see the exact number of times an object
has been collected, and because objects would be categorized
according to the four themes enumerated above (Anthropological,
Anthropocentric, Biological, Geological), staff would be able to identify the larger thematic interests of the museum’s visitor base. This data would aid staff in planning new exhibitions with a better understanding of the content visitors are likely to respond most to.
Curio would create a compelling reason for visitors to create
email-based CMNH accounts; to save their after-museum profile
and keep an ongoing collection, visitors must signup. These
profiles could generate a much larger set of users with whom the
museum can engage.
With these profiles created, and the data associated with them,
CMNH would be much more informed about individual visitors.
This information could then be used for more intelligent, targeted
marketing; based on a visitor’s interests, a curated list of events
could be generated and advertised accordingly. Language of
emails could even be tailored to meet the thematic interests of