CMU M.Des. Interaction Studio 1, 5 weeks
Katie Herzog, Mary Tsai, Joe Hines
Sketch, After Effects, Illustrator, Indesign, Arduino Hardware
CMNH Curate is a system that allows museum visitors to curate their own museum experience. This project was completed during my Interaction Design Studio at Carnegie Mellon, with three other students. Working with the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, we defined our project brief.
Research and Problem Framing
We began our design process with contextual inquiry and expert interviews at the museum. Through this research, we hoped to understand both how visitors are currently experiencing the museum, and the goals and values of the museum staff. From this, we generated several opportunities to enhance the visitor experience.
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.
From these observations, we framed our design challenge as such:
With our design challenge in mind, we enumerated objectives for our intervention. These objectives served as the basis for our concept ideation, and will serve as guiding factors for evaluation upon implementation.
Allow visitors to form a personal connection to museum content.
Facilitate the discovery of new objects.
Allow for both individual and group exploration.
Encourage reflection about oneself.
Allow for personalization/customization.
Integrate with the museum environment without creating physical or technological barriers
With our objectives in mind, we began ideating solutions to our design challenge. Through generative design exercises, conversations with museum staff, and exploration of past precedents, we created a number of concepts to consider.
CMNH Curate is a system that allows museum visitors to curate their own museum experience. Through this experience, they will discover larger themes within the museum and learn about their own interests. The system will allow for a deeper connection with museum content, a more active visitor experience, and the generation of valuable data for museum staff. Curate consists of four main touchpoints: a visitor tag, object plaques, a digital reflection wall, and a mobile web app.
Four themes exist across the museum: anthropological, biological, geological, and anthropocentric. These themes are the context for the Curate system. All objects in the museum will be categorized with one or more of these themes.
The first touchpoint is to purchase and receive your tag of admission from the museum desk. Once the user pins their tag in a visible location, they can start collecting items to build their personal profile. Should the viewer find a particular artifact interesting, they can detach their tag from its clip and tap the specified location to add to their collection. The tag will then change colors to signify the addition of themes to the visitor’s profile. As the visitor wanders through the museum and adds more items, the tag changes and reflects their primary thematic interests through color.
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 fuzzy exploration will help encourage discovery of new objects.
As visitors enter the museum, they encounter a series of updated plaques. Each plaque contains an RFID contact, enabling visitors to “collect” individual objects or displays, adding them to their digital collection. 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. We developed a suite of 4 plaque typologies to accommodate existing displays. With the goal of minimizing both cost and impact to museum infrastructure, we included digital as well as analogue plaques.
(my primary responsibility as the project progressed)
At the end of a visitor’s experience at the museum, they will be met by a Reflection Wall. Here, they will be able to reflect on the experience they just had, understand how they relate to other museum visitors, and hopefully commence further engagement with the museum.
The wall consists of two parts. First, a console designed for individual interaction allows the user to return their tag, complete a reflection, and receive a takeaway sticker leading them to an after-museum experience. Second, a larger display above shows popular museum objects and keeps a running profile of museum visitors.
The sticker visitors receive as they leave the museum 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 will both act as tools for discovering relevant content from the museum’s archive.
Benefit to Museum Staff
If implemented, Curate creates opportunities for museum staff far beyond those presented above. Data gathered will generate insights that can aid staff in making more informed decisions and engaging with visitors in a deeper way. Marketing and curation efforts can be more responsive to visitor interest. The popularity of different objects will aid staff in planning new exhibitions with a better understanding of the content visitors are likely to respond most to. The after-museum experience creates a compelling reason for visitors to create profiles. And those profiles can be used for more target marketing about various events and exhibits that match a visitor’s profile.