Museum Engagement at MOPA

In collaborating with Museum of Photographic Arts, the museum gave us the goal to bring in broader audience and educate as many demographics as possible. Here are design process in how we came up with our design solutions.


After some time discussing how we could specifically target families in our engagement, we tried to narrow down our user group in order to hone in on their unique needs.

For this reason, relevant demographic variables of family members included:

  1. Average age
  2. Gender
  3. Ethnicity
  4. Primary language spoken
  5. Level of education
  6. Location/Area
  7. Household income

As we’re focusing on families, our target audience encompasses all genders and all age ranges. It’s important to recognize the range of ages that could be in a family as we are targeting a group of individuals. We want our design solution to be inclusive so that people from all ethnicities and various backgrounds can have an enjoyable museum experience.

Secondary Research

In addition to the primary research we later conducted, we used secondary research in the form of MOPA’s existing visitor survey and articles we found online to inform our understanding of the target audience.

From MOPA’s general visitor survey, we found that in the year of 2015–16, while 48% of visitors were between the ages of 18–34, fewer than 3% were younger than 18 (Ortiz). In addition, only 10% were groups of adults and children. This means that while MOPA is doing relatively well attracting millennials to their exhibits but are doing poorly with appealing to more diverse families. Given this data, we shifted from our initial focus on millennials to families. This is because millennials already made up the largest percentage of MOPA’s existing visitors. As MOPA wants to increase their audience in general, we decided to focus our efforts on targeting families instead.

In fact, according to an article published in ASTC Dimensions, four out of five mothers visit museums for learning opportunities for their children, two-thirds visit because their children like to visit, and over half of the visitors go to museums for family time (Wilkening 2009).

While parents primarily visit museums for the purpose of educating their kids, they themselves are left relatively unengaged. As such, we resolved to create engaging activities that would involve all ages in a family, across generations and between different family members, to solve this problem.

Ethnicity, primary language spoken, and level of education are demographics that would deeply affect how well visitors would understand the exhibits at the museum. Although all exhibit plaques are available in both English and Spanish at MOPA, the visitor survey indicates that only 14% of total visitors are actually of Latino background (Ortiz).

As mentioned before, the museum exhibits have exhibit plaques that are written in both English and Spanish to target multiple ethnic groups. However, these descriptions require around a college-level reading skill. This is also evident in the survey results — a staggering 36% of MOPA visitors had graduate degrees of some form, while another 32% of visitors had at least an undergraduate degree (Ortiz). Therefore, while we’re not targeting a particular ethnic group or educational level, the museum setting itself might seem unwelcoming to certain target groups already. Without a doubt, not being able to understand what exhibits are about would strongly damper the overall visitor experience.

We also want to stress that where visitors live and what their household income is can make a big difference regarding whether families would be able to attend the museum — especially if admission prices are too steep. From MOPA’s visitor survey, 20% of visitors belonged to an annual income bracket of $50-$99K and 14% belonged to households that made $24K or less (Ortiz). Therefore, expense also poses as another economic barrier that might prevent families from visiting MOPA.

Furthermore, from MOPA’s demographics survey, we found that 38% of their visitors stopped by the museum only because they were walking by. From this data, we believe our target audience will mostly be families living in San Diego or tourists who are wandering around when visiting Balboa Park.

Works cited:

  1. “News.” Surprising Findings in Three New NEA Reports on the Arts. National Endowment for the Arts, 12 Jan. 2015. Web. 15 May 2016.
  2. Ortiz, Joaquin. MOPA Museum Survey Demographics. 2016. (Because these statistics were e-mailed to us privately by the museum coordinator, we are unable to share the original source.)
  3. Wilkening, Susie. “MOMS, MUSEUMS, AND MOTIVATIONS: CULTIVATING AN AUDIENCE OF MUSEUM ADVOCATES.” Association of Science-Technology Centers. ASTC Dimensions, 30 Jan. 2009. Web. 15 May 2016.


In order to ensure that families are truly engaged with the museum exhibits, it’s especially important to consider their psychographic interests as well.

