This project was created over a 13 week period in 2018 during the User Experience Design Studio at the University of Sydney in conjuction with my team Bethany Koulyras and Benjamin Fleming.

Brief

For a museum in Sydney design a DIGITAL / TANGIBLE / SPATIAL experience that builds upon the collection that the institution offers.

Objective

The design should improve the visitors experience, fulfill educational goals of the institution and help the institution to engage with new audiences. The experience should be interwoven with the context; it could not exist without the collection and environment of the institution.

The Vision

We were aiming to shift the perception of the MCA as a solely aesthetic and passive experience to one that visitors view as a leisurely, socially connected environment. We sought to augment this aesthetic experience with interactivity and play so that the museum retains its inspirational and educational qualities in a way that visitors will want to return to with another.

We hoped to break down preconceived barriers that guests had created; the museum can be a stifling environment that does not enable social leisure and that you need to “know” art to have a good time. We achieved this by utilising what the MCA already possesses: a breadth of curated modern art content, expansive and self-exploratory indoor exhibition rooms, the striking exterior architecture and the harbour-side locale it resides in. We interwove this with our insights into what visitors require from a place to warrant them to return to conceptualise a digital, tangible experience that emboldens their sociality and makes them want to visit time and time again.

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Contextual Research

The Museum of Contemporary Art Australia (MCA) is a museum dedicated to making contemporary art and ideas accessible to a range of audiences through a presentation of diverse exhibitions and special events. To understand this space and design an experience for it - we undertook a variety of design techniques to learn more about it’s visitors and what they expect from a social outing.

We began by mapping the space by following patron through the space and analysing how they utilised it, we wanted to understand the natural flow of the area and how the spatial and visual aspects of the museum affected foot traffic. Our group analysed both individuals and groups to understand if the was a difference in the way they moved through the exhibition.

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This mapping of the space combined with our own critical analysis of the individual aspects from both inside and outside the area produced some valuable insights about who uses the space and how they do so. The openness of the layout coupled with the surrounding neighborhood hood of Sydney Harbour allows visitors to direct their own journey - it is very self-exploratory.

Our initial interviews with the museum staff about the gallery gave insight into the behaviors of patrons: most who visit the gallery only do so once and then rarely return. To empathise with the personal and social contexts of these single-visit users we designed a generative research project aimed at mapping out why people went to the art gallery, or rather - why go on an outing at all?

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User Research

Once our contextual research had informed us of the climate that surrounded the MCA we began user research, aiming to gather participants from a variety of backgrounds and familiarity with the site. We attracted 8 users ranging in ages from 22 - 35 and from a variety of contexts; students, parents, artists and international visitors and gave them each sensitising booklets to complete over the course of a week.

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We are used an A6 booklet with 5 days worth of exercises that are approximately 10mins long. The tasks focus on getting the participant to get accustomed to thinking about the positive and negative aspects of group events and how they would differ doing them as an individual. Considering the past and present activities they do, how and why they’ve changed and what they wish they were doing. Reflecting on their feelings towards these occasions to uncover the tacit knowledge related to these ideas, that would initially be difficult for people to describe without priming.

The sensitising booklet questions were themed around group activities and the notion of a shared experience. This helped to reveal the participants likes and dislikes regarding a variety of social occasions. This will help to amalgamate the best ideas and introduce them to our MCA project, whilst also highlighting ideas to avoid.

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Generative Sessions

The finished booklets were brought to the generative sessions where the participants completed 'Make & Say' exercises: a technique using stimulating, hands on activities with group discussion in order to reveal their emotive drivers.

First was a collage task, completed with a supplied axes, varying images and words. In teams we moderated the sessions to ensure everyone contributed fully and furthered the discussion with probing questions - looking for patterns or interesting portions of their creations. The participants were asked:

“What does going on an outing with people mean to you? What did it mean to you in the past when you were younger? And what does it mean to you now in the present?”

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The second was a timeline activity where the participants where asked to recall a recent outing with friends.

“What are the steps involved in organising a day out with your group? How does it come about? How do you eventually all meet up? And how does the day unfold? Which parts do you like and dislike?”

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Analysis

Our generative sessions generated a lot of data, involving multiple topics across outings and art galleries. To analyse and refine the large amount of qualitative data we chose to create a statement card affinity diagram. A bottom-up method where data is first filtered for similar statements and grouped into a statement card to be clustered by patterns or trends.

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Once we had synthesised the participants needs and discovered the core, recurring themes from our data, Benji synthesised the findings into a research visualisation. Following the 3-30-300 rule, he created an infographic that captured our research insights in an easily understandable and aesthetic format.

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Idea Generation

Based on our user & contexual research we decided upon the most important three broad themes to ideate around:

  • The connectedness that comes from shared reflection is the best part of the gallery
  • I don’t know enough about art to fully immerse myself in a gallery
  • Casual, laid back settings with ancillary activities are key to a good outing


We each drew a variety of initial concepts to be assessed against a set of criteria, generated from our data, and gave them a score within a decision matrix. We then chose two concepts and refined them into digitally drawn experience storyboards, to be pitched to stakeholders and industry experts. Parts of each concept were well received and others were lost on the stakeholders - the overwhelming response was to combine features from both for our final design.

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Prototyping

As the goal of the project was to create a digital experience prototype that stakeholders could invest in we felt the best way to sell TAG MCA was as a video prototype. We researched the technology required and created a low-fidelity physical prototype & filmed the experience at the MCA and the university. We used a blend of After Effects and projectors to re-create the experience in a quick and communicative way.

The prototype was presented to some of the members of the generative study and their feedback was used to create a user journey map contrasting the current state and post experience state at the gallery.

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A Unique & Unifying Activity That Leaves No Trace

The gallery is fitted with multiple digital spray walls. The can vibrates to alert when you approach one and the embedded LCD relays a simple task - accepting it creates a stencil on the wall. You press the nozzle with a familiar pssshhh and you're up there with someone who was paid to be.

As you move through the gallery, the activities are contextually based on the works around you - granting a different connection with the artists and allowing you and your friends to express together whilst keeping with the MCA's mission of educating the masses on all things contemporary.

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Solution

TAG MCA is a high tech & high impact digital experience for the art gallery. It combines complex technologies into an intuitive experience - visitors equip themselves with a digital spray can that feels just like the real thing. A unique & unifying activity that leaves no trace; the can vibrates when you approach a spray-wall and relays a simple task - you press the nozzle with a familiar pssssshhh and bam - you’re up there with someone who was paid to be.

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As you move through the gallery, the activities are contextually based on the works around you - granting a deeper connection with the artists and allowing you and your friends to express yourselves whilst keeping with the MCA’s mission of educating the masses on all things contemporary. Utilising flow psychology and elements of gamification - users can both affect their environments whilst taking in new information and interacting with their peers. As you exit the gallery your works are then conjoined into a new, bespoke art piece to share online and entice a new friend to come along next time.

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