product designer + Photographer


Augmented Reality・Experience

behind the glass

A student project for an Interface Design course with the prompt - Design a mobile app that enhances the experience of visiting the newly renovated Burke museum.

We identified an opportunity to build on the museum's mission by facilitating inquiry-based exploration of the Burke Museum’s research labs with augmented reality.

project info


Giada Sun


Feb - Apr 2020
6 weeks


A high-fidelity mobile app prototype from a lightweight research and ideation process.

my role

As a team, we conducted research, created concepts, and defined the IA, user flows, and interactions together.
While Giada focused on the high-fidelity UI and visual assets, here are the contributions I brought to the team —

digital prototyping

Converted the UI mockups into an interactive prototype with Protopie

UX writing

Defined the tone and voice of the copy for the interface + museum signage

usability testing

Wrote the user testing protocol and led the user testing with participants

case study takeaways


Identifying an opportunity to thoughtfully add a mobile device into a museum experience


The methods we used to answer our questions and challenge our assumptions


The rationale behind our design decisions by connecting insights to recommendations


My contributions to a team through ideas, writing, and technical design skills

What is the burke?

The Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture (Burke Museum) is a natural history museum in Seattle, Washington. This research museum has a collection of more than 16 million biological, geological, and cultural artifacts related to Pacific Northwest history.

Old Burke to new Burke museum

Old Burke

The old Burke followed the typical natural history museum model — where exhibits are on one side of the wall and collections and research are on the other, hidden from visitors.

The broad reaction to the museum was that it was stale, dated, and not inviting to the audiences they wanted to attract.

new burke

In late 2019, the new Burke Museum reopened and turned the museum "inside-out," breaking down traditional museum barriers and inviting visitors to be part of a working research facility.

Alongside the exhibits, visitors could view and interact with 12 visible labs and workrooms.


After reopening for a few months, there was an opportunity to evaluate whether the new visitor experience was meeting the museum's new goals and vision.

Based on this evaluation, we can identify spaces for improvement and explore potential technologies that can enhance the visitor experience.

current museum experience

We examined the current inside-out experience and how it is being implemented through the museum.

Note: This class was less focused on research and more focused on building interfaces and interactions. So while we didn't conduct a full-scale research process, we analyzed provided interview data and spent time observing in the museum.

research methods

Client Interview

Kate Fernandez
Director of Interpretation and Visitor Experience

Analyzed the interview transcript

Contextual Inquiry & Observation

3 Museum Visits
Observed and spoke to Burke researchers,
volunteers, and visitors

What does the museum want visitors to takeaway from their visit?

Director Kate Fernandez helped developed this visitor philosophy.

“Our goal is to compel all visitors to believe and takeaway that the new burke is alive.

Active with research. Alive with questions.
Full of culture. Not a place where dead things go to die.

How is the museum implementing this philosophy?

For this project, we focused on examining two of the objectives: Active with research and alive with questions.

Active with Research

The Burke is a working research facility that allows visitors to get a behind the scenes look at the ongoing research being conducted. The workrooms change daily where the same staff are working on many different artifacts each day.

visible workrooms & LABS

Researchers station themselves in front of the glass windows daily as they work on preparing, examining, and cataloging artifacts. Researchers passively share their work with the public without much interference.


Positioning whiteboards around the labs allow researchers to quickly write and display relevant and accessible bites of info about their work while conveying their personality behind the glass.

Alive with Questions

The Burke engages with their visitors using an inquiry-based learning approach. Rather than presenting information at the expert level, they encourage visitors to ask questions about what they are curious about. This way, researchers and volunteers can share knowledge that is relevant to the individual.


On weekends, Sparks Volunteers connect with researchers and walk the floor to facilitate conversations with visitors, building on questions they might have about the labs in an approachable way.


On weekends, four workrooms from different departments open their doors at set times where visitors can interact directly with researchers and get a closer look at the collections.

design challenge

How might we provide visitors the opportunity to gain a deeper connection to the Burke labs on weekdays?

design opportunities


Spark volunteers and researchers are not accessible to all visitors

While the museum is open 7 days a week, volunteers and researchers are only available to talk to visitors on the weekends. Weekday visitors are receiving a much more passive experience.


Whiteboards are limited in physical size and capabilities

If there is no human interaction, the whiteboards serve as the only method of conveying information about the researcher’s work to visitors. Whiteboards are not equipped to tell the richer stories of the artifacts.


Visitors have questions that remain unanswered

There is a lack of inquiry-based learning because there is no opportunity for dialogue between visitors and researchers. Visitors may be frustrated that they can only watch and interpret on their own.

While we recognize that we can’t replace the organic human interactions between the Burke staff and visitors, our goal is to create an exploratory experience built on inquiry-based learning that allows all visitors to gain a deeper connection to the lab work and the researchers behind it.

Creating concepts

Since we were assigned to create a mobile app, we explored how we could use mobile technology and interactions to build our exploratory lab experience.

How can technology enrich this visitor experience?

We took into consideration that mobile phones should not replace the entire experience. Instead, it should be a tool to mediate how we interact with the real world.

Augmented Reality

“A lot of these exhibits are ripe for AR. In biology and even cultural galleries, a big open field is adding more to the objects and their stories. Museum objects are inherently disconnected from their contexts. There could be cool ways to bring in context to say why it’s existing.”  
— Kate Fernandez

While Kate is referring to the exhibits, I proposed that utilizing AR could be even more beneficial for the workroom environments where signage is limited and things are ever-changing. As visitors observe the labs, this medium could provide a digital lens where they can acquire more information.

three directions

AR Marker

Volunteers capture and input information they gather from the workrooms by planting AR markers and referencing relevant field notes for more information.