Therefore, we’ve identified the importance of:

  1. What they care about
  2. What they do during their leisure time
  3. What they like and dislike

After some brainstorming, we came to the conclusion that the adults in families care about:

  1. What their kids are learning about the world
  2. How personal interests are formed through a child’s development

Whereas, the younger members of the families are concerned with:

  1. Being able to relate to the experience
  2. Having a sense of community

In fact, we’ve discovered that millennials think of museums as spaces to develop identities and think inwardly, more so than older generations.

We also learned from speaking to the museum patrons that during their leisure time, families:

  1. Like spending their time with each other
  2. Enjoy visiting new places and seeing new sights

Finally, we surmised that families:

  1. Like hands-on activities that involve all members of the group
  2. Want a ‘souvenir’ or memory to take away

From the survey we conducted at MOPA, we found that visitors enjoy creating their own interpretation of the photo and going through thought-provoking exhibits. They also have the tendency to gravitate towards exhibits that were more “hands-on”. After visiting MOPA on a Saturday afternoon to observe and analyze the actions of museum patrons, we noticed that museum patrons typically spend an equal amount of time in both of MOPA’s exhibit rooms, even though the main exhibit was much larger and had much more artwork. At MOPA, there are two main exhibit rooms — the Becky Moore Room and the main exhibition gallery. The Becky Moore Room focuses showcasing artwork that educates through visual literacy. The main gallery houses the artwork of the current exhibits. From speaking to Joaquin Ortiz, the Director of Education and Innovation at MOPA, we learned that, upon entering the Becky Moore Room, patrons typically followed the right side of the room of the interactive room even though the museum order is to start from the left side. Patrons typically looked at the artwork before reading the text, and spent a total of 20–30 minutes in the museum.

After observing the children within our target audience during that Saturday afternoon, we noticed that they were not reading the descriptions about the artwork displayed on the wall. The adults in our target audience enjoyed studying the artwork and reading the descriptions while the children seemed uninterested with the artwork and were generally unengaged, usually running around the gallery. After testing our second prototype, the activity cards, we had some mixed reviews from the children that participated in the activity. Some children thoroughly enjoyed the activity and was seen going back and forth between museum exhibits to complete the activity while others gave verbal feedback as to how they didn’t really like it and didn’t really want to do it as much as the other activities on the card.

After brainstorming and reviewing feedback from parents during our second prototype testing, we came to the conclusion that parents wanted their children to learn from their MOPA experience. They want their children to be able to interact and be engaged with MOPA along with activities that stimulated their development. They also wanted a way to experience the artwork without needing to explain the “25th grade level” artwork descriptions to their children. Children in the families wanted to be physically engaged with the museum and enjoy artwork that can be easily understood.

Works cited:

  1. “Are Museums Too Old School for Millennials?” The G Brief. Urbaneer Creative, 7 Dec. 2015. Web. 15 May 2016.
  2. Ortiz, Joaquin. MOPA Museum Survey Demographics. 2016. (Because these statistics were e-mailed to us privately by the museum coordinator, we are unable to share the original source.)



As our first venture in need-finding, we were able to conduct our own field research in order to inform our initial design process. Our previous methods for primary research have included standard interviews, museum observations, and visitor surveys.

In standard interviews, we conducted in-person user interviews with individuals who’ve had previous experience visiting museums in general. Each member of our team interviewed at least two participants each week. In these interviews, we seeked to ask for their experience with museums while phrasing our questions carefully so as to not prompt our interviewees to answer a specific way.

Some general questions include:

  1. Did you know that there are museums in Balboa Park? If so, have you been to any one of them?
  2. How would you describe a museum?
  3. How long has it been since you last went to a museum?
  4. What did you like/dislike about the museum?
  5. What aspects of a museum attracts you the most?
  6. What would you like to see in a museum that you visit?

Such questions allow the interviewees to express how they feel about museums. We start our interviews with open-ended questions and further allow them to expand on their answers when followed by the question of “Why?”. Many of our interviewees answered that they really enjoyed hands-on experiences as well as affordability. Some key words used to describe museums were: dinosaurs, fun, history, creative, interactive, exhibit, etc — all of which were listed in their own response. Our interviewees really enjoyed talking about the different kinds of experiences they got from, say, science museums and music museums — both of which contained a lot of interactive activities. However, from these interviews, we ultimately discovered that the motivation to visit museums is hindered by the lack of engagement and interactivity of the exhibits.

