Creating the audio guide experience for Urban Archive

A user research and design thinking journey

Five Steps of Design Thinking (from UX Collective blog on Medium)

We just completed the Fall 2019 semester of Pratt Institute’s IXD program, where my team in Information Architecture & Interaction Design worked on a real-world challenge with a client.

In this course, we practiced the design thinking process which entails empathising with the user and uncovering their motivations and goals for using a product or service.

My role on this project was as Project Manager and Copy Editor. I also contributed to the brainstorming and strategy, user interview questions and tree testing tasks, and overall visual design of our presentations.

Design Brief

Our client, Urban Archive, a technology nonprofit that connects people with NYC’s museums and historical institutions, needed help increasing user engagement of their audio guides. Currently, they have a free iOS app (no plans to release an Android version right now) with audio guides and a recently launched web app ( without audio guides.

Opportunity 4 — Define an experience to browse and listen to museum audio guides via the web app

My team was tasked with doing the following:

Screenshot of

Competitive Analysis

Before talking to users, we each surveyed the competitive landscape to uncover best practices and industry norms. For my analysis, I looked at three organizations offering audio guides in the New York City area that focus on arts and culture, architecture, or history:

The criteria I used for my evaluation included:

User Research

We used two methods during our research — observations and interviews.

For the observations, we applied both a direct and indirect approach by each visiting different cultural institutions. For my observations, I visited the New Museum, where I went through the Marta Minujin exhibit and recorded video and photos of the different rooms in the conceptual art installation. Then, I visited another exhibit by Lubaina Himid where I downloaded the gesso audio guide app and navigated the intimate gallery space with other patrons, observing about 25–30 people total for both.

For the interviews, I spoke to two users face-to-face and over the phone, for approximately 40 minutes each, handling both the interviewing and notetaking roles ( as a team, we interviewed eight users). We asked them 17 questions in total, digging further if the conversation warranted a deeper probe based on their responses.

The demographic profile of our participants included museum goers and podcast listeners ranging in age from mid-20s to 40s plus. They primarily live in New York City, are college educated, and work in various professional positions.

Once we completed our interviews, we gathered in person to share our notes and findings. After synthesizing our collective data and identifying the main themes, we discovered two key insights:

User Archetypes

The archetypes we created were based on an amalgamation of user qualities identified from our observations and interviews.

The attributes we used as identifiers were art/history interest, sociability, whether they tended to follow specific visitor routes, if they were locals or tourists, and their level of tech savvy.

User Journey

Our user journey illustrated the steps users take when deciding to visit a museum exhibit, and the things they encounter when using an audio guide, demonstrating their pain points along the way.

Some key things we discovered were that our users tend to seek out recommendations from friends and co-workers when deciding what to see, concerns about cleanliness when using museum headsets vs. their own phones, good wi-fi connectivity, and wanting to navigate through the audio guide the way they want. These insights were interesting in that we discovered we were designing for many different users with different needs and wants. So our subsequent design had to make sure we considered all of them.


We identified the features that were most important to our users, first on a whiteboard, then on a 2x2 grid showing a high user impact and ease of feasibility, (highlighted in light purple).

Prioritized Features:


During the testing part of the process, we created four ways to enter audio guides from the homepage of the web app illustrated in our proposed information architecture diagram below:

We used Optimal Workshop to create our tree test with the objective to see how users navigated through the web app to find audio guides. We created four tasks that we designed to be clear and concise.

However, after reviewing the results, we discovered that the tree test was confusing, and there were too many paths to finding audio guides without a preferred answer.

The low success rate of this task showed us that users had difficulty in determining the correct answer. We needed to simplify the navigation in the web app so they can easily find the audio guides they are looking for.

Even though we had a low success rate, this was a helpful exercise in learning how to create the right tasks in the future to get better results.

This pie tree shows the various paths users took to finding the audio guides.

Our next step was to simplify the navigation so users can easily find audio guides, which was one of the three main tasks we needed to do for our client.

In designing the screens, we looked at two scenarios, when users were outside the museum and wanted to explore the content in advance, and when they were in the museum since both options appealed to our users and is something Urban Archive currently does with the mobile app.

Wireframing and Prototyping

We used Sketch to create low-fidelity wireframes from the screens we worked on in class, for when users were outside the museum and in the museum, and InVision for each prototype. Here’s a link to one of the prototypes we tested -

We showed the prototype to 6 users and tested both versions.


We had good results from this testing. Overall, users found the audio guides easy to use and said the navigation was straightforward and clear.

Several raised a concern about accessing the QR codes when visiting a crowded exhibit, and said that inputting numbers manually was preferable and more convenient as they could obtain them in advance instead of waiting to get them when they were at the artwork. This same concern was something we heard earlier in the ideation phase.

In the beginning, during our stakeholder interview with the client, we asked about the possibility of using QR codes and he said it was something they were thinking about, so our decision to implement them as a feature was something we had been considering from the start. After prototype testing, even with the feedback we received, we decided that we would keep it as a feature over inputting numbers thinking it would be easier than manual input and a more accessible feature.

Then, there was the question of whether QR codes would be an easy feature to incorporate. We didn’t quite know the technological feasibility of doing that in a web app instead of a mobile app. Although it is used in various situations in the U.S. (museum exhibits, airline and movie ticketing) we would have to consider the lower adoption rate here vs. in other countries where it is used more, and the quality of the camera used to scan the code. I think an alternative to both options would be great, such as using your phone to start the audio automatically when you approach an artwork, but we would need further investigation into what we would have the ability to implement. Perhaps Urban Archive can try this in their iOS app for now.

Design Principles

Connecting everything back to the challenge we were working on, we focused on a user-centered design that aimed to address the users’ pain point in wanting to be able to map their own journey in the easiest way possible, as well as designing for different users with different needs. Our basic UI principles were to be useful and usable (Purposeful) and feasible (Pragmatic). The goal was to create an audio guide experience that served them in a simple way.

We kept the branding consistent with Urban Archive’s existing colors and identity while also adding more color to the images which would be more appealing and welcoming to users to really bring the art to life more than black and white photos.

Conclusion and Next Steps

With Urban Archive continuing to work on improving the web app experience for users and creating ways to bring together the audio guides on the web app and the mobile app, they stand to bring on more users who are seeking a unique experience and the wealth of content that they offer. Also, if they decide to create a separate site for a dedicated audio guide experience, that could be an interesting area to pursue.

We have the following suggestions on areas they can analyze users’ data to see if the features are important -

This has been an enriching experience and we are eager to take these learnings and apply them as we grow as designers.

M.S., Information Experience Design candidate at Pratt, exploring design, tech, and other pursuits