Rachel
UX / UI designer & researcher

Find Your Marbles

Improving wayfinding & guest experience at Marbles Kids' Museum

Context

Located in downtown Raleigh, North Carolina, Marbles Kids’ Museum is a non-profit organization with a mission to “spark imagination, discovery, and learning through play”. In addition to kids’ exhibits and events, Marbles draws a wider audience with its rentable event spaces, IMAX movie screenings, and adults-only events. Over the last few years, Marbles has grown from one building to a campus of four buildings, causing wayfinding confusion among its over 57,000 monthly guests.‍

Problem

The Marbles Team spends a significant amount of time directing disoriented guests when they should be monitoring exhibits and facilitating play

Proposed Solution

  • Reimagined interior signage
  • Designed a courtyard wayfinding system
  • Optimized main lobby traffic flow

My Role

This project was completed as part of a class called "Design It Forward", in which interdisciplinary teams of students consult with nonprofits (like Marbles) under the guidance of IBM designers. We had a total of 12 people working with Marbles. This team of 12 was further subdivided into two teams: "Exterior Engagement" and "Flow and Connectedness". I was a member of the "Flow and Connectedness" team. Over the course of this unique experience, I had the opportunity to wear a variety of hats.

Researcher / Strategist

  • I led my team in crafting a research strategy and conducted observational research and interviews.
  • I collaborated with my teammates to synthesize research and reframe the problem.

Facilitator & Design Advocate

  • Several members of my team were non-designers (physics majors, business majors just to name a few). As one of the only members of my team experienced in with design research and design thinking strategies, I took on a leadership role.
  • I created observational research guides for the non-designers on my team.
  • I led a participatory stakeholder mapping workshop with members of the Marbles team. 
  • I facilitated workshops & team meetings outside of class.
  • I constantly advocated for the end user and tried my best to convey the value of design exercises. 

Research Strategy

Research Overview

Over two weeks, the entire Marbles team conducted joint research. We further organized into 2-to-3 person sub-teams to tackle individual research tasks.

High-Level Research Goals

  • Understand Marbles' mission, values, and role.
  • Understand guests' needs and pain points when it comes to wayfinding
  • Identify the Marbles team's needs and pain points when it comes to the design of the museum's wayfinding system

Initial Interviews with the Marbles Team

To learn more about the problem, our team sat down with a few representatives from the Marbles team to discuss.  

Having everyone on both teams involved in the kickoff helped us align from the start of the project.

stakeholder map in progress

stakeholder map in progress

Stakeholder Mapping Workshop

To better understand the makeup and role of the Marbles team, I led an hour-long stakeholder mapping workshop with my team and three stakeholders from Marbles.

The primary goal of the workshop was to familiarize ourselves with the client's team and identify team members we might want to interview in more detail later in the research process.

Analysis of Digital, Guest-Generated Content

Scanning Marbles' digital channels (Instagram, Yelp, Facebook etc) helped us better understand  guests' perceptions and opinions of the museum.

Fly-on-the-Wall Observation

To identify the elements and efficacy of Marbles' wayfinding system in-context, we conducted observational research. 

Splitting into small sub-teams and observing in sessions on multiple days and at different times ensured we were getting a holistic picture. 

This research also helped us identify the museum's most popular exhibits / activities and pinch points. This knowledge would help us identify potential design strategies later in the process.

Guerilla Interviews

Quick interviews with guests and passerbys helped us gauge guests' interest and awareness of Marbles amenities and wayfinding tools. It also helped us identify potential gaps in the system.

Follow-Up Interviews & Contextual Inquiry

To validate and better understand the insights we'd gathered from observational research, we interviewed three core members of the Marbles Team. 

  • April, Graphic Designer
  • Jordan, Communications Coordinator
  • Chris, Director of Exhibits

Each of these team members played a unique role in the creation of Marbles' exhibits and wayfinding system. We identified them using the stakeholder map we'd created early in our research. 

Key Insights


Three primary pain points contributed to guests' wayfinding difficulties:

Improving wayfinding & guest experience at Marbles Kids' Museum

Pain Point 1

Lack of Awareness

Guests were unaware of amenities, both large and small

Guerilla surveys indicated that city-goers and museum guests alike were unaware of all the museum’s amenities, both in the lobby (restrooms, lockers etc) and in the courtyard (IMAX Theater & Cafe). Observation revealed that the courtyard lacked a central sign pointing out these amenities.