To further our research, we visited the museum on two separate occasions for user research. There, we closely observed how people interacted with the exhibit, how they interacted with other visitors in the museum, which exhibits they went to first, and which exhibits they stayed at the longest. We wanted to see what the current users of the museum do when they explore the museum itself. Through observations, we wished to see how the current design of the museum and how the visitors interact with the museum could bring insight to our human-centered design.

From our field research, we found that rather than following the typical layout of the room, visitors gravitated towards exhibits that appeared more interactive and hands-on. As a result, they often skipped over flat exhibits or glanced over them very briefly. The exhibits also had questions posted near the artwork to engage the visitors in critical thinking. However, by the amount of time that they spend at each piece, it is evident that those questions do not provoke engagement.

While at the museum, we handed out Google Form surveys for visitors to fill out on our tablet. Questions included general topics about museum experiences regarding: how many times they’ve visited a museum in the last 3 months, a description of their last experience visiting a museum, what they liked and what they didn’t like about their experience, and how they interacted with the exhibits at the museum.

From these survey responses, we found that visitors primarily interacted with museum exhibits by taking photos and by developing their own interpretation of the art. Furthermore, museum visitors generally favored exhibits that were ‘thought-provoking’. Finally, when asked what words came to mind when they hear the word ‘exhibit,’ most respondents listed the word ‘interactive’.

(affinity diagram)

Ultimately, we discovered from our primary research that in order to create more engaging opportunities for holding visitor attention, we should try creating interactive experiences that keep visitors occupied, connect with them on a personal level, and encourage introspection. In addition, we want to also focus on opportunities that may be extrinsically rewarding as well.


When we first visited MOPA, we saw that they were using QR codes for their museum. In a research study by Mar Perez-Sanagustín, Denis Parra, Renato Verdugo, Gonzalo García-Galleguillos, Miguel Nussbaum on user engagement and QR codes in museums, they found that QR codes were effective in providing audiovisual information through their personal devices, and were more willing to consume the information when accessed directly from their device. Furthermore, they found that QR code interaction does not negatively affect museum patron experience. Finally, they found that there was potential in QR code technology to create activities and increase social interaction between groups and engagement in exhibits.

During our second visit to MOPA we met with Joaquin Ortiz, the Director of Education and Innovation, and he informed us that many of the museum patrons did not know how to use the QR codes, and opted to use the website link instead. This suggested that the QR codes were successfully displaying information about the artwork, but accessibility was the issue. This helped narrow our initial prototyping to physical solutions that could be enjoyed by our target audience without needing additional information.

Works cited:

  1. Sanagustin, M. P., Parra, D., Verdugo, R., Galleguillos, G.G., & Nussbaum, Miguel. (2016). Using QR Codes to Increase User Engagement in Museum-like Spaces. Computers in Human Behavior, 60, 73–85


In order to explore the greatest amount of possibilities in our current design space, we decided to parallel prototype three different ideas that we had for our solution.

Prototypes 1 and 2

Left: Prototype 1, Right: Prototype 2

In Prototypes 1 and 2 above, we wanted visitors to actively engage themselves with the exhibits at the museum.

In the first image on the left, we have an example of a museum wall. At MOPA, there are questions that are written on the wall asking visitors to think about the significance and value of each art piece. However, there is currently no place for visitors to actually answer these questions. Rather than stopping to think about the questions that are available on the wall, visitors tended to overlook it completely. In order to provide the opportunity for the visitors to immerse themselves in with the questions, we felt that we needed to create a space where visitors could leave a piece of themselves behind by being able to post their answers on the wall.

In the second image on the right, we have an early prototype of a museum activity card that we are thinking of implementing. While visiting the museum over the weekend, we have noticed that although people tend to go through the room quickly, they don’t always look at every exhibit that is available. Some displays naturally stick out more than others. As such, in order to help visitors pace themselves, we were hoping that this stamp card that has visitors identify a photograph from a mosaic will incentivize visitors to go through the entire gallery and look at each exhibit carefully.

