As cultural institutions, museums are places for discovery, learning, and discussion. Our team had the opportunity to partner with the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) for our capstone project. The ROM is Canada's largest museum and showcases a vast collection of artwork, cultural pieces, and natural history artifacts from around the world.
The ROM-Mate offers users a deeper and more enriching look at what's on display through guided storytelling - a digital docent.
There's a lot to see and do at a museum. A lack of context or narrative to what is on display makes it difficult for visitors to remember the artifacts and content after their trip.
Museums have thousands of unique objects on display across several exhibitions spanning multiple floors. Many artifacts and objects are just there - shown to the world without context to signify why it matters or how it belongs. With no background information on its importance or relevance, museum artifacts can go unnoticed, leading to a lack of full engagement by visitors.
It’s easier to remember or recall a memory when we know the story behind it. Our research showed that the most appealing and engaging exhibitions are the ones that tell a story or have a cohesive theme that visitors can easily remember and take away. Our app, the ROM-Mate, is a digital docent that guides visitors in their museum journey through a storytelling narrative. Users follow stories to learn more about the artifacts they see, gaining a deeper insight into history and meaning.
It was important for us to understand what draws people to museums and what constitutes a memorable museum visit for them. We conducted 6 in-depth interviews (30-40 min) with current or avid gallery or museum-goers. Our goals were to:
We identified key patterns and common challenges across our interview participants and used these insights to develop our user persona.
Our persona and her journey map allowed us to identify several areas of opportunity: reduce navigation stress, provide engaging context, and capture meaningful moments.
Our team held a brainstorming session where we used several methods including HMWs to generate potential solutions for the identified pain points.
From here, we ideated different ways to engage new and returning visitors. Using the Crazy 8's exercise, I drew inspiration from treasure hunts and Pick-Your-Own-Adventure pathways during my ideation process. This would later lead to the development of our ‘Story Tours’ and ‘Artifact Information’ features.
A repeated pain point during the research stage was the disconnect between viewer, artifact, and overall exhibit. This led to considering each artifact as a piece of a whole - a chapter of a story. I visualized a ‘path’ or ‘journey’, connecting artifacts from the same or different exhibitions that weave them into a cohesive story or narrative.
Oftentimes, the only information available about an artifact is a title and a date. We needed to show how historical and cultural artifacts are important to our lives today. I ideated Artifact Information pages where users could learn more about what they’re seeing.
Once we defined our main features and developed our user flows, it was time to build. During the mid-fidelity prototyping stage, we focused on building an MVP: the Story Tours. This would allow us to test the navigation and user flow of one main feature of our app during round one of usability testing.
Our goal was to build an informative and engaging tool that enhances the in-person museum visit by telling stories. In our first round of user testing, we focused on answering these key determinations:
I developed and wrote our user test plan and script. We asked users to explore the core features of our app through both structured tasks and unstructured exploration. The purpose was for us to understand where users struggled the most based on their interactions and how they moved through the intended user flow.
Buttons did not look interactive or tappable. Some touch targets were too small.
Using the navigation feature in the app was confusing. Users were unsure if they were navigating to a specific artifact or a general exhibition.
Some users were unfamiliar with museum terms like ‘artifacts’ and needed more explanation.
Information hierarchy needed to improve, as users had trouble finding their way to the next task.
We took the feedback from user testing and addressed these insights in the next iteration. We went back to our primary user flow and refined our app’s navigation and UI.
We designed artifact cards which improved touch targets and interactivity signifiers. Successful action signifiers were enhanced through colour and micro-interactions.
We clearly defined information sections for ease of reading and navigation. Directions to find the next artifact was moved to individual artifact title pages to remove confusion.
A new home page was added. We added carousels and secondary flows to allow users to easily change Tours or skip to the next artifact.
Between round 1 and round 2, we built two additional features in anticipation of testing them. Round 2 of user testing had a different set of goals. With two new features and improved functionality of the previous ones, we were now asking:
What we found:
These insights informed the final changes we made to our high-fidelity prototype.
During round 1 of user testing, our testers struggled more than we had anticipated. Watching testers navigate our prototype was a thought-provoking reminder that we needed to remain conscious of our assumptions. Hearing their frustrations helped us to better understand how users actually interacted with our product.
I have more half-filled sketchbooks than I care to admit. Documentation has not always been my strength, but ensuring we had detailed documentation of meetings and the design process was crucial for remote collaboration. Ensuring our team maintained consistent communication whether through Notion kanban boards, Discord messages, or Figma files, helped us stay focused on tasks at hand and work (really) well together.
For future iterations, we ideated on how we might enhance the experience further by motivating visitors to return to the ROM. We considered was adding a rewards system, allowing users to feel accomplished by their trip and encourage them to come back.
We would have also liked to build out the Discover and Navigate sections further. While we didn’t pursue these features due to time and resource constraints, we’re satisfied with our final prototype and exceeding our objective to increase engagement (at least according to our industry partner!).