Museum of Natural History App Redesign

UX, UI, & New Features

Explorer, the Museum’s free mobile app, includes a Museum map, turn-by-turn directions to exhibits and amenities, customized recommendations for what to see, and more! The app is a great aid to anyone seeing the museum for the first or 40th time. Some features include: interactive map with turn by turn directions, recommendations, behind the scenes facts, quizzes, and more!

As part of my UX Design Master Certificate Program class at FIT, my team was tasked with analyzing and improving the UX and UI of this museum app. I visit to the Natural History museum several times 
a year with my family, and the last time we went, I noticed a sign for the app and decided to give it a try. It has some positives but plenty of negatives, making it a perfect candidate for some rethinking.


Before we visited the museum to conduct some interviews, we prepared to ask visitors about their experience with the app. We also planned to ask museum employees what they see as far as the app is concerned.

Visitor Questions
How are you navigating through the day?
What are you here for?
Do visit the museum often?

Employee Questions
Do you see a lot of visitors using the app?
Do people ask you questions about it?
Do you recommend it?

Takeaways: Visitors
We mostly spoke to people who were infrequent visitors and were unfamiliar with the fact that the museum had an app. We found that most people were not using the app, which was surprising.

People’s overall experience in the museum told us it was hard to navigate, with or without a paper map. They noted a lack of signage and the need for more direction.

Visitors who used the map explained that they were unsatisfied with the overall organization and execution, but found the GPS a good feature to find their way around.

Takeaways: Employees
We received conflicting reports on whether or not the workers would recommend the app. They mostly listed conditional situations they would introduce it to someone.

Everyone listed amenities as a reason to recommend the app. One confirmed that they had received training on the app and would recommend it to most anyone who they felt needed direction, whether it be for amenities or exhibits.

Tours were not a reason to recommend because the app had none pre-created, and the map had single destination routes.

Overall they stated that most people’s problems with the app were technical issues caused by needing the combination of wifi, bluetooth, and location services on at the same time.

Explorer App Developer
My group was able to land a meeting with one of the Digital Product Managers responsible for maintaining the current app. An old friend of mine was a lawyer for the museum and was nice enought to connect us. He provided insight into the decisions that we originally questioned when conducting our evaluations and spoke with us about the apps goals and abilities. Most of the changes made were based off of analytics that highlighted which pages were visited the most.

We were also given answers as to why the floorplan was so complicated. The museum has expanded roughly every 20 years, with each addition having a new architect behind it. The end result is a bit of a frankenstein combination of different eras and styles.

View Full Interview Notes

Affinity Map

After several visits, we organized all of the answers into different categories, in order to find any patterns or common problems people were having with the app. Most pressing, why weren’t more people using it?

Do you use the museum app?
• Time constraints
• Going to a specific exhibit
• Use the app to get extra information

• Didn’t know about it
• Want to be surprised / wander
• Human connection
• Features aren’t easy to find (Tickets, exhibitions, floors)
• No problem using paper map
• Time constraints (app hard to use)

Do you recommend using the museum app?
• “Because it is actually useful”
• People on a time crunch
• People looking for amenities

• Personal guided tours / Paper maps are better
• “Families don’t want to be looking at their phone
• “Families with kids beeline for big attractions”
• Assume people don’t want to use up their phone battery
• Doesn’t feel app would give anything extra

View Full Affinity Map

1. Most museum visitors were not downloading the app, either because they did not know about it, it was causing them issues, or they like using the printed map


To better dive into these menu options, my team split up and each created a persona based off the problems we discovered. My main focus was on “Tickets and Home Page.” The rest of my team tackled Navigation, premade museum tours by time, and customized, user created museum tours.

Peter Santo, 20  (Buying Tickets)
Occupation: Student  Status: Single Location: Dorm Room at NYU
Main Problem: Very busy balancing school and life.
Archetype: Explorer

Sam Clovis, 28  (Navigation)
Occupation: Museum Volunteer Status: Single Location: Hoboken, NJ
Main Problem: Needs to help visitors with directions all day long.
Archetype: Sage

Sara Lawrence, 27  (Guided Tours)
Occupation: Copywriter  Status: Engaged Location: Midtown NYC
Main Problem: Uses a wheelchair & needs accessible routes through museum.
Archetype: Everyman

Celeste Johnson, 36  (Custom Tours)
Occupation: E-commerce Buyer Status: Divorced Location: NYC
Main Problem: Needs to plan route on a time crunch for her kid.
Archetype: Planner

Insight Statement

With 45 permanent exhibition halls, a planetarium, and over 34 million specimens and artifacts, the 150-year old AMNH is an iconic treasure trove of knowledge. This can be overwhelming to its over 5 million annual visitors. People need an easier way of navigating through the collections beyond the paper map while getting more information on the specimens.