Feedback (Prototypes 1 and 2)

For Prototype 1, a few people said it might be weird to just see one post-it next to an exhibit (if not many people have participated in the activity). Some people felt that by placing post-its or responses next to the exhibit, it would be distracting if visitors came to the museum specifically to look at the art itself. A solution was proposed to create a screen that would show and hide comments posted about the artwork, allowing the museum patrons to either enjoy the artwork without the interference of post-it or to gauge their response with other museum patrons. Another solution was to gather data from the museum patrons through a survey and project it through a word cloud as part of the exhibit. However, we didn’t focus on these proposal because it lacked practicality due to our budget constraints.

As for Prototype 2, people liked the idea of having a “scavenger hunt” type of activity and could see kids especially enjoying it. Although our initial inspiration came from stamp cards, we ultimately had to deter from continuing in this direction because it would require additional monitoring from staff members. Since we are under a strict financial constraint, this solution would not be feasible. However, we utilized this idea and developed a variation of this for our next iteration.

Prototype 3

Prototype 3

In Prototype 3, we focused more on how visitors could create their own form of art through putting up personal photos in a particular section of the museum. At the museum, we noticed that there were empty spaces that weren’t being used for any of the artwork. After talking with our museum coordinator Joaquin, we soon found that the structure of the wall simply cannot support the burden of framed photographs.

In this image, we proposed the idea of visitors submitting their own Polaroids and printed photographs to be hung up along the wall, possibly with a new theme each month. This way, visitors could see themselves being a part of the museum while also capitalizing on the free space available in the museum.

Feedback (Prototype 3)

People seemed to like the idea; however, we figured that this activity would only work if the visitors had already been to MOPA before and since our user research showed us that most visitors stopped by the museum only because they were walking by, we decided not to focus on this prototype.


In the end, we realized that the only prototype that addressed the greatest number of questions we were asking remained to be Prototype 2 (family activity cards).

With Prototype 1, incorporating the post-it question-and-answer activity would have entailed installing an entirely new system onto the exhibit. While the questions were readily available for visitors to answer, this prototype would need physical real estate for the post-its to be gathered. From the feedback we received from our peers in class, we realized that we needed a prototype that was not as intrusive to the existing exhibits, lest it would take away from the natural intent of the artwork.

With Prototype 3, we realized that the polaroid-hanging activity would only work if visitors had already known about MOPA before. However, from what we learned from speaking to Joaquin, our museum coordinator, most visitors are first-time patrons of MOPA and seem to stumble upon the gallery by accident when wandering about in Balboa Park. Thus, due to most visitors coming across MOPA through happenstance, we needed to develop a prototype that would not require visitors to bring their own material. Therefore, we needed to assume that most visitors have never heard of MOPA before or has never been to the museum before.

Therefore, based on the ensuing feedback we received from our peers as well as the information received from our museum coordinator Joaquin, we decided to converge on one solution: the family activity cards in Prototype 2. As a result, our next round of prototyping involved all of our group members mocking up several versions of the possible activities we could include, which can be found in this folder.

Out of all these prototypes, we decided to narrow down these designs to only two different versions in order to test these solutions at the museum.

Activity 1: Photo Unscramble

Left: Front of the card, Right: Back of the card

In this activity, kids are prompted to solve a puzzle in a gallery photo hunt. The question “Who helped you complete this activity?” is designed to encourage interaction within the family in this fun activity. On the other hand, the question “What do you think the artist wanted you to notice?” is designed to encourage children completing the activity to reflect on their own personal values and interpretation of the artwork.

Activity 2: Find and Sketch

Left: Front of the card, Right: Back of the card

In this activity, kids are asked to draw in what they think the rest of the photo will look like, then seek out the exhibit in the gallery to compare what they drew, as a way to spark conversation between one another. On the back, kids are also encouraged to seek interesting photos of their own, allowing them to form their own opinions about the gallery and the pictures within it.


Going forward with the research questions in mind, we set out to test our prototypes at the museum. We printed multiple low-fidelity copies in order to test them, see the results, and start thinking about the next iteration. As our target audience is families, we decided to go over the weekend where we know the flow of families into the museum was much larger compared to a regular weekday. In total, we asked for four different groups of families that day to test out our prototype.


