Part 1   Exploratory Research


From the beginning, the problems I was trying to tackle were: (1)the pre-canned information is unable to satisfy each visitor; (2)interpretive texts are written carefully to engage the viewers, but the way it is displayed does not effectively reveal the inner structure. My research is to innovate the viewing experience to create satisfying interactions and increase knowledge gain within and outside of the exhibit space.

User Research

My research is based on this territory map. There are five components: the visitor, the exhibits, the supporting information artifacts, the context where the exhibit is displayed and the surrounding environment where the visitor stands. I used different research methods to look into different components:

  • Literature Review
  • Visitor Interviews and Think-aloud
  • Artists and Curator Interviews
  • Observation
Territory Map
First stage stakeholder map

Research Findings

From the research, I have three main findings: identify two types of visitors, understand what types of information they are interested in, identify some gaps in the experience when one visitor is looking at one piece of work. I use this viewing journey to describe the whole experience, starting from they are attracted by one piece to they move to the next piece. Good experience comes from personal connection with the space, but existing gaps in the journey does not engage visitors.

The gaps are (1)the information is pre-canned and the same for everyone; (2) current information artifacts could not sustain visitors' interest; (3)the information needs of advanced visitors are not supported.

Card sorting synthesis
Creating scenarios
Scenario spreadsheet


I brainstormed based on scenarios, and different levels of information interaction(macro, medium and micro level). I also thought about the solutions from trigger-display point of view. After several rounds of ideation, I proposed two scenarios as future solutions: user-triggered information projection and responsive exhibit space. I also made a physical prototype to create the scenarios.

Check my mid-term poster for more details.

Making physical prototype
Physical prototype of a gallery

Feedback and Reflection

By the end of fall semester, we had a poster session to present our ideas to our professors and colleagues. The feedback I got encouraged me to think beyond technology, and to push the boundaries of traditional exhibit space–the art museums are experimenting different ways to engage and to educate the audience. What have been done and what else could be done? With these new questions, I slowed down my pace and reflected on the space.

I visited some museums during the winter break and read more articles on the topic. I was deeply inspired by a scene I saw in the Art Institute of Chicago. It was a large group of visitors standing and sitting in front of the famous painting, American Gothic. A grey-haired curator was standing in the center of the crowd. She told the audience stories of how the painting was created. The crowd nodded and some whispered to each other. One man raised his hand and asked her a question about why it was named American Gothic. She answered. Then another visitor raised another question. There was no technology involved in the scene, but visitors were so engaged that new questions kept coming up as if they were in an important lecture.

That moment made me question the assumption of my thesis. As I proposed to solve the information needs of the visitors, which assumes that once this need is satisfied, the experience could be enhanced. But what if, the information has to be understood by the visitors themselves, instead of museums making every effort to use new technology to cater them? What if technology is not the solution to this problem? That's how I stepped back and came up with the idea of 0 Information Museum.

Part 2   Generative Research

To reflect on the relationships among visitors and the space, I came up with the concept of 0 Information Museum. Imagine an exhibit space, filled with various artworks, but with no information artifacts–no placards, no audio guides, no apps, how would visitors get information from the space then?

In order to get better feedback for this new concept, I designed the whole experiential prototype, including a 0 Information Museum model, two visitor characters, four pieces of audios, and an app prototype.

I did five rounds of interviews with 5 pairs of participants. Doing research in pairs is based on the fact that most people go to museum with companions, friends or family. And from the research, this strategy really engaged the participants with the scenarios, encouraged them to talk more about how they feel and how they wish it could be.

At this point, I am synthesizing the research data and working on the final design.

To be continued...