Posted on Leave a comment

Design thinking on the run: using rapid methods at the Getty Research Institute

Getty Research Institute
This guest post is from Liz McDermott, Managing Editor of Web & Communications at the Getty Research Institute (GRI). 

I work at the GRI, one of the four programs of the J. Paul Getty Trust. Located at the Getty Center in Los Angeles, the GRI has two exhibition galleries and houses the largest art library in the world. New scholarly exhibitions are presented twice a year, showcasing rare materials from the GRI’s vast special collections.

For our current exhibition, World War I: War of Images, Images of War, my team was asked to develop a mobile tour that highlights 15 key objects from the show.

Since this was the very first mobile tour developed for a GRI exhibition, many stakeholders were involved in discussions about content and design. Among the long list of creative challenges—from criteria for selecting featured works to finding a balance between scholarship and accessibility—was something very fundamental: how can we make visitors in our galleries aware that we have a mobile tour available?

Challenges and Questions

Located on 650 acres in the Santa Monica mountains, the Getty Center is routinely rated one of the top 10 attractions in Los Angeles, thanks to its Richard Meier-designed architecture, gardens by Robert Irwin, a museum with a permanent collection and rotating exhibitions, daily tours and free events, and panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean and Los Angeles.

All of those enticements, however, posed a challenge for us: visitors could be easily distracted from discovering and using our mobile tour.

Furthermore, the GRI galleries are not located inside the Museum complex, but in a separate building across a plaza.

Map of the Getty Center

Because of these issues regarding distractions and geography, we thought about developing promotional campus signage. The museum designers suggested that we might develop a handout that Getty volunteers could pass out to visitors as well as some type of larger graphic treatment located near the GRI gallery entrance.

But this brought up further questions:

  • What kind of text should we use to describe the tour?
  • How much instructional text would be needed to ensure that people know how to access the tour on their smart phones?
  • What kind of text would encourage visitors to not only access the mobile tour on their smart phones, but to do so inside our galleries?

With these questions in mind, we tried applying some design thinking methods to quickly arrive at answers.

Here’s What We Did

Like everyone, we have many competing digital projects and deadlines. At this stage in the project, I didn’t yet have an assigned UX person, developer, or designer. My available staff resources were myself and my colleague Alicia Houtrouw, the GRI editor and content producer on this project. We looked at our schedules and squeezed in a couple of hours spread out over two afternoons. We decided to test several types of signage by utilizing the following methods:

  • Low-fi paper prototyping
  • Rapid iteration
  • Short empathy interviews

Out on the Plaza

Our testing took place over a couple of sunny afternoons in July 2014 in the Getty Museum courtyard. Alicia and I developed a number of rough paper prototypes, and in between interviews, we iterated and redesigned on the fly, cycling through several versions. Our prototypes depicted possible text for promotional signage on the Getty campus. At this stage, we didn’t know if we were going to use this text for handouts, billboards, or floor graphics of some sort.

We worked as a team and took turns, with one of us taking notes and the other acting as the interviewer, asking questions of visitors. All together, we interviewed eight visitors.

We began by introducing ourselves and explaining that we wanted to improve the visitor experience. We told people we would not take more than five minutes of their time and that we would be grateful for their feedback. Very quickly, we discovered that, once we started asking questions, most visitors were intrigued and happy to talk for at least 15-20 minutes!

Possible text for campus promotional signage. At this stage, we didn’t know if we were going to use this text for handouts, billboards, or floor graphics of some sort.
Prototype 1

When we showed a paper prototype of signage that we might use, we asked open-ended questions to find out what people noticed and what they thought it might be for. We also made a point of reassuring participants that there were no right or wrong answers. And, using a tip from design thinking’s grounding in ethnographic methods, we made sure to keep asking “why?”

With Prototype 1, everyone was intrigued by the title “Words of War” and wanted to know more.

There were mixed reactions to the phone symbol. In general, younger people quickly understood what it was and that it could be used for accessing the mobile tour. Some older people understood the symbol (although others were uncertain), but nearly all of them said text instruction would be appreciated. When we asked one man if it would help to say “type in this URL,” his teenaged daughter laughed and said this was unnecessary. Her father heartily disagreed; he said it would be very helpful.