Crowds in the lobby and throughout the museum blocked important signs

The Marbles team noted that they were frequently asked about restrooms, changing stations, lockers, and stroller parking in the lobby. These amenities are labeled, but crowds gathered in the lobby often block those labels and the amenities themselves.

Improving wayfinding & guest experience at Marbles Kids' Museum

Pain Point 2

Systemic Inconsistency

Signs for the same thing varied from space to space

Observational research revealed glaring inconsistencies in the museum's signage system. Restroom signs varied in size and shape from floor to floor. Special event signs posted around the museum lacked cohesion.

Each exhibit has its own visual language

When we asked the museum's graphic designer about the inconsistent signage, she pointed out the fact that the exhibits are also inconsistent. In fact, each exhibit has its own theme and visual langauge, making it difficult to tie them all together. She noted that guests often get lost and disoriented because of this.

Improving wayfinding & guest experience at Marbles Kids' Museum

Pain Point 3

Cognitive Load

Overstimulated and overwhelmed guests would rather ask than search

The museum is loud, both aurally and visually. In the almost-always-crowded lobby and throughout the rest of the museum, parents juggle children, diaper bags, and strollers while waiting to enter the museum. Between watching their children and visual/auditory stimulation, parents already suffer a large cognitive load at the museum. Therefore, they won’t offer more than a glance to figure out where to go before asking museum staff.

This leads to frustration among team members, who find themselves directing guests to amenities that they are standing right next to.

The biggest discovery was that these pain points were symptoms of a deeper issue.

The Marbles team lacked an efficient, centralized inter-team communication system. 

Contextual inquiry and interviews with the Marbles team revealed that several factors contributed to this:

  • Each of Marbles 6 internal teams develops its own signage and communication for its events, leading to a general lack of cohesion and consistency across the museum's wayfinding system.
  • Beyond a logo, typeface, and color scheme, Marbles had no style guide to unify signage or exhibits.
  • The team communicates primarily using analog methods, Daily schedules are printed and hung on a wall in the staff office. If that schedule needs to be changed, a new one is printed. If a particular exhibit needs attention, a note is written on a whiteboard in that exhibit's closet. The lack of a widely-used, digital, asynchronous communication system contributed to a general lack of organization that also affected the organization of the wayfinding system.

Pivot!

During our research presentation, we highlighted and explained these findings to our client. While they agreed that these issues should be addressed, they stressed that redesigning the team's communication structure and design system was not within the project's scope. Therefore, we chose to focus on addressing guests' pain points instead.

Other Important Insights

The following Insights helped define design goals and constraints.

Children direct a group's movement through the museum

In most cases, parents follow their children as they explore the museum. Therefore, both children and adults should be able to understand, or at least recognize wayfinding materials.

Outside spaces are more transient than the indoor spaces.

Outdoor spaces (primarily in the courtyard) offer lightweight experiences that engage the child for a short time, while indoor spaces offer more learning content intended to engage the child for longer periods of time.

Marbles is a screen-free environment and it will stay that way.

Marbles prides itself on being a screen-free space focused entirely on play. 

Wayfinding tools don't currently contribute to play, but they could.

Marbles is all about play, but the current wayfinding didn't feel like a part of that mission. But what if it was? What if wayfinding was more engaging and playful? What if it felt like an adventure?


So, how might we provide playful ways to welcome and orient guests across the museum campus?

Empathizing with Marbles Guests

Focusing in on Guest Needs

Analyzing the pain points we'd discovered in the guest experience revealed two critical needs:

Need 1Marbles guests need a way to identify and explore Marbles' campus' offerings so that they can navigate effectively.

Need 2Marbles guests need a way to access museum services without having to deal with overcrowding so that they can have a stress-free start to their experience.

Strategizing

Defining Hills

Who, What, Wow!

“Hills” are statements that align the design team around a single goal. Similar to the design stories commonly used in Agile development, they guide ideation by detailing who is being designed for, what will be designed (in general teams), and the value that design will bring to the end user. To ensure our ideation process addressed each of the guest needs we'd identified, we developed the following hills. The first addresses lack of awareness and inconsistency, and the second addresses cognitive load. These statements also helped us effectively communicate our design strategy to the client.