AR Digital Floor Maps

Visitors get more information about the museum by browsing digital floor plans with location-triggered notifications and scanning fossils and artifacts in workrooms.

AR Q&A Board

Visitors submit public questions attached to any objects or people in workrooms, which will be followed up by staff members or volunteers soon, using AR interface.

Concept selection


We down-selected to the AR Marker concept while pulling some ideas from the other concepts. I initially proposed this idea from the perspective of the staff who will input information into the app but we refocused on the visitor’s experience for the scope of this project.

Refined Concept

With our mobile app, visitors will be able to explore the workrooms with a camera that reveals AR markers left by the Burke researchers. They will be able to select a marker to learn more about an artifact, researcher, research equipment, or workroom. Visitors will also be able to participate in some form of Q&A with the researchers.

Define interactions

We created low-fidelity wireframes to define the interactions and user flows

How can visitors use AR to explore the labs?

Researchers will plant digital markers for visitors to find by scanning 2D or 3D artifacts, fossils, and equipment. In the case that an object does not scan well, they can plant the marker on a whiteboard or a simple table tent/place card that is placed next to the object.


When visitors open the app, they are greeted by a modal that explains how to start their lab exploration with AR.


After launching the camera, visitors can pan around the labs with their device to discover AR markers on the screen.


Visitors can then tap a marker to bring up an information card and pull up the card to reveal further information.

Card Stack Interface

With an emphasis on exploration, we wanted the interaction for moving between the information and the camera to feel fluid and lightweight.

Inspired by Fluid Interfaces, we proposed a card stack interface that would allow us to present different hierarchies of information and enable visitors to swiftly go back to a previous screen or the camera with one gesture.

How can visitors participate in inquiry-based dialogue to learn about the lab’s work?

Researchers will plant digital markers for visitors to find by scanning 2D or 3D artifacts, fossils, and equipment. In the case that an object does not scan well, they can plant the marker on a whiteboard or a simple table tent/place card that is placed next to the object.

Gathering Content

After talking to Spark’s volunteers and researchers, we learned that most of the visitor’s questions are quite straightforward and can be predictable.

questions like

“Where did they find that skull?”
“How old is that mammoth tusk?”
“What are they doing with that microscope?”

Delivering Content

Our goal was to frame the content so that it would mimic the dialogue a visitor would have with a Spark’s volunteer or their own internal monologue as they look into the workrooms.

Through UX writing, we wanted to establish a conversation between the visitor and our app by using language that encourages curiosity.

Instead of topic headings, we utilized question headings. Then when a visitor selects a question, they believe they are posing the question as opposed to just being served information.


After opening an object information card, visitors can select a question they want to ask or browse more detailed photos posted by researchers.


When a question is selected, a new card will pop up with the answer (text, photos, maps, video) populated by the researchers.


Visitors can submit additional questions for staff to answer when available. These can be added to the list of questions for future visitors to view as well.

usability testing

To test with participants, I converted our wireframes into an interactive prototype with Protopie. The prototype utilizes the gyroscope sensor to simulate the Augmented Reality exploration interaction.

Testing method

We conducted usability tests with 3 participants, asking them to complete 3 tasks in an imaginary museum setting.

testing goal

Our goal was to observe whether the onboarding instructions were clear and if the user flows were easy to navigate.

challenges & Iteration

To test with participants, I converted our wireframes into an interactive prototype with Protopie. The prototype utilizes the gyroscope sensor to simulate the Augmented Reality exploration interaction.



Participants felt the responses to the questions were too dense and formal to resemble a conversation-like interaction. They wanted to feel like they were actually chatting with a Burke staff member.



We expanded on the idea of conversational dialogue by breaking up the response content into more digestible units and presenting them in a visual dialogue format that resembles instant messaging.



Participants had a hard time navigating the stacked cards. The IA was over complicated which resulted in too much page jumping.



We abandoned the card stack interface and opted for full screen content pages and a simple back button for navigation.



In AR camera mode, content off-screen was difficult to discover. There was also not enough feedback for participants to recognize the state changes when tapping on markers.



We provided more visual cues to give direction on where they can explore. The green dots indicate the nearby AR markers which are out of screen. We also added more motion to signal changes to the interface.

New museum experience

Complete walkthrough of the user experience through a visit to the Burke Museum.

Arrive at the museum

When visitors check in at the information desk, staff will introduce them to an additional interactive AR lab experience and prompt them to download the mobile app.

Onboarding & Events

To get started, visitors will be guided through an introduction of lab experience and a quick sign-up process. Once signed in, they will be greeted and informed of any events happening during their visit.

Inciting Curiosity

To get started, visitors will be guided through an introduction of lab experience and a quick sign-up process. Once signed in, they will be greeted and informed of any events happening during their visit.

AR Exploration

When launching the AR camera for the first time, visitors will learn how to maneuver the camera to reveal markers and interact with them.

Ask Questions

A visitor finds an artifact they are interesting in learning about: Triassic Phytosaur Skull. They were wondering where did the skull come from and taps on the question to start a “conversation” with the researchers.

Stay updated on the work by researchers and labs

They are also interested in learning more about the lab and who works there. The visitor remembers that Kelsie answered their earlier question and wants to check out what her role is and what she has been working on recently. They can scroll through the work on done on a fossil over the past few days.

Follow-up & Revisit

Throughout their visit or after they leave visitors can revisit the artifacts they have seen or bookmarked. 
Visitors will also receive a notification when their question has been answered by a researcher in the workroom. They can check out those answers on the profile page.

project reflection

What i learned

-edit text-

Next project →