Prototype 2: Possible text for campus promotional signage. At this stage, we didn’t know if we were going to use this text for handouts, billboards, or floor graphics of some sort.
Prototype 2

For Prototype 2, we learned that the phrase “Exhibition Highlights” caused confusion among visitors whose native language was not English. They thought the word “highlight” indicated something joyful or celebratory. As one Swiss visitor commented, “how can there be anything joyful about war?”

The phrase “Look for these Words of War in the gallery” was intended to be instructional and convey that the tour could also take place in the exhibition space. However, almost everyone missed the phrase because they were focused on the phone symbol and the sample words.

Prototype 3
Prototype 3

For Prototype 3, we made the phrase “Look for these words in the gallery,” more prominent. This time, visitors noticed it and clearly understood that the mobile tour was connected to an exhibition.

 

Back in the Office

After reviewing our notes, we decided on the words, phrases, symbols, and hierarchy of information that would be used on the signage:

Title:

  • Words of War

In addition to icons, offer instructional text:

  • From your smart phone settings, enable Wi-Fi and connect to “GettyLink”
  • “Type [URL] on your smart phone”
  • “Find the words in the gallery”

Icons:

  • Mobile phone symbol
  • Offer a preview of what the mobile tour numbers look like inside the gallery

Along the way to developing this project, the concept for the mobile tour changed. The tour was not called “Words of War” and would not feature any key words. Even though we no longer had a title, our visitor interviews indicated that some type of descriptor other than “mobile tour” was necessary for clarity and to generate interest. We decided on a phrase that described the content of the mobile tour, but was also posed as a question that might pique the curiosity of visitors: “What can 15 featured works reveal about art and war?”

Final Design

Front
Front of handout that is given to visitors as they arrive; extra copies are available in the galleries.
Back
Back of handout
Billboard and floor graphic about the exhibition. Both will be located next to a coffee cart near the GRI galleries.

Billboard and floor graphic about the exhibition. Both are located near the GRI galleries.

After discussion with the curators and designers, we decided that the promotional text would be used in a handout for visitors and signage located along a pathway to the GRI galleries.

The designer went through several iterations, but some of the basic components remained:

  • Visual icons + written instructions for accessing the mobile tour on a smart phone and understanding how it works in the galleries
  • A phrase that concisely describes what the mobile tour offers (“What can 15 featured works reveal about art and war?”)

Conclusion

It’s easy to make assumptions about what visitors may or may not find helpful. But how do you know if your assumptions are accurate? Even though it was a challenge to drag ourselves away from our desks, we knew that getting into the museum courtyard and testing prototypes with visitors would strengthen the effectiveness of the mobile tour signage.

We plan to follow up with a formal visitor survey in mid-December. It will include questions about the signage and the mobile tour.

Liz McDermott of the Getty Research InstituteLiz McDermott manages the Getty Research Institute website, its social media presence, and contributions to the J. Paul Getty Trust’s communications publications. You can follow her on Twitter at @Lizmcdermott35.

 

All images courtesy Liz McDermott, Getty Research Institute.

 

Posted on 5 Comments

Needfinding in the galleries: overcoming blind spots with direct observation

Needfinding in the Galleries
Amy Vaughters / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0


This guest post is from Rachel Hashimshoni, an M.A candidate in the Stanford Graduate School of Education specializing in Learning, Design and Technology.

Museum professionals are faced with design decisions on an almost daily basis, from developing tour guidelines to building digital resources. In the routine of everyday work and with a lack of in-house visitor research staff, it is too easy to base design decisions solely on experience and precedent, and make choices based on assumptions and habit. But by conducting simple needfinding activities, such as direct visitor observations in the galleries, we can override our blind spots and arrive at new insights.

In one of my first graduate courses on human-computer interaction design at Stanford University, I was tasked with creating a learning platform based on the design thinking methodology. With my background as a museum educator, I set my mind on designing a product to enrich museum tours and instructional activities for young audiences.

