For one of my projects in my UX Design Studios, we were asked to design a museum experience with multiple touchpoints. As a group, we were to choose a time period that will serve as a theme for your museum exhibit. Based on this theme, you will identify appropriate technologically-rich interactions that allow patrons a sense of embodied participation in the exhibit.
I was put into a group with 3 other design students at Purdue: Elizabeth Finley, Joe Hoggatt, and Patsy Mata.
Project duration: 6 weeks
My role: Helped with brainstorming museum idea, Led secondary research efforts, conducted testing sessions, documented entire process
choosing a design era
Our group is fascinated with the lifestyle and history of the 1920’s. The era of the 1920’s seemed appealing given that it dealt with Prohibition, brothels, the Mafia, and bootlegging. We drew inspiration from articles online, movies, and our past experiences with museum exhibits.
We thought, “what is the best way to create an immersive experience for museum patrons?” Our idea: allowing our museum visitors to visit the museum through the eyes of the museum subjects. The 1920’s was filled with murders, crime, and other horrendous illegal activities. In order to create the feeling of intrigue and mystery, we wanted our patrons to be fully immersed in the lives and stories of prominent figures from the 1920s. This way, the patrons would be learning about a distinct part of 1920’s culture—gang-related murders, by seeking out the information on their own.
"Vistor as character"
The International Journal of Inclusive Museums contained plenty of research that concluded that the “Visitor as [a] character” provides an incredibly immersive experience. An article from this journal, “The Immersive Cultural Museum Experience – Creating Context and Story with New Media Technology” by Maggie Stogner suggests that allowing the visitors to be active participants in the museum exhibit brings the stories of the museum subjects alive and in turn creates an engaging experience. Giving the visitor the power to bring a character alive gives them the opportunity to make sense of the information they’ve gathered from the museum exhibit, thus allowing them to process and make inferences from the information presented to them.
Another piece of research from the same article discussed how sensory immersion creates a heightened sense of engagement for the visitor. Stimulating senses such as smell, sight, sound, and touch can allow the visitor to feel as if they are transported to the world the museum exhibit is based on. According to the article, “a meaningful story enhanced with multi-sensory immersion can activate visitors’ imaginations, transporting them to the life and times of ancient cultures and historical events” (Stogner pp. 119).
Based on this research, we initially decided to allow the museum goer to portray the characters of the museum exhibit. Since the 1920’s was the dawn of the Mafia and other mobs, we wanted to focus on this aspect of the 1920’s for our museum exhibit in order to narrow our scope. Incorporating our research, we thought we could create an immersive exhibit experience that incorporated sensory stimulation and allowed visitors to be put in the shoes of Mafia leaders. Our plan was that visitors would be “solving the murder” themselves. We would tell them which character to portray and they would then go through the exhibit. We would also include sensory immersion which was mentioned in our secondary research as well. These senses would include: visual, olfactory, touch, and smell.
Here was our initial user journey map:
This journey map was outlined based on our initial idea of having visitors portray characters that are relevant to our exhibit.
Focus of the exhibit: Jim Colosimo's murder
Here’s the story:
Colosimo was an Italian immigrant who established himself as a prominent gangster leader in the 1920’s.
Colosimo received letters from Black Hand demanding money and threatening his life. He phoned his nephew Torrio, told him that the Black Hand was after him, he was worried and needed his help. Torrio agreed to be Colosimo’s second in command. He murdered the Black Hand’s couriers at a street corner where they thought they were receiving a payment from Colosimo.
Torrio amassed power, took Al Capone under his wing. Meanwhile, Colosimo divorced his wife (Torrio’s aunt) Moresco and refused to join the lucrative bootlegging business, given that he already had a successful brothel business. Torrio, wanting to profit off of the bootlegging business, realized that he needed to take down Colosimo in order to become a successful bootlegger.
Colosimo got married to Dale Winter, a singer for whom he left Moresco. Shortly after their honeymoon, Torrio telephoned Colosimo telling him he had a shipment coming to his cafe. While at the cafe, Colosimo was shot dead.
We wanted to create learning outcomes which we could refer back to in our design process to make sure that our exhibit accomplishes the goals we have in mind.
Through Jim Colosimo’s murder story, we want our visitors to learn the following from our exhibit:
Understand what Prohibition was, and the consequences of it in the 1920’s
Gain familiarity with powerful Mafia leaders such as Jim Colosimo and Al Capone
Understand the culture of speakeasies, and know the activities done at them.
