Leighanna Fedorkova
Product Design & UX
Made with

The Challenge

As a team during this group exercise, we were presented with the task of creating a new mobile application for the Smithsonian's Museum of Natural History. This new app would not only make the exhibits more interactive, but would elevate the overall museum-going experience for the user.

My Role: Lead Designer, UX Researcher

Development:

  • Mobile Design
  • Sketch App
  • Adobe Photoshop
  • Adobe Illustrator
  • Marvel App
  • Team-Based Collaboration (Agile)
Key features to include:
• Interactive mobile map of the museum with marked exhibits, zoom and navigation capabilities
• A personal passport in which to store personal information, photos, stamps and filters collected
• Device-syncing capability to help families and groups locate one another within the museum
• Features that would encourage discovery within the museum
• Augmented-reality aspect that would bring each exhibit to life

My team agreed that our app needed to enhance and assist our users’ museum experience, rather than distract from it. Our mission was to effect such a change with our app that, instead of re-creating the ubiquitous scenario of a mobile user staring down at their phone, we’d be bringing a product to the table that would help the user "look up," and utilize their mobile device to fully interact with and experience the plethora of information the museum has to offer.

Research & Discovery

User Research

To start off the journey, we created topic maps of words and phrases that came to mind when we thought of the Museum of Natural History. These topic maps were used as references during the creation of a user survey, which was then sent out online to various potential users. We received 59 survey responses and found some common threads among them— one being that most people, when visiting a museum, don't plan out their route or visit beforehand. We later gained some insight as to why that was the case. Many users didn't feel they were very "good at planning," some simply had trouble trying to navigate their way through the museum, and some just preferred to browse at their own leisure. 

Interviews

Now with a general idea of what the average museum-goer's habits were like, I tailored some of the secondary survey questions to be geared toward current visitors of the actual museum. I expanded upon our initial set of questions, went into more detail, and took a trip to the museum with my team to interview actual potential users about their museum experience.

• What brought them to the museum that day?
• What was their plan (or lack thereof) for navigating through the exhibits?
• For users who had children with them— did they feel their children had enough activities to keep them fully engaged throughout their visit?
• What was their favorite part?

Interviewing various museum-goers led us to the direction we knew we needed to take with our app. We talked to and interviewed 18 visitors total, and through interviewing actual museum visitors, gained some insights we hadn't fully considered before. Even visitors who didn’t have children said that educating children was and should continue to be one of the primary missions of the museum.

I asked one museum-goer, an elderly photographer on a leisurely visit, which direction he thought the museum was taking with its new programs and exhibits, and what his thoughts were on this app idea. He pointed at a child looking through the glass at the mammal exhibit and said, "That's your target audience right there."

Business analysis

Through conducting a business analysis, I learned that the Smithsonian does place a lot of emphasis and focus on research and education, and they have a wealth of activities that are geared toward children— fellowships, games, internships, and other educational activities. The business analysis was an integral part of my team's research and design process; we wanted to not only speak to the Natural History Museum's general audience, but also create something that fit the overall brand and message of the Smithsonian.


Competitive analysis
I also conducted a competitive analysis to take a comprehensive look at what other museums out there were doing, e.g. whether they had a mobile app specific to the museum and, if so, what features they included therein; activities they offered at the museum, whether there were kid-friendly exhibits and programs, etc. I wanted to see not only what was offered, but take a closer look and find out what was working and what wasn't. I wanted to integrate the features my team and I felt were positive and effective into our own app, and come up with something innovative that would set this new app apart.

Affinity mapping

Through affinity mapping, we compiled some answers from our user surveys and grouped them to find common trends. We not only were able to validate our direction and initial thoughts through our users' interview and survey answers, but we could also pinpoint key things users had in common, and take those into consideration when designing our app.

Personas

Based on user research, my team and I developed several personas to represent our users and target demographic. Our main persona was a 9-year-old boy named Timmy. We felt that he was an accurate representation of our target user, and we began our design process with him in mind. Many children who visit the museum are excited to see the mammals, learn about dinosaur skeletons, explore the rocks and geodes, and learn about underwater creatures. Using a persona throughout our ideation, design process, and iterations helped us to keep in mind that we were designing for this specific type of user.

