The Philadelphia Museum of Art is an iconic cultural institution in Philadelphia, housing over 240,000 works in its vast collection. Like many museums, the PMA is constantly looking for ways to educate and engage their visitors in the museum. I worked with their internal curatorial, education, and technology teams to design and develop several digital experiences that brought life, and delight, to several spaces in the museum.
Creating Engaging Experiences, Collaboratively
I worked with the Philadelphia Museum of Art on several projects over the years, building a strong relationship with their Education and Interactive Technology teams. Our successful working relationship was formed through a collaborative design and development process, creating digital products as a collective. The services I provided included workshop facilitation, project management and planning, user experience and interface design, content strategy, front-end development, and on-site installation. At many steps during the projects we worked on together, we often took a design studio approach to iterate on and test ideas to get buy-in on the fly to move projects quickly and in agreement.
Bringing Life to Period Rooms
Period rooms—recreations of historical spaces to showcase artwork and material culture like furniture—are under-appreciated spaces to many art museum visitors. The Eleanore Elkins Widener Rice’s Gilded Age drawing room, also known as the Rice Room, was no exception—visitors often looked into the room and left immediately. We worked with the PMA to conduct research, including observations and contextual inquiry with museum guests, to better understand how to improve the experience in the space. We used this feedback to prototype a new digital experience to serve as a model for period rooms throughout the museum.
Using 360 degree photography from different vantage points in the room, we built an interactive touchscreen experience that allowed visitors to move around the room and explore the history and artwork of the space. As part of our content strategy, we didn't want to just show the traditional notes about an artwork in the room. We explain why each piece is important and interesting, using high resolution imagery and understandable language, and draw connections to other works visitors can see in other spaces in the museum. We built in accessibility features throughout the interactive, including closed captioning in videos, text size controls, and alternatives to complex gestures.
The digital interactives were well received, and in the weeks after the initial installation, we conducted onsite user testing with visitors to hear first-hand what we can do to improve them. Shortly after install, we released several updates, including new content, an improved interface to address issues with navigation, and captioning throughout the experience, including the introductory tour to minimize the use of audio in the space (visitors could turn sound on using the accessibility features).
Explore the Interactive
Want to see how the digital experience works in practice? Watch the video on Vimeo.
Impactful Digital Experiences in Asian Art
As part of a major reinstallation of the Southeast Asian Art wing of the museum, the PMA's Educational and Curatorial teams looked to find ways to get visitors to engage with one of the museum's oldest artworks: a 14th Century Chinese Zhihua Temple. This beautifully carved, highly detailed ceiling is 30 feet above ground and cannot be lit without damaging the structure. We created an digital experience that allows visitors to see the ceiling in detail never before available.
How do you get people to look up in a museum? In close collaboration with museum visitors and staff, we prototyped and developed an app that lives on devices in the space to let people explore the ceiling's detail and history. Users are transported to 14th Century China using traditional audio and motion graphics, and given multiple ways to explore and learn: hold the device above your head to use it as an augmented reality viewport to see details not visible from the ground; hold it down or on your lap, and learn about the ceiling's icons and history. By experimenting with new and out of the box methods, an otherwise hard-to-see object has become illuminated for an audience that may otherwise never realize what lies above their heads.