As a part of the Design, Cultures, and Creativity Honors Programat UMD, I worked on a Capstone projectthat served as a culmination of all that I learned during my 2 years in the program. Our task was fairly open-ended: Explore or researching something new, related to art, design, technology, visual experiences, culture, and similar buzz words. Although it was a cumulative project, most of the work was to be done in our sophomore year. And as college students, most of the work was to be done in the end of our sophomore year.
With a fairly broad topic, we wanted to think big and make something meaningful. I collaborated with friend, roommate, and classmate Matthew Walters(Matt, or M-Dub) on a fairly ambitious project that tackled the problem of understanding art in the modern age, something we feel has a profound impact on culture around the world.
Matt and I were eager to solve this problem and set out to use it for our Capstone. After some brainstorming, we saw that people would learn about art from each other, not necessarily from an art expert who might appear verbose or too fancy with language. We also saw that an amazing space & physical location for absorbing art was the art museum, for which the user experience has remained largely the same for hundreds of years. We wanted to use technology in a meaningful yet nonintrusive way here, so we decided to build a mobile app that would enhance the museum experience. The app would let users scan art pieces in a museum and get detailed information on the piece, author, and context, but most importantly, participate in a discussion with other users about the art. I called it “Project Rome” — modern art isn’t as simple as it might look, and definitely isn’t built in a day.
We looked into existing products with the same goal and the results were sparse. The Museum of Modern Art has an appthat guides visitors with audio; however, not all museums have the same amount of support and funding as MoMA. Smartifyis a “a free app that allows [users] to scan and identify artworks, access rich interpretation and build a personal art collection in some of the world’s best museums and galleries.” This product was solid but did not help users learn from each other, which we thought was integral.
Design & Feedback
We continued with some wireframing and ideation and tried to fill in the gaps between this products by creating a way for museums — not just well-funded ones but smaller, less-supported ones — to easily present information to their visitors, and for visitors to effectively learn more about the art they see both from the museum’s content and other users.
Ignoring my horrible penmanship (I did have fun using a fountain pen, evidently), our mobile app proved to be much more difficult to build than anticipated. Since we only had a few months to build the app (which would feature QR code scanning, extensive backend information on art and museums, a location-based feed, user profiles, and discussion between users), we elected to build a proof-of-concept interactive prototype that would showcase our vision of a better museum experience.
Using Sketch, we got to work designing mocks, iterating, and putting together an Invision prototype. During this process Matt and I did continuously get feedback from each other as well as peers, and conducted stakeholder interviews with UMD professors to gain their input.
I interviewed Dr. Evan Golub, a Senior Lecturer and Researcher at UMD who also serves as the Assistant Director of the UMD Human-Computer Interaction Lab (HCIL). Matt and I took Dr. Golub’s class Research in HCIin fall 2017, and he helped us immensely in fleshing out our Capstone ideas. Dr. Golub gave us specific & constructive UI feedback as well and suggested new features for the app, including museum maps, scavenger hunts, and additional functionality for classes, students & teachers, and groups who visit museums together.
Matt interviewed Dr. Robert Friedel, a published authorand professor at Maryland. Dr. Friedel has extensive experience in museums, both in-house (completing fellowships at the Smithsonian, for example) and consulting their curators. In the interview Dr. Friedel commented on how the way someone moves through a museum is artistic itself, and how we as people integrating technology into these museums needed to think about how we might want to. preserve this art in terms of the museum user experience. In other words, people have their own way of exploring a museum; our technology would best serve users if it didn’t try to disrupt this method. Since we wanted to enhance, not completely change, the traditional museum experience, Dr. Friedel suggested that we implement “visit summaries” that would show users detailed insights about their museum visit after completing it.
Of course, we got substantial feedback from our advisor/mentor, Mr. Joseph Meyer, during the entire design process. When we met in class Joe would give us rock-solid feedback about specific UI changes as well as how to shape the UX. He mentioned that QR codes are not very attractive, and helped us take a step back to look at the big picture (and make sure we’re not losing sight of our goals) throughout the process.
After a couple months of the above process, we had something to show! Here is the final Invision prototype, and below is a summary of the different features of our proof-of-concept.
Feed & Museum Details
The feed features nearby museums, art, and more based on the user’s profile, location, and more. Once a user clicks on a museum in the feed, for example, he/she can see more information including a description, contact info, and museum map (thanks Dr. Golub!).
Scanning, Art Details, & Visit Summary
Users can scan QR codes on pieces of art in the museum (these codes are customizable by the museum, via color, style, shape, etc.). Scanning brings the user to the detail page for that piece, where he/she can see a synopsis and extended description of the piece, contextual information about the author, and a discussion with other users about the piece.
Although we didn’t develop mocks for this, Matt and I wanted Musea to be a valuable platform for museums and museum visitors alike. Our business model here was to sell to museums, and provide an affordable, easy, and friendly way to help their visitors better understand the art. This would accomplished by creating a user-friendly web interface where museum curators could quickly and easily add information about their collections to the app. Musea could also serve as a new marketing funnel for advertising new collections, exhibits, featured events and showings, and more. Increasing customer leads and conversion rates for museums could be of tremendous value.
Above all, building Musea was an amazing learning experience that gave us insight into how to effective design and build a product. During the beginning of our project, we jumped into our project and tried to build a full-fledged mobile app, but we realized the importance of taking a step back and revisiting the problem and goal that we set out to solve/accomplish in the first place. We also learned how to balance creating a new user experience while still maintaining the artfulness of the original or traditonal one; in this regard, we sought to enhance but not completely transform the museum visiting experience. We learned how to constructively take feedback (I do acknowledge that we should have done more user research & testing) and use it to improve the product.
I’m grateful that I was in DCC, and for the opportunity to build something great and meaningful. A huge shoutout and thank you to Mr. Joseph Meyer, our mentor, advisor, and DCC209 professor, without whom this project wouldn’t be possible!