Behind the Glass

Mobile app · AUgmented reality


An interactive experience for the Burke Museum where visitors can discover artifacts in the research labs and participate in inquiry-based conversations with the staff through a mobile Augmented Reality app.


For my Interface Design course project, we were tasked to create a mobile app to enhance the Burke Museum’s current visitor experience.



Feb - Apr 2020
8 weeks

The Burke turns inside out

In late 2019, the Burke Museum reopened with a whole new building, 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 research labs and workrooms.

This renovation was motivated by the broad reaction that the old museum was stale, dated, and not inviting to the audiences they wanted to attract: families, tourists, and millennials.

Alive on weekends
but silent on weekdays

From observing the museum on multiple visits, we learned that the visiting experience is vastly different between weekday and weekends.

Turns out, Sparks Volunteers and Open Door events are reserved for weekends only. But these are the two main components that engage visitors with the labs.

Weekday visitors are left to peer into the labs, curious but unable to fully understand what is happening behind the glass. Thus making their experience alike visiting a traditional museum.

Design Challenge

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

Design Response

An Augmented Reality app that facilitates inquiry-based exploration of the Burke Museum's research labs.

The museum experience

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

Arrive at the museum

After checking in, staff will introduce you to an additional interactive AR lab experience and prompt you to download the mobile app.


To get started, you will be guided through an introduction of the lab experience and a quick sign-up process.

Museum events

Learn about any events happening during your visit.

Inciting curiosity

Encounter messaging like, “What do you see? What are you curious about?” as you walk by the workrooms.

Get prompted to start exploring the labs with the app.

AR Exploration

Pan around the labs and workrooms with the phone to discover AR markers on the screen.

Tap a marker to bring up the information card of an artifact, fossil, or equipment.

Ask common questions

Select a question about an artifact to start a conversation with the Burke researchers. Pre-recorded responses from researchers will populate into the chat interface.

Or pose new questions

Submit your own question if it hasn’t been answered. Researchers can answer them when they are available and add them to the list of public questions

Stay updated on labs & staff

Learn more about an individual lab and the people that work there. Check out a researcher's role and what they have been working on recently through photos or the timeline feature.

research & problem definition

Developing a
visitor philosophy

Through an interview with the Director of Visitor Experience, we learned about their process of designing the new building and the key elements to their visitor experience.

Our goal is to compel all visitors to believe and take away that the new burke is alive.

Kate Fernadenz

Director of Interpretation and Visitor Experience

What makes the museum alive?

When the museum is filled with activity from both staff and visitors. To accomplish this, the museum considers how the researchers conduct their work and how they communicate it to the visitors.

Evaluating the
visitor experience

We took multiple trips to the museum to observe and talk to the staff and visitors. We identified four main components of the lab experience that work in conjunction to provide a balance of passive and active learning activities.

Visitor Lab Experience



View Labs & Workrooms

As visitors walk around the museum, they will come across exposed labs and workrooms that allow them to view the researchers at work.

Annotated Whiteboards

Visitors can read the annotated whiteboards scattered across the workrooms to identify artifacts and get a basic understanding of what they are.

Sparks Volunteers

Visitors who are interested in learning more about an artifact or lab activity can ask a Sparks Volunteer that is hovering around. Volunteers will facilitate conversations and build on the visitor’s questions.

Open Door Events

Visitors can attend scheduled Open Door events hosted by different workrooms to get a closer look at the collections and directly ask researchers any questions they might have.

We found the museum reduces the opportunity for visitors to participate in active learning by not providing Sparks Volunteers and Open Door events on weekdays.

Weekday challenges


Weekday visitors do not have the opportunity to interact with researchers and volunteers who bring you closer to the real work.


Without interactivity, visitors rely on whiteboards to learn about the labs which are limited in size and the types of content it can display.


Labs and workrooms revert to exhibits where visitors are just watching and reading information displays rather than engaging.

design approach

Exploring technology to promote active learning

To emulate the visitor’s user journey on weekends, we wanted our mobile app to have two main features:

Explore and identify points of interests

Store information and answer questions

However, visitors should not have their eyes glued to a screen.

Before jumping into ideation, we agreed that mobile phones should not replace the entire experience. In a museum context, phones should be a tool to mediate how we interact with the real world.

Uncover more with Augmented Reality

I proposed utilizing Augmented Reality technology to achieve both design objectives.

This method allows visitors to use their device’s camera to explore the labs, never taking them away from what’s happening in front of them.

Why AR fits our needs

Use object recognition technology to plant and identify visual markers on artifacts in the labs

Pulling out and using a camera is normal behavior in a museum setting

Embed additional multimedia content on artifacts that normally wouldn’t fit on a mini whiteboard

Keep the information with the object even as the workroom changes

Client support for AR

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 Fernadenz

Director of Interpretation and Visitor Experience

Design proposal

How will visitors explore the labs?

We had to figure out what kind of content visitors want to see and how should it be presented to visitors in a way that feels engaging.


Visitors are greeted by a modal that explains how to start their lab exploration with AR.


Visitors open the camera to pan around the labs with their device to discover AR markers on the screen.


Visitors can then tap a marker to bring up bottom sheet that will reveal further information on an object.

How will visitors participate in inquiry-based dialogue?

We had to figure out what kind of content visitors want to see and how should it be presented to visitors in a way that feels engaging.

Gathering content

Visitors often just want to know what researchers are working on or some background information on an artifact or specimen rather than anything overly technical.

We found that most of the visitor’s questions are quite straightforward and can be anticipated. They often follow a simple formula:

Question word


 Action or Descriptor



Delivering content

My vision was to frame the content so that it would still resemble the dialogue a visitor would have with a Spark’s volunteer.

Visitors will initiate a conversation by asking (selecting) a question on the app. The answer will then surface containing text, images, or video.

Considering the Burke Staff

Designing the content creation side of the app for the Burke staff was not in the scope for this project due to time constraints.

But it was important to consider how these stakeholders will be impacted by this new experience proposal.

We recognized we could be increasing the workload of the researchers if they had to regularly scan new artifacts and write questions/answers as they are working.

However, this is a practice the Burke staff are already doing on social media.

I found that the Burke Staff regularly post on their public Twitter accounts with photos and videos of their work, artifact background information, and even answer questions from other users.

←  Elaborates to provide more context

Responds to similar types of questions  →

testing & iteration

User testing

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

testing method

Tested with 5 participants
3 tasks in an imaginary museum setting

testing method

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

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

Iterating to high-fidelity –

We took the learnings from our usability testing to improve our design and brought it to the high-fidelity stage.

Challenge 01

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 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.

Challenge 02

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 off screen. We also added more motion to signal changes to the interface.

Challenge 03

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.

Design system

My teammate Giada led the visual design while I took on the interaction design and animations. We took inspiration from the existing Burke Museum branding and put our own spin on it.


Project takeaways

Narrow scope results in a more refined experience

Focusing in on the research lab aspect of the visiting experience helped us identify specific pain points, and create its own evolving, interactive exhibit.

Consider a holistic visiting experience to create smooth transitions between the physical and digital world

For a museum experience, we have to design for the multiple touchpoints that would make the mobile app successful. This includes considering the entry/ticketing experience where visitors download the app, and how they will be prompted to take out their phone to use the app.

Next steps

Designing the Burke staff's side of the app

The next step would be to design how a staff member would input the content into the app. We would examine their workflow and documentation methods to create an intuitive experience.

User testing in the Burke Museum

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the museum shut down and we weren't able to test our concept in the museum. It would be valuable to hear visitor's feedback in context, especially for AR.