Upon giving the prototypes out to families, they seemed excited and eager to complete the activities. We had several team members stationed throughout the gallery to observe participants in our prototype testing. Ultimately, we found that what people say isn’t necessarily what they do.

In this photo, the adult is waiting for the child to complete the activity from the other side of the exhibition gallery.

In this photo, the child and the adult are completely split up. While the child is completing the activity alone, the adult is in a different section looking at the artwork.

While participants often indicated in the card that they worked with family members on the activities, children and parents were in fact split up for most of their time in the gallery. Many adults resolved to watch over their children from afar, some pairs were divided up entirely.

Despite this, however, parents and children appeared content with how they interacted, as children were able to explore the gallery freely while parents were able to take a short breather and enjoy the exhibit.

Even though the parents, kids, and family members may not have been interacting with one another in the midst of the activities, they did come together at the beginning and at the end to share their experiences.

Thus, this activity could create an opportunity for the families to facilitate discussion after the trip, whether they may talk about them later in their day. The activities may not initiate engagement among family members right at MOPA, but they may experience interaction at different time frame.

Although we haven’t created a museum experience that will allow group members to engage with each other in real-time, we’ve explored a space that will help incentivize families to return to MOPA in the future with hopes of collecting a new activity card, creating discussion and discourse at a later point in time between family members.

Affinity diagram of user motivations


Our final iteration and our ultimate design solution took into account the feedback we received overall from the class and the users we tested it on at MOPA. The key elements for our design solution included having clearer instructions on our cards in addition to having more of the activities that our users favored.

From user testing, we found ourselves having to explain to our users what to do for each of these activities. Multiple users showed confusion as to what we the activity entailed when we handed them the card. Previously, the activity instructions were located on the bottom left corner of the card. In addition, the card included a massive MOPA logo. To create a design that is human-centered, there shouldn’t be a need to explain how our design works. Therefore, as shown in our final iteration of the solution below, we placed the instructions in a place where we felt it to be most intuitive: on the top of the card. We believed this was the most intuitive because many children are in ages where they attend school. As a result, they have learned and are already accustomed to reading instructions on the top of the page. Furthermore, we minimized the MOPA logo because we wanted the users’ attention to be on the artwork and activity rather than the logo itself. Shrinking the logo also granted us more space on the card to put additional activities. We converged on these decisions to minimize confusion and to bring our users’ awareness to what is most important.

For this photocard below, we originally had the picture on the frontside and the written activity on the backside of the card. However, from user testing, we have found that our users often did not relate the two activities to each other and completed the written activity on something entirely different. Therefore, by putting the “Unscramble me” activity on the same side as the questions, it not only allows for less confusion since they are closer in proximity, but also saves time and effort from needlessly flipping the card back and forth. Having to flip back and forth can cause frustration and ultimately detract from the positive experience of the activity. Furthermore, it also allowed us to include another photo to unscramble on the backside of the card.

“Unscramble Me” Activity Photocard

For our second activity card variation, we incorporated the same card decision — placing the instructions at the top of the card. Again, this will not only limit our users’ confusion but also maintain consistency throughout our designs. Through user testing, we discovered that adults and children alike really enjoyed the sketching activity. It not only gave them room to be creative but also a chance to demonstrate their artistic side.

Therefore, for our final design solution, we made the decision to include more of these types of activities on one side of the photocard! There were also ideas to put the “Sketch and Find” activity on both sides of the card for those who like to draw more as well as combining the “Sketch and Find” activity with the “Unscramble Me” activity on one photocard.

“Sketch and Find” Activity Photocard

With these activity cards, members of the family are also able to share with one another their interpretation of the pieces at the museum. These activity cards can also be shared with other friends and family members as it’s a little piece of the museum that they can take away. This can create the opportunity for family members to have a meaningful conversation about their museum experience, whether it’s during the time they complete the activity card or after they leave the museum. This furthers our objective of motivating our target audience to continuously come back to the museum to explore the exhibits and engage in such activities to share with family and friends.