Hill 1 Marbles guests can identify and explore the campus by following exterior and interior cues that connect campus amenities.

Hill 2Marbles guests can begin their experience at Marbles in a stress-free way by orienting themselves in an uncrowded lobby.

Ideating
Big Ideas plotted on an Impact-Feasibility Matrix

Big Ideas plotted on an Impact-Feasibility Matrix

What if drones directed guests? And other BIG Ideas

Guided by our need statements & hills, a rapid-fire sketching workshop helped us identify potential solutions. Sometimes to get the right solution, you have to ask some crazy questions and generate some even crazier answers. And we did. From candy-dropping, guest-directing drones to frog-shaped toilets, we considered as many ways as we could to make Marbles' wayfinding experience playful, fun, and engaging. Though drones couldn't personally direct guests (not on our budget at least), we could use the attributes of some of our craziest solutions to devise a more practical one. Ultimately, we analyzed potential solutions against an impact/feasibility matrix to decide which to pursue.

At first, communicating the value of divergent, anything-goes thinking activities to the non-designers on the team proved to be a challenge. I was able to leverage some of my experience explaining these ideas in past workshops to help align our team around the common goal. 

City regulations and a tight budget would be our biggest design hurdles

When ideating, we had to be mindful of the many restrictions on building modifications enforced the City of Raleigh.

As a non-profit on a tight budget, Marbles wanted any solution we created to be inexpensive and easy to implement with their in-house design team. Therefore, we stuck to cost-effective, simple solutions that could be scaled over time.

Proposed Solution
Improving wayfinding & guest experience at Marbles Kids' Museum

Phase 1: 1-60 Days

Unify the Signage System

To solve the problem os systemic inconsistency, cohesive interior signage that fits appropriately within the space's visual hierarchy would enable all guests to navigate quickly to critical amenities like restrooms, water fountains, and nursing stations. Playful, easy-to-recognize imagery on these signs guides children who cannot yet read.

Examples of redesigned signage & placement

Examples of redesigned signage & placement

Map of the placement of wayfinding lines on the museum courtyard

Map of the placement of wayfinding lines on the museum courtyard

Phase 2: 6-8 Months

Connect the courtyard, playfully

To encourage awareness and facilitate the discovery of the museum's four buildings, a system of wayfinding lines would be painted on the ground of the museum's central courtyard. Children can easily lead the discovery of Marbles amenities by following the colors and shapes. Though the solution is playful, it maintains Marbles' objectives for its exterior spaces.

Improving wayfinding & guest experience at Marbles Kids' Museum
Rendering of proposed front desk location

Rendering of proposed front desk location

Phase 3: 1 Year

Optimize Lobby Flow

The museum's front desk would be moved further into the entrance to alleviate crowding in the main lobby. This would enable increased visibility of lobby amenities (like lockers, stroller parking, and restrooms) and reduce cognitive load as guests prepare for play.

How does our solution help?

By enabling guests to independently recognize and understand wayfinding tools, Marbles empowers them to navigate effortlessly, stress-free, and play-focused.

On the Marbles team side, the solution offers big, scalable impact on a small budget and empowers team members to focus on their roles rather than directing guests.

Feedback from the Marbles Team

Our proposal received overwhelmingly positive responses from the Marbles Team. The team is discussing the potential implementation of our solutions.

Reflection & Next Steps

Lessons Learned

Sometimes the problem you're given isn't the real problem.

Our research uncovered something really important- the lack of a centralized internal communication system. Time permitting, we would have solved the internal communication issues we observed within the Marbles team.

Interdisciplinary collaboration can be challenging, but it's also rewarding.

This project taught me a lot about collaborating with non-designers (engineers, business students, and even physics students) who weren't familiar with the design process when we began the project.

At first, this was a point of friction within the team. I found myself not only in the role of a student in the class, but also as a facilitator. By collaborating with people of different backgrounds and perspectives, I ultimately became a better facilitator and advocate for the user.

Next Steps

Prototyping & Testing

The only way to truly know the efficacy of our solutions would be to test them. Time-willing, we would prototype and test our solutions with Marbles guests.