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Museum Exhibit Flow

Solve a user experience problem with the layout of an exhibit

THE PROBLEM

Users were frequently entering the exhibit through the exit, rather than the main entrance, causing them to experience the exhibit backwards.

Within the first year of opening the exhibit, we noticed that users were exiting the introductory theater and making their way to the exit of the exhibit, rather than the entrance. This was causing confusion in the users as they realized they had entered the wrong way. It was also affecting the user experience of the exhibit.

 

We determined that the problem was too many pathways from the introductory theater to the entrance. Users getting confused when exiting the theater on where to go next. We needed to figure out a solution that would better guide users to the entrance of the exhibit.
 

HIGH LEVEL TIMELINE

We conducted the study over 3 weeks. We spent 1 week compiling the data into a final report.

MAKE OF THE TEAM

Our team consisted of two Curators and one Exhibit Project Manager.

KEY GOAL

Better direct users to the main exhibit entrance.

MY ROLE

I was one of three researchers on the team who conducted the study. We collaborated with key internal and external stakeholders.

As the Curator of the exhibit being studied, I was responsible for making sure the content of the exhibit wasn't impacted by any changes we decided to make to the exhibit. My other two research team members were from the exhibit department. They were responsible for the overall design and look of the exhibit.


The exhibit was funded by an outside partner. As the financial backers, they had to give final approval for whatever changes we determined needed to be made to the exhibit. There was also an external exhibit fabrication company that would be responsible for making any physical changes we decided were necessary based on the research results.

Making Notes

Exhibit Design Process

As museum professionals, we approached the problem as exhibit designers.

We decided to use temporary folding walls to block different entrances and see how that affected user traffic flow. Whichever resulted in the traffic flow we were looking for would the doorways we decided to permanently block.

We would set up one combination of walls and observe user behavior for 30 minutes, twice a day for a couple days in a row. Then we would set up a new combination and carry out the same observation schedule.

Once we felt we had tested all the different options for how we could change the layout, we compiled all of our observations into a report to present to stakeholders​.

Open Laptop

We made a lot of assumptions

As museum professionals, our goal is always to provide a great experience for users. While uses are at the center of everything we do, we rarely actually seek input and feedback from users. We assumed the problem was too many pathways. We never actually talked with any users to find out if that was their problem.

We needed to involve the stakeholders

This was a problem we observed in the exhibit space. It was brought to the attention of the stakeholders, but it wasn't a high priority for them. We could have done a better job highlighting the need for changes by creating personas that allowed our stakeholders to empathize more with the users.

Changing the layout did help

Humans don't do well when they have too many choices. By eliminating two pathways, we decreased the number of options users had in the exhibit space. This led to less users entering the exhibit through the exit and led to more users going to the main entrance.

TITLE OF THE CALLOUT BLOCK

LESSONS LEARNED

There are a lot of parallels between museum exhibit design and user experience design, but there is still a lot museums have to learn from UX.

One of the primary goals of museums is to create engaging exhibits that draw visitors in and help them learn something new. There are a lot of methods and techniques in exhibit design such as limiting the amount of text, displaying objects in an accessible way, and creating a clear flow in the exhibit space that contribute to achieving this goal.

UX design also seeks to creating engaging experiences for users, while eliminating as many pain points as possible. They also seek to address things like layout, flow, and accessibility to improve user experience.

However, museums still lag far behind UX in directly interacting with and gathering feedback from users as part of the design process. If museums tested their exhibit layouts on users during the design phase through low-fidelity mock-ups and usability tests, they could avoid costly changes later when the exhibit is already built and in use.

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