Catherine Bell




The Secret Tour

How can a mobile museum tour encourage visitors to relate to art through action?
In a six-week design sprint, I collaborated with a group of gallery educators at the Getty Museum to create a disruptive experiential mobile tour.

A Lean UX mobile museum tour
Getty Museum, LA, CA
Getty Museum Gallery Educators
My Role:
UX Design, Usability Testing, Front-End Development, Photography, Visual Design

Years of guiding expertise = one tour

goal one:
Get our visitors moving.

Led by digital strategist Emily Lytle-Painter, a working group of expert gallery educators workshopped the concept for this museum highlights tour.

The group spent months expertly crafting the content of the tour, hoping to translate the best of their work on experiential art tours to a mobile tour visitors could do themselves.

They chose artworks and choreographed the tour pathway, then created activities that prompted visitors to engage with each selected art object in a kinetic or active way.

A gallery educator connects Los Angeles Unified school kids to art with movement and fun. Image via Getty.
Snapshots from early design thinking work with the gallery educators. Images: Emily Lytle-Painter

Early validation with a mighty prototype

goal TWO
Make sure we're building the right thing.

The gallery group created a great MVP (Minimum Viable Product): a 8.5 by 11 paper prototype which was tested with staff. This simple prototype validated the tour's minimal style and copy tone, and confirmed the core hypothesis: experience-driven activities make a great tour!

From the paper prototype, we learned:
Completing the tour took around 20 minutes, a satisfying length that didn't trigger fatigue
It's possible to navigate the complex indoor/outdoor museum space with minimal prompts

Challenges ahead:
The museum site had weak wifi and cellular signal throughout.
The tour needed to encourage people to put their phone to the side, rather than engaging with the device and ignoring the physical and social space of the museum

We used a paper prototype to validate that simple prompts could lead a visitor through an experiential self-guided tour.

Interaction design: animation leads the way

goal THREE:
Keep the tour flowing.

The UI for any mobile tour needs a lot of confirmation, letting users know they have arrived in the right place or are going the right direction. We decided to use visual cues - photographs of specific landmarks and signs along the tour - as wayfinding cues.

To convey progress along the tour route, I chose a gentle parallax animation. Since I was also the developer for the project, I knew this animation strategy would be easy and reliable. With the entire tour as a single scrolling page, the user would simply load the page in one spot: our entrance hall, which happens to have the best signal.

Secret Tour visitors can navigate with easily identifiable (and beautiful) waypoints along the tour path.

Encouraging a closer look

goal four:
Don't compete with the art objects the visitors came to see.

Depicting each art object on the tour is necessary to confirm that a user is on the right path. However, using straightforward full color depictions creates a disappointing redundancy between the physical object and the screen. Users may barely look up to enjoy the "real deal" right in front of them.

I wanted to create a visual motivation to closely look at the artwork in physical space.

Black and white photography - using angles, closeups, or nearby objects - was a very effective way of giving the user visual confirmation that they had found the right artwork without distracting from the real-life object.

The object is visually transformed, which is a great cue for the tour user to look closely, compare, and think about context and form. Bonus: the concise but engaging written tone of the tour is carried through in this visual style.

In a typical mobile tour, the tiny digital image of Van Gogh's Irises is a poor facsimile of the "real thing" and does little to spark exploration.
In The Secret Tour, each photograph was considered in context of the gallery to encourage closer looking at the details of art objects.

“Can you spare a few minutes?”

goal FIVE:
Make sure we built the thing right.

Once I'd shot the tour photographs, contemplated and edited the tour once more with the gallery educators, and coded a clickable prototype, we were ready to usability test with real Getty visitors. A two-person guerrilla testing team invited ten single visitors and visitor pairs to give up a few minutes of their Getty Center visit and test our tour.

We tested the following assumptions:
Tour length
: was it too long, too short, or just right?
Navigation factors: could users navigate our site with visual and text prompts? Would they make it to the tour's end?
Engagement: Would users do and enjoy the activity prompts?
Style: Would the tone and style of the tour resonate?
Name: Could users suggest something more engaging than our working title, "The Experiential Tour"?

The Secret Tour's users were especially motivated to take photos with The Vexed Man by Franz Messerschmidt. Images: Instagram

Iteration & Launch

goal six:
Put it out there. And learn!

Happily, we confirmed a lot of the biggest UX design choices we had made: visitors loved the activities and the voice of the tour. Tweaks to specific navigation cues and photographs were identified, and we ended up cutting one activity to shorten the tour to five art objects.

Our test users had a lot of fun throwing out names, but we had a clear winner within our working group: The Secret Tour. We felt confident this title conveyed a sense of doing something both active and unique at the museum. The tour's new name led to some fun promotional strategies, including a hashtag and a vinyl marble tile overlay which created a starting place (visible but surprising) in the entrance hall's floor.

We launched the tour in our busy summer months and ran promotions through the next year. We had thousands of tour users and plenty of shares on social media.

Surveys showed tour takers found it both fun and enlightening. We saw fun and cheeky reviews like this one:

"I don’t want to give too much away, but my experience included taking a selfie with a sculpture and removing my shoe in a gallery. It was pretty great."

Learning, measuring, & evolving

project team:
Elmira Adamian
Diana Gurfein
Elliott Kai-Kee
Laura Gavilan Lewis
Emily Lytle-Painter
Lilit Sadoyan
Christine Spier
Andrew Westover
William Zaluski

Looking back at The Secret Tour project, it faced a few challenges that I've seen recur on other museum projects. Should I work on a similar project in the future, I'd love to see:

A starting point that's promoted and supported by staff.
Digital projects can easily be "orphaned" - it's assumed that an online audience is automatic, and visitor-facing staff are busy with a thousand other priorities. But without an actively promoted presence, and tech support from real humans when technology inevitably gets confusing, a digital tour won't connect with users. Project planning needs to envision this from the start.

A realistic benchmark for success.
Sometimes stakeholders assume that the internet provides a bottomless well of users, and are disappointed to see "low" numbers. Comparing numbers across projects, even from different silos, is incredibly helpful for setting benchmarks, especially when physical space is involved.

Measurable goals
It's hard setting goals for collaborative and experimental projects. Fine arts and scholarly culture can sometimes find goal-setting undesirable, fearing that it may dilute the unique voice of interpretation. But technology can only get better with measurable goals, and measurement is vital to understanding and validating our hypotheses. Best yet, measurable goals can help evaluate and evolve successful features on future tour projects. Designed and iterated for humans (and our quirky behavior), technology can effectively deliver that interpretive voice to visitors!

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