Understand the success and enormity of the brothel business.
These learning objectives are addressed through sensory immersion and our touch points throughout our exhibit.
change in scope
We had a formal critique in which we were told that our exhibit seemed too much like an “escape room” and less like a museum exhibit. Issues about the likelihood of visitors purchasing tickets for this exhibit prior to the exhibit were brought up as well.
Evaluating this feedback, we made changes to our design. We decided that we were taking our feedback too literally— we asked visitors to play the role of someone else. This seemed far-fetched and we were unsure about how successfully this would play out.
We referred back to our research to investigate other ways we could create an immersive experience for visitors.
Our research found that audio tours provide a more interactive experience for visitors. Whereas museums in which visitors are presented information they are forced to process unnaturally is seen as giving visitors a “passive” role (Stogner 121). Our research told us about the concept of “narrative immersion”, in which visitors experience another story and move with it. We found this concept fascinating, and explored how it could be used in our museum exhibit.
An article from The MET museum shows that ninety percent of English-speaking visitors described their audio guided experience as “good” or “very good”. Instead of staff members trying to guide visitors through an exhibit, the visitors would have a more clear and concise guided experience. By using audio guides, it has been reported from this museum that the visitors take more time exploring the artifacts/touch points and get a deeper understanding about the artifact when listening to the audio. Also, with implementing this touchpoint into our exhibit, it would be unique compared to The MET museum. Not only will it be an audio guide for the visitors, but it will be an audio guide with four different perspectives from the 1920’s. That way, the visitors can get a different experience based on the voice that they are listening to. Also, it will convey more emotion, excitement, and character.
Our new exhibit idea
In our exhibit, visitors will be taken on the journey through Jim Colosimo’s murder via an audio tour. The visitor can choose to be walked through this murder through the voices of: Jim Colosimo, John Torrio, Al Capone, or Victoria Moresco. Visitors are encouraged to experience the journey through the lens of more than one character in order to get a broadened understanding of how and why the murder took place. Along the journey, visitors will stop at various “scenes” where they can interact with digital touch points, view artifacts, and experience other forms of interactivity.
The Journal of Inclusive Museum Design mentioned a few museums that used audio-guided tours. We did some research on them to learn about what was successful for them and what was unsuccessful.
Cleopatra: Search for the Last Queen of Egypt
In this exhibit, visitors are guided by Cleopatra’s voice, taking them on an intimate tour of her life. The exhibit begins with an opening video, explaining current archaeological hunts for clues about Cleopatra’s life. The video also introduces key characters in Cleopatra’s life and the key archaeologists exploring her aftermath. After visitors are shown the video, they are shown various artifacts that were dug out from underwater. The room is filled with a dim blue light in order to portray that the artifacts that visitors are looking at were dug up from underwater. Some artifacts are even surrounded by sand, to contribute to the “underwater vibe”. According to a blog about the exhibit from a website called “Anthropology in Practice”, the exhibit lacked a clear flow. The artifacts were spectacular, but the audio tour failed to guide the visitors to each exhibit, leaving visitors to walk aimlessly throughout the exhibit. The blog also expressed how the voice of Cleopatra felt robotic and distant. Overall though, this blogger said that he found the exhibit enthralling because of the outstanding artifacts—one of them was an actual handwritten letter from Cleopatra.
We learned that in order for our exhibit to be truly interactive and immersive, we needed our audio-guide to be directional, yet feel authentic. We don’t want our visitors to walk around aimlessly throughout our exhibit, so we need to make sure that our audio recordings effectively guide visitors with explicit directions. We also realized that light could be very influential in portraying the vibe we want in our exhibit. Using dim lighting could give our exhibit the mysterious and dark vibe we want to portray in our exhibit.
Alcatraz Audio Tour
Alcatraz in San Francisco provides visitors a self-guided audio tour. This tour is widely acclaimed by museum researchers for its success in incorporating aesthetic encounters that engage visitors. According to David Raymond Bell’s article, Aesthetic encounters and learning in the museum, “Sensory encounters can enrich museum learning in different ways—by bringing new evidence to inform richer student appreciations, and by providing data to support historical interpretations.” By using sensory immersion, we can encourage imaginative interpretations of the material visitors are accumulating throughout our exhibit. This will ensure that users are not simply listening to the audio, but processing what they are listening to because they feel immersed in the narration.
