The British Museum App: UX Case Study

My British Museum app


To make the British Museum’s iOS app more usable, easier for new users to navigate, more appealing UI and consolidating all of their visitor aids (maps, audio headset guides etc) into one place for visitors to access more easily.

The problem

On entering the British Museum, there was a clear pattern of new visitors being drawn towards the large tombstones in the main atrium, displaying maps of the museum. Then, they might buy a £2 map from a nearby stall or begin to wander and drift around the atrium, until coming to the first exhibit room they see and moseying on in.

There is absolutely no indication at all to inform visitors that the British Museum has an app to enhance their experience. Through both observation and usability testing, it does not appear as though anyone uses it and most do not even know that it exists.

Other than awareness, there is clearly an issue with the usability of an app when its only reviews on the iTunes app store use phrases like “don’t bother”, “totally useless” and “clearly an app written by someone to whom English is a second language” to describe it.

Something had to be done, so I decided to run a UX case study to help.

Summary of design changes

My process for this project

Observing visitors & usability testing

The British Museum sees thousands of visitors come through its doors every day, so whilst it is common knowledge that 80% of usability issues can be identified with 5–6 participants in a usability study, I thought that some observation was needed of general behaviour as visitors found their way around the museum.

From a couple of hours observing crowds of visitors on a Friday afternoon, I discovered indications of the following:

Demographic groups of users

Most fell into the categories of tourists, students, retirees and Londoners. Of course research was conducted on a Friday afternoon, so I saw fewer young, working-age Londoners than one would expect on the weekend.

Typical behaviour as visitors enter the museum

Having entered through the spinning doors and ornate arches at the entry point, visitors tended to wander slowly towards the main atrium — a very large round hall with gift shops, cafes, information desks and other utilities.

The other doors on the edges of the circular atrium lead to exhibition rooms or stairways to other floors. Visitors can buy paper museum maps at various stalls located close to entry points for £2 and audio guide headsets from the information desks for £6, lasting the whole day.

Many visitors purchased maps, only a few purchased audio guides but most proceeded to drift around the museum without either, using the signage and large maps on the walls to decide their next destination.

Usability testing

Approaching visitors in the main atrium, some were kind enough to run a quick usability test on the app, using my iPhone. I asked them to perform the following tasks and observed their interactions, taking notes as they talked through their thoughts:

  1. Impression task: Open the app. Take a couple of minutes to tell me what you think the app is for and what you can do with it. Rate your impression 1–5
  2. Directed task: You’re at the museum on a school trip doing some research on the Egyptian mummies. Use the app to work out where you can find them and then point in the direction which you’ll be heading. Rate your experience 1–5
  3. Exploratory task: You’re new to the museum and want to explore as much of the museum as you can. Use the app to plan your tour and tell me where you will be going first. Rate your experience 1–5

Analysing user research

After running these usability tests, I took stock of my notes and arranged the most poignant points made at each stage of the user journey into an experience map.

I then dot-voted the most often repeated points or the ones which I felt were most important for users to see resolved, which gave me the key pain points to address in the app redesign:

Identified pain points with current app

Inverting these, I have my design goals:

  • Increased awareness of the app to visitors as the enter and all around the museum
  • Provide more guidance on the opening screen
  • Make clear what users are paying for with the full version
  • Improve UI to make it more visually and functionally appealing
  • Make it easier for users to orientate themselves using the map
  • Make features and most popular tools easier to learn about and discover

Finally, I developed my metrics for success, split to test effectiveness, efficiency and satisfaction :

  • More visitors attempt to download the app after seeing a sign recommending that they do so — effectiveness.
  • Users spend less time on the opening screen — efficiency.
  • More conversions to purchasing the full version — effectiveness.
  • Users more engaged with the interface — satisfaction.
  • Fewer spend less time trying to find their bearings — effectiveness
  • Fewer users are confused by what they can do with the app — effectiveness.


Split by the demographic groups of users observed and the user interview conducted, I developed the following personas for potential users of the app (if they had known it existed).


Next, I brainstormed and sketched out potential solutions with which the app could address the pain points identified and satisfy the goals. There were not sketches or wireframes of specific screens, but more written notes of concepts and systems which could be implemented.

Paper prototypes

Now it is time for the wireframes, having decided which design ideas I will be going with from the ideation stage and sketching out how these might manifest in the actual app.

At this stage, I would have liked to run a card sort in order to redesign the information architecture of which content the app should provide and prioritise, the primary navigation options and the categories which artefacts were split into. However, with limited budget and inability to get users alone in a room with enough space for a card sort exercise, it was not possible this time. After developing the full prototype, I would also have liked to add an iteration phase, to test my new app design with users performing the same tasks as the original usability test and seeing how they got along, redesigning my app redesign as needed.

InVision prototype

Designing the final screens in Sketch and the interactions with InVision, I developed a prototype of my user-centred British Museum iOS app.

Have a play, try to complete the tasks from my usability test as far as you can and let me know what you think.

At the intersection of UX and business

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