The British Museum opened its doors in 1759, instantly becoming a world leading institution. Today they have over eight million objects and an annual visitor rate pushing seven million . In 2009 they launched the first version of a self guided walking tour — the audio guide.
This first version was limited in scope, but successful in assisting visitors. By 2009, with little in the way of updates the experience was suffering. With advancements in digital technology like device speed, indoor mapping, HD video, the museum was eager to iterate on this product; pushing the experience and creating magical visits.
Android (Lollipop) app deployed to a specialised closed network Android device. Available in 10 languages, including British Sign Language.
Areas of responsibility included guiding the design process, team support and health, ensuring a positive client experience
Product Design Director (My role)
Lead Product Designer
Our objective was to create an experience that is enjoyable and easy, not only for the user but also for the museum's content team.
Like a lot of other UK cultural institutions, the museum receives the bulk of funding from the government. With that funding comes a duty to reach as wide an audience as possible. This throws the net very wide when thinking about a target user, accounting for a wide range of ages, abilities and languages. To help understand our end user, their motivations and needs we ran a primary research phase over four weeks.
The research consisted of in-person qualitative interviews, captured in the Great Hall of the museum. Over the course of the four weeks we interviewed over a hundred visitors to the museum. We engaged translators for Chinese (Mandarin), Korean, and Japanese to work with our team. We offered no incentives for involvement in the research but found it very easy to find visitors willing to talk to us.
Towards the close of each research day we gathered at the museum to run a synthesis session, discussing the findings and adapting the research stimulus. As time went on we were able to create low fidelity mockups of potential interfaces to test also.
After the final synthesis session we had a great base for informing our design. These six insights were some of the bigger themes that emerged.
As a team we worked to define a set of design principles to align the wider team around the experience we are striving for and help speed our decisions:
When entering the design process we looked to existing human–computer interaction research to help improve our solutions. For example we referenced Fitts's Law, an empirical model explaining speed-accuracy tradeoff characteristics of human muscle movement. This informed decisions on scale and placement of interface items where we know our user is likely to be focused elsewhere while operating the device.
It was very important for us as a team to be able to explore design options through user testing. We were able to take advantage of the constant stream of visitors to the museum to do ad hoc testing on site throughout the sprints. Therefore we were able to gain confidence in directions quickly.
As a part of this process we created a living design system, initially small and only serving this product, but ready to grow out to cover the complete museum. The system acts as a home for all components, guidelines and processes. We helped establish a light weight governance process and a new cross department Design Standards team, with defined roles and responsibilities.
From our initial insights captured when talking to the museum support staff we defined a list of features that would improve their experience with the product. We also found a few more during the pilot weeks.
The audio guide, was launched in December 2015. The leading business goal was to increase the uptake of audio guide usage from 2% to 4% by the end of 2016 but within six months we had already hit that target. At peak time in June the usage was up by 5% and the museum sold a whopping 67,000 units.