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American Museum of Natural History 

Enhancing the Explorer app to make the AMNH experience more accessible to all

Project | Client

iOS mobile app conceptual redesign for the American Museum of Natural History


Team Yin & Yang

Hailey Chan | Lydia Jurcys


My Role

End-to-End Product Design


Timeline | Year

2 weeks | 2021


Personas | Journey Maps | Task and User Flows | App Map | High Fidelity Mockups and Prototypes in Figma 

The American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) is one of the world’s pre-eminent scientific and cultural institutions.  It is renowned for its exhibitions and scientific collections, and their mission is to research, educate, and share with the world their exhibitions.

Due to the impacts of the pandemic, visits to museums around the world have gone down.  Even before the pandemic, however, museums were experiencing a drop in attendance.  

The Request

There were two requests in the AMNH proposal:

  • For people to be able to visit the museum virtually in an immersive way

  • To adapt their current Explorer app which at this point is best used while at the museum- as it provides a map and a few other features to help guide visitors through the galleries​​​​

AMNH currently has 2 platforms- 

The web based app and the Explorer app


The Research

Embarking on this project was a team effort, and our first step was to conduct our user research.  I believe that in order to gain the deepest insights possible from the interviewees, it is often helpful to start this process with a “dig deep conversation” with a content expert.  Part interview / part generative conversation- this step allows for topics and questions to arise that help inform a research plan with guiding questions that researchers themselves may not have thought to include.  For this project we met with someone who has an extensive background in museum education and whose current role is community outreach and communications director for a large public library in the suburbs of Chicago.  After our conversation with the content expert, we interviewed a total of 8 people.

Who are our users and
what are we seeking to know?


What are people's likes and dislikes about museum experiences?

What makes it engaging for them and what do they need?

During the pandemic did they have any sort of virtual museum experiences and if so what was that experience like?

What does the whole idea of "museum" mean to them?

What did we learn?

We learned that our interviewees- our potential users- across the spectrum of ages- value 5 things.  It is these 5 things that we grounded our work in moving forward- our concepts, our feature prioritizations, our design considerations, and our iterations.

Focusing on What Our Users Value


It is important to point out that in the context of this research, when our users say they value equity and access, they are referencing it from a human socioeconomic standpoint and from a learner’s standpoint.  This is not to diminish accessibility from a web design standpoint- but for this project we are talking about the former.

Meet Our Personas


Nia, a tech-savvy museum goer,

currently attending NYU, finds the traditional way of learning in classroom settings to be boring.

She is a visual learner who prefers to learn at her own pace in a museum and retains material better in a dynamic, interactive environment.

Nia would love a way to learn about new special exhibits and experience history in a more fun and enlightening approach.


Isaiah, a semi-retired software engineer,

loves visiting all museums- from the professionally curated metropolitan giants- to a barn in a village in Africa that houses items that the residents deem important.  He believes that going to museums can reshape the way you look at the world and feels fortunate that he can do so. 

Isaiah is thrilled that after many months of staying at home, museums and cultural institutions are opening their doors to visitors.

However, during the pandemic, he enjoyed the virtual live talks and presentations he experienced.  They afforded him the opportunity to learn about different aspects of the museum and its artifacts that he can't experience while there.

Isaiah would love a way to add value to his museum visits through ongoing and convenient access to virtual live presentations.

Competitive Analysis & Inspiration

With now knowing what our users value and what our personas Nia and Isaiah need, it was necessary to take a deep dive into competitive analysis to see what others were already doing in the virtual museum space.

Much of what we came across were very static websites with paintings or

artifacts listed in the style of a product listing page for an e-commerce site

with text heavy information about the pieces.



The first source of inspiration we came across was the Louvre.  This museum has a virtual tour through some of their galleries, yet the information about the artifacts still feels static and dry. 



Google Arts & Culture, who partners with museums and cultural institutions around the world to bring a specific exhibit or gallery space to the virtual space provided quite a bit of inspiration for us.



Although the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago does not have a virtual tour, they do have their own educational YouTube channel.  Each episode goes behind the scenes and includes interviews with scientists, tours of collections and other features to increase engagement- which proved to be especially effective during the start of the pandemic.


Informed by our research findings we were ready to identify a solution and we again asked ourselves:

How can we make the American Museum of Natural History more accessible to all?


The Solution

Ideation and Design

Being that this project was a 2 week sprint, our first step was to determine which features to prioritize.  Though it would have been fun to explore additional ideas, we zoned in on those features that would most directly support what our users value: education, immersive & interactive experiences, storytelling, equity & access, and convenience.


The App Map below shows the architecture of how these features interplay in the enhanced American Museum of Natural History app.


Creating prospective Journey Maps helped us iterate through possible paths that our personas Nia and Isaiah could take using the enhanced AMNH app.  By mapping out their experiences we were able to zone in on key moments of their journeys.



While my focus was on the Insider Series feature, and my teammate Hailey’s focus was on the Virtual and Audio Tour features, our work was beautifully intertwined in the process of creating the prototype.

Our prototype takes you on two different immersive and interactive journeys of learning and storytelling.


Nia's Journey

Nia prioritizes the visual experience though the Virtual Tour.  She is interested in learning more about the new Gems & Minerals exhibit and wants to see what the virtual experience has to offer.

Isaiah's Journey

Isaiah is planning a trip to NYC and is interested in seeing if AMNH is offering any sort of behind the scenes or curator talks that he can experience before his visit- and discovers the Insider Series.  He then travels to NYC to visit the museum where he amplifies his experience using the Audio Tour feature.

Usability Test Observations and Results 

Usability tests of the prototype yielded some interesting results- namely that despite having a shorter task flow testers struggled more with Nia’s task.

Task Completion Time

Users took 14% longer

to complete Nia's task, despite having a shorter happy path (16 less frames)


Nia's task yielded a 67% increase in errors over Isaiah's task

Friction Points

People struggled to figure out how to interact with buttons in the "immersive space" and needed

more clarity

Learnings and Iterations

The biggest learning and takeaway based on these results was to not assume that people know what certain navigational buttons mean.  And because we are designing an app for users that span almost all ages- that being more explicit in terms of how to navigate through a virtual space is critical to having a successful interactive and immersive experience.

Based on this, three immediate changes were made to improve the experience:


Wrap-up and Reflection

While by design the usability tests functioned as a strategic way to measure initial user experience with the enhanced AMNH app- for me they served as a reminder to keep in the forefront throughout the design process the idea of who we are designing for.  To not make assumptions.  To always “check back in” with Nia and Isaiah.  And to remember that people’s experience with technology differs and that as a UX designer it is my responsibility to design inclusively.

The highly collaborative nature of the AMNH project, from research through prototyping, highlighted for me the power of team.

And team on opposite coasts no less.

Just as our users collectively shared 5 values- as a team of two we shared goals to move this project forward.  We were determined to get to the bottom of what our users need and value, align this with AMNH’s requests, to create an app that makes the museum experience more accessible to all, and to have fun in the process!

I can’t thank my teammate Hailey enough for helping me grow as a designer and collaborator.  It was truly an enjoyable experience as I learned so much about communication, designing in tandem, and the value that teamwork and collaboration can bring to both process and result.

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