The first step in the process was to perform needfinding, a stage in which designers seek to record their users’ behaviors and identify their salient needs using naturalistic observations and interviews. In theory, this sounded great to me, but after having worked for three years in museum education departments, I was slightly skeptical. What could an hour and a half long observation of visitors in the galleries tell me that a three years experience hadn’t? The answer: a lot.

Armed with a pen and notebook, I joined a family activity in a local art museum and started observing visitors. I tried to be as unbiased as possible, and document recurring behaviors and patterns with fresh eyes. One of the first things I noticed was how often groups of visitors dispersed when entering a new gallery, instead of gathering around a specific object, as directed by the docent. As I observed this happen repeatedly, I began to write down some questions:

  • Why doesn’t the docent let the visitors explore the gallery first?
  • Why doesn’t the docent incorporate all the space in her tour?
  • How can the visitors—especially the kids—possibly focus on one object when being surrounded by all this visual stimuli?

I immediately realized how many times I have led museum tours the exact same way myself, while secretly feeling annoyed with the kids in the group for their lack of attention and focus. Another thing I noticed was how often the docent conversed with the kids using leading questions with specific, expected answers such as, “What is missing in this painting?” or “Is this painting large or small?” I recognized this pedagogy well from my own professional experience, yet when sitting in the “passenger seat” as a visitor, I saw how this denied young visitors the agency for their own observation and kept them from conducting a more productive and open inquiry as a group.

As the tour proceeded, I collected many more notes and insights, yet one thought kept echoing in my mind: why haven’t I done this before? Why hadn’t I gone into the galleries at the last museum where I worked to conduct direct visitor observations?

With the rush to develop and launch programs, and the temptation to fall back on our own assumptions and experiences, it’s easy for museum practitioners to repeat anti-patterns—common responses to recurring problems or situations that are ineffective and even counterproductive. Both of the examples mentioned above represent moments in which I noticed a visitor need or failed pattern that were previously in my blind spots. These insights informed my design decisions, and brought my work to levels I couldn’t have reached had I just based my decisions on my own experiences.

Starting off a project with a trip to the museum galleries or interviews with visitors is a small and easy task that can have a deep impact on the way a final product engages visitors. While in other fields, practitioners struggle with having to schedule observations in distant locations or go to great lengths to recruit users, museum professionals enjoy the luxury of having an everyday proximity to their end users.

Rachel Hashimshoni

Rachel Hashimshoni is an M.A candidate at the Stanford Graduate School of Education with a specialization in Learning, Design and Technology. She has previously developed educational content for contemporary art museums in the form of lectures, tours and workshops, and also participated in research groups focused on the cognitive aspects of learning .

Posted on 6 Comments

How to interview visitors for empathy

Visitors at SFMOMA
This post is adapted from internal trainings I led at SFMOMA and a paper authored for the Museums and the Web conference titled Design Thinking for Visitor Engagement. The power of doing empathy work with real visitors had a major impact on the internal SFMOMA team. The mere act of moving from abstracted discussions about “the public” to interactions with real, live museum visitors was incredibly powerful.

What is empathy, and what does it have to do with museum visitors?

Empathy is the cornerstone of human-centered design. Borrowing from ethnographic methods, the empathy phase involves interviews, observations, and immersion in the field. The goal of empathy is to identify individual needs and uncover insights to guide design.

Empathy is about having open-ended conversations with the people for whom you produce content, programs, and experiences in order to uncover their explicit and implicit needs. 

Doing empathy work in your institution is free; all you need is a partner. And it does not required a huge time commitment. At SFMOMA, we found that we could do about two interviews in 45 minutes.

What do you need?

  • A partner
  • Some kind of freebie (passes to your museum, coupons for your store or cafe, any kind of branded schwag). At SFMOMA, we gave each participant two free, undated passes to the museum. Members were free to pass them on to friends who were not members.
  • A camera or your iPhone to document your interviews
  • A notebook for taking notes
  • A cheat sheet with tips and questions (PDF)
  • At least 45 minutes of time
  • Permission forms for taking photographs of visitors (this depends on your institution’s policies; we just sought verbal permission at SFMOMA)

Capture your findings

Work in pairs with a partner. Decide who will be the interviewer and the documentarian (you can take turns, or remain in your roles the whole time.)