Sensory immersion is incredibly important to our exhibit in order to ensure that visitors feel as if they are in their characters’ shoes. While we are limited in that we don’t have access to real artifacts from these real characters, we can stimulate other senses such as visual, olfactory, and smell.
These personas are not our only target users. They are specific use cases from a wide range of ages so that you can see how our exhibit experience is for a variety of people and personalities.
After we show you our exhibit, we will show you our updated user journey map outlining how our personas react to our exhibit.
ideation + brainstorming
To begin visualizing our exhibit, we wanted to establish the critical “scenes” in the murder of Jim Colosimo that we wanted to incorporate into our journey. Here’s what we came up with:
The scenes boxed that are bolded are the scenes that we will focus on designing for this project due to time constraints.
creating the narrations
After we had determined the scenes of our exhibit that we would develop, we went about scripting the an example of audio guide for a character. We want to give visitors to the exhibit the option to hear the murder story through the eyes/from the perspective of multiple historical characters who were very closely linked to the murder; Al Capone, Jim Colosimo, Victoria Colosimo, John Torrio.
This scene is set in the speakeasy, within which the visitor is guided through a bar Big Jim owned. Below is an example of the guide narration.
Scene 2 Character Narration: Colosimo
“Colosimo’s Bistro & Cafe.” This is it, a real deal Prohibition speakeasy. My pride and joy. Torrio, Victoria, and that new kid, Capone, have really been helping me rake in the money and fix this place up real fancy. I myself didn’t smuggle booze for the bar, it was too risky with it being illegal, but this business thrived off the booze I bought on the blackmarket. If you go up to the bar you’ll see some of the drink menus we kept out for patrons. My most popular drink, White Lighting, sold like crazy. I loved the money, but I actually had no idea what was in any of my booze, nobody knew what was in the booze back then! All I knew was I got it off some truck in a dark alleyway. A couple of fellows got sick off the White Lightning moonshine I mixes in my drinks and threatened to call the cops, so I had to quickly stop selling it before trouble found me.
Over on the tables you can see some of my old newspapers, a lot of other mob owned places got caught selling booze back then, thanks to people getting sick off it, and they made for some pretty big headlines. This scared me, I didn’t want to get shut down, but the money was too good to let these headlines stop me. I just keep an eye on the papers, making sure the cops never busted a joint near me.
The real center of the party was the dance floor. This was were everyone would let loose, do the Charleston, and forget about the troubles of the outside world. I ended many a night with two girls on my arm, a drink in my hand, and a wad of ill gotten cash in my pocket.
I loved this place, but, like all good things, and as you are about to see in the next room you will enter, all good things pass.”
Within our exhibit we would like the “scene” room exhibits to be laid out in a horizontal line, the scenes progressing chronologically from left to right. The first room on the far left is where the user would check out an audio device and decide which character’s perspective on the story they want to hear. The following rooms are all scenes,which follow Colosimo’s story from the moment his relationships and business started crumbling, to when he is murdered.
For our project timeline, we recognize we did not have the time or means to fully develop 9 different rooms, each with their own exhibit scene and interactions. Instead, we chose to create an exemplar rooms with interaction using Scene 2, the speakeasy that shows how flourishing Colosimo’s business was before his troubles began, and Scene 9, a final room to the exhibit where users could interact with activities to help them reflect on information they learned.
Speakeasies were a way for gangsters to make large sums of money and a way for people to get alcohol during Prohibition . For scene 2, as discussed earlier in the documentation, we attempted to replicate a 1920’s speakeasy using items such as a wooden bar, wooden tables and leather chairs, mirrored and brick walls, and a checkered dance floor, taking people back in time to the glamour of a classic 1920’s Prohibition speakeasy.
Guided by their narrator, visitors will walk through the speakeasy, interacting with various artifacts throughout the scene. We found pictures of speakeasies online and drew inspiration from them when modeling this scene.
The Sensory Experience
Throughout the speakeasy scene (and other TBD future scenes) we plan to have sounds and smell place strategically in the exhibit, using them to stimulate people’s senses and make them feel like they have stepped into a place frozen in the 1920’s and they can still hear/smell the past.