1. Option to buy tickets without downloading the app
There needs to be an option to buy tickets and skip the long lines. Signage with QR codes to direct you to an online ticket purchase. Most restaurants are using this for menus now.

2. Simplify home screen into most used options: Tickets, Pick a route, Plan a route, Map, Search
Right now you open the app and you see half a map and the beginning of a list of exhibits. There is a very small line of text prompting you to buy tickets. This needs to be easier.

3. Improve the map
Priority here is to simplify the map and icons. We also want to introduce alternate views such as accessible route view and amenities view ,catering to the needs of a bigger population

4. Provide premade museum routes based on different interests
“Pick A Route” provides routes you can follow to save time: dinosaur route, American history, etc.

5. Plan your own route based on what you want to see
Customize a museum route and see only what you want to see. Chose your exhibits and the app provides the best route and the amount of time it will take.



Based on competitor research,  interviews, and the needs of our user personas, we created a site map with all of the possible journeys a user would need to take.

Task 1: Buying Tickets Without App

To our surprise, we learned that most people did not download the app. There were var   ious reasons, but even if we improve the app, we need visitors to download it first.

Better advertising & more signage
One way to get visitors to download the app is to do a better job advertising that it exists at the museum. There were not a lot of signs or posters in the entrance area. We saw a few scattered throughout the museum but it’s not surprising some visitors were not even aware of the app.

QR code to buy tickets without downloading the app
Another reason people do not download the app is that they don’t want another wasted app on thier phone. How many random apps do you have? Plenty. Why am I going to waste space on my phone with an app I am only going to use once? Here you can just hold your camera up to the QR code and buy your tickets from the mobile website. No need for an extra app!

Task 2: Home Screen / Buying Tickets

Home Screen
The app opens directly onto a screen that shows the map for no particular reason, a nondescript button to buy tickets, and the beginning of a list of exhibits. What is the user supposed to do first?
To fix this we created a homepage with 5 menu options that we found were the most likely reasons for people to download the app.

Buying Tickets

We sent Pete on a user journey to buy tickets using the app to see if any problems popped up. There were some issues along the way but he was able to get tickets and eventually get to his chosen exhibit. The ticket process is complicated as you have to buy a general admission ticket, 
and you need to purchase “add-ons” to see any special exhibits. The problem is you are not told what exhibits are ‘special’ and require a separate ticket. Also, once he had tickets, he got 
lost because there are more than one T-rex exhibits and he did not realize. We need to simplify 
the purchase process and add more accurate directions to the exhibits the user purchases.

Sketching and Testing
Through user testing, we figured out how to simplify the ticket purchase process and get the user touring the museum as soon as possible. We also discovered things to include that the user would benefit from such as directions to the exhibit you bought tickets to or including the prices from the beginning as they were not initially on the first page.

High Fidelity Prototype

Task 3: Navigation

The current app uses bluetooth to offer turn by turn navigation throughout the museum. That feature is mostly great, but the UI of the map is not helpful. There are photos of exhibits that 
are hard to interpret and cluttered icons everywhere. We worked to simplify that by removing 
the exhibit photos and giving the user the ability to toggle different amenities on and off 
to their liking.

Task 4: Pick A Route

Some visitors love to just roam around the museum, but some (parents) do not have that luxury. When a family visits the museum, they need a plan and have a small timeframe to work with. By creating premade routes, based on a specific amount of time, visitors can chose what they would like to see and know how long it will take to do that. Choose 1, 2, or 3 hour routes to follow!

Task 5: Plan A Route

This is a similar feature to “Pick a Route” but here the user can generate thier own tour of the museum. Say you want to see the T. Rex exhibit, the giant blue whale, the planetarium, and the sealife exhibit all in under an hour, this feature has you covered. Plan your route and see only what you want to see, in the timeframe you want to see them.


What did I learn?

The American Museum of Natural History is an amazing museum with seemingly endless artifacts and exhibits to explore. The problem that arises is there is so much to see, you can’t possibly see everything in one visit. Also, after speaking with one of the app's developers, we learned why it is easy 
to get lost – as there have been several additions built on to the museum all by different architects, 
all in different decades. My team wanted to simplify the app and help the user enjoy their museum experience. Giving the homepage specific functions, improving up the map, and creating planned and customized routes did just this. As a frequent visitor myself, I hope they will continue to improve the museum app. If not, maybe I will apply for a job there!