Storyboard and sitemap

I sketched out a storyboard to illustrate and visually communicate the emotional journey I wanted our user (Timmy) to experience while at the museum using our app.

My team and I then put our heads together to come up with a sitemap and main user flows .

Ideation, Development,
and Design

Design Studio

Once we had a concept of a few of the main features and flows we wanted to expand upon, our team used the Design Studio method to further communicate our ideas. We individually sketched rapid prototypes and then came back together to critique, collaborate, and decide which ideas we wanted to continue to build and focus on. This exercise allowed us to quickly brainstorm flows and get immediate feedback.


This process helped us all come together, brainstorm rapidly, critique and give feedback to each other's ideas, and come to a conclusion about which features and flows we wanted to focus on specifically. We took the best attributes from each person's ideas and melded them into several main features. This was an excellent team-building exercise and we learned that several heads are often better than one when attempting to focus, ideate, and innovate.

Conducting this exercise with my team, along with helping us to get closer to building real solutions for our users, really inspired me and left me feeling even more excited about the app. Getting a look into what my teammates' ideas were, and pulling the best parts from each to create the most optimal solution, was really fun! 

Wireframing

After the Design Studio came sketching and wireframing. We started out by sketching out some possible screens based on the main user flows and features we had agreed upon.

After sketching out paper prototypes and discussing, we decided we were ready to move forward and begin creating our initial wireframes in Sketch that would eventually become our working, clickable prototype.

We each focused on a particular flow to build out in Sketch, then melded them together into one file, which I brought into the Marvel app to create the first-version clickable prototype.

User testing & iterations

After building out the clickable prototype, my team went back to the museum to do some user testing on our targeted app users. We conducted 5 user tests, mostly on kids, to see how they navigated the app.

Through testing, we were able to learn which of our ideas made intuitive sense to a user navigating the app, and on which areas we needed to improve, adjust, and re-iterate.

The first iteration illustrated here occurs on the topic interests page. We realized through user testing that we had not provided an intuitive way for the user to continue to navigate forward in the app.

AR/"Gamification" feature

The second iteration shown here illustrates how we conceptually changed the augmented reality aspect of the app after testing. We initially thought the AR was going to be a virtual-reality video game, with the user as the avatar. When testing, we realized that this would cause the user to be looking down at their mobile device, rather than fully interacting with the exhibit around them. 

The AR feature was updated to bring the exhibit to life as the user walked around, augmenting their reality, providing interesting facts about the exhibit and encouraging the user to collect stamps for their personal "passport" (user profile) and “level up" as they navigated through the museum exhibits.

Children especially responded well to the dinosaur "skin" feature; it felt like a video game, and they enjoyed the idea of tapping on parts of a skeleton's "skin" to learn facts about that animal (e.g. the triceratops's horns).

User feedback

Through testing the prototype on actual potential users, we were able to discern which particular areas we needed to improve on, and also see which features excited users. Parents and young adults in particular got excited about the customized-trip-planner feature, as they felt the museum's layout wasn't "intuitive" and they would benefit from an app that could help them navigate more clearly to exhibits of interest. Most users didn't plan their trip beforehand, for various reasons— one user said, "I'm not very good at planning things."

A mother who was visiting DC from Panama with her children was excited about our personal-passport feature, which would store favorited facts, photos taken, and other mementos collected during her museum visit. She wanted to be able to show her friends back home what she'd done while touring the city, and enjoyed the scrapbook-like feature we had included in the app.

We noticed that everyone we tested on was excited about the augmented-reality tour feature, children and adults alike.

"That's really cool. Definitely do that. I want that."

- One user's feedback about the dinosaur exhibit's AR feature

Clickable prototype

Adjustments and iterations were made based on the valuable feedback we'd been given. Lastly, I adjusted our user flows based on research and testing, and finished up our clickable prototype to present. 

Overview

What I learned

Through user surveys, interviews, and testing, it was possible to validate some initial thoughts I had, and also learn exactly what the target users' needs were. Through emphasizing research, "sharpening the axe" before designing, and obtaining data through various platforms, my team and I were able to create a product that our users not only found useful, but also got excited about!

"When is it launching?"

- Question from an excited museum-goer