Here are our ideas to incorporate sensory immersion:
Slight cigar scent lingering throughout the room, as well as light background jazz throughout.
Faint sound of murmuring voices playing at the bar, as well as light jazz.
Sound of light jazz in the background.
Sounds of big band music and a general crowd on and around the dance floor.
We plan to have our classic wooden bar be topped with an interactive touch table, that would allow visitors to interact with a drinks menu of the time (with each drink having a visual and short blurb to tell about it’s significance) and look at images of protests/captures/smuggling of alcohol with accompanying information. If implemented in a physical space, we would like to source our touch tables from Ideum.
Our interactive bar top would allow users to learn more about the kinds of illicit alcoholic drinks served during the Prohibition of the 1920’s, the ways people drank it, smuggled it, and the ways alcohol was dealt with when found by law enforcement.
Our research from the International Journal of Inclusive Museums stated that multi-use touch tables in museum exhibits “engage visitors in a collective tactile, exploratory experience”
On the interactive bartop, visitors can play around with an interactive menu. Visitors click on a menu item to learn more about the drink and how it is significant to the 1920s.
Also on the interactive bartop, visitors can click on pictures from the 1920's and learn more about them.
"Ghosts of the past" Mirrors
When visitors are walking in the exhibit, they would see their physical surroundings like the room depicted below: perhaps empty, perhaps some other visitors in it.
Updated user journey map
Updated User Journey Map
The green line represents the journey of Katrina Chang, brown/orange line represents the journey of Aliyah Farhaan, yellow represents journey of Derek Skall.
The three personas experienced a similar path of immersion in the museum exhibit. Our hope is that our exhibit’s touchpoints would make all users feel immersed regardless of their interest in coming to the exhibit in the first place.
For Katrina, this museum is ideal. She is intellectually stimulated during the exhibit, learning new information through the digital touchpoints. She feels that she got in-depth insight into what speakeasies were like. She learned details about Mafia leaders’ lives that made her feel like she was really there.
After leaving the exhibit, Katrina felt thrilled with her experience. She gained a heightened sense of curiosity which caused her to read more information about the Mob era online.
Aaliyah came to the museum with the sole purpose of making her children become interested in history. Aaliyah was looking for an experience that allowed her to interact with her kids and that allowed her and her kids to be fully immersed in the exhibit. The self-guided audio tour was beneficial for Aaliyah because it allowed her to accomplish those goals. She was able to pause the audio recordings, talk to her children, answer their questions, and she was able to do activities with her children in the interactive reflection room.
Derek was initially reluctant to go to this museum, but he was encouraged to go by his girlfriend. Although Derek went into the museum with low expectations, the sensory aspects and narrative audio guide still provided Derek with an immersive experience. He did not feel very curious or excited upon arrival to the exhibit, but as soon as the audio tour began, he felt very much engrossed into the life of his character.
Derek was pleasantly surprised with his experience and he was inclined to talk about what he learned with his girlfriend after the exhibit was over.
Moving on to testing, we did a combination of bodystorming and contextual inquiries. We chose these methods as we feel like they will help us recognize both flow issues with physical setup of our exhibit as well as design and usability issues with our touch points.
We tested 3 Purdue students. Two female and one male in the age range 19-22.
The usability test objectives for our interactions are:
To determine design inconsistencies and usability problem areas within the designs of our touch points and the flow of our physical exhibit.
We replicated the physical layout of our speakeasy and interactive reflection room using the chairs in a classroom as our “walls” and the classroom tables as our interactive bar top and tables, upon which we placed laptops with the touch point files open.
Throughout the classroom, we had our sensory element audio files playing and had participants listen to an audio narration from a character as they walked through the “speakeasy” setup, so as to replicate what they would hear if they were in an actual, fully built version of our museum exhibit. We also projected an image of our bar’s mirror onto the classroom’s presentation screens, so as to try and simulate being inside our 3D model.
We gained some valuable feedback on our touchpoints which we updated after our bodystorming session. These included simple interaction errors which were an easy fix.
We thoroughly enjoyed this project because of our fascination with the 1920’s. It was very satisfying to see our testing participants feel immersed in our exhibit after all of our hard work. We wanted to stay as true to the 1920s as possible through our touch points and sensory immersion. It was rewarding to have our testers say that they would actually want to go to our exhibit if it existed.