What you see
the visitor, their body language, artifacts (what are they are carrying? what are they using?)

What you hear
quotes, stories, key words, contradictions

What you feel that your user is feeling
emotions, beliefs, confusion

Who to tak to

Aim for a range of museum visitors based on what you can see (age, gender, alone, in families, etc.). At SFMOMA, we found it was best to approach people on the upper floors, after they had already been through the museum, or in the cafe, where they were relaxing and reflecting. We also found it was better to interview visitors later in the day instead of when the museum opened. Most people want to see the art when they arrive, especially if they are on a tight schedule.

Most visitors will cringe when you approach them at first and think they have done something “wrong” in the museum (it’s amazing how aware visitors are of the “rules” of museums!). But once your interviewees  start talking, you will find that more often than not, they won’t stop. So don’t give up if you approach someone and they decline to be interviewed, of they turn out to be a “dud” and don’t offer much information. Just quickly wrap up and move on.

Interview guidelines

  • Try to ask open-ended questions that get people talking.
    Tell me about the last time you _________?
    Tell me about an experience you’ve had with _________?
  • Encourage stories. Whether or not the stories people tell are true, they reveal how they think about the world. Ask questions that get people telling stories.
  • Avoid yes/no questions!
  • Don’t suggest answers to your questions. Even if they pause before answering, don’t help them by suggesting an answer. This can unintentionally get people to say things that agree with your expectations.
  • Ask questions neutrally. “What do you think about hearing from artists?” is a better question than “Don’t you think online videos of artists in a sortable playlist would be great?” because the first question doesn’t imply that there is a right answer.

Ask “why” a lot

Ask why. Even when you think you know the answer, ask people why they do or say things. The answers may surprise you. A conversation started from one question should go on as long as it needs to.

Really? Can you tell me why knowing what the artist what thinking matters to you?
Say more about that–why do you think that most people don’t understand modern art?

Sample SFMOMA script

This is the loose script we followed at SFMOMA. These questions can be adapted for your specific institution by replacing Museum X with your institution’s name.

Introductions
Introduce yourself and your partner, and what you are doing (“Trying to learn more about visitors’ experiences with Museum X.”)

Kickoff
Shift the focus to the interviewee. Ask their name, where they are from.

Some sample questions

  1. Why are you at Museum X today? What’s been the most memorable part of your visit today (good or bad)?
  2. Tell me about the last time you were here.
  3. How do you keep up with what’s happening here between visits?
  4. Why do you come back to Museum X?
  5. Are there things you wanted to know about the art or artists that we didn’t give you today?
  6. What do you like most about Museum X and why?

If you get stuck, ask:

  • “Why?”
  • “Why did you do/say/think that?”
  • “Really? And why was that?”
  • “Can you say more about that?”
  • “Tell me more.”
  • “And what were you feeling then?”

Document it
Take a photo. Ask if you can take a picture (not for publication, just to help you remember who you talked to).

Wrap up
Signal that the interview is over, but keep listening! Often, museum visitors launch into a long, juicy story as they reflect on the interview experience. You can ask, “Is there anything you didn’t mention that you would like to tell us?”

Thank them
Don’t forget to give the interviewee their free stuff!

Conclusion

The power of doing empathy work with real visitors in the galleries had a major impact on the internal SFMOMA team. It sounds simple, but the mere act of moving from abstracted discussions about “the public” to interactions with real, live museum visitors was incredibly powerful.

As the SFMOMA team began to adopt design thinking, setting time limits, even artificial ones, made the process feel much more palatable. Instead of adding a big, new task to everyone’s already overbooked schedules, we dedicated small chunks of time (45 minutes to one hour) for going into the galleries.

For some staff members, even those whose very jobs involve creating materials and experiences for visitors, this was the first time they had ever had such open-ended interactions with visitors. While some staff members had hired outside consultants to conduct formal visitor interviews in the past, very few had interviewed visitors themselves. If you take anything away from this post, it’s that getting away from your desk and spending time with the people whose lives are impacted by what you do can be incredibly information and rewarding.