Carnegie Mellon Museum of Art Process
A1 Noticing and documenting online and physical museum environments
Part 1| WIRE-FRAMING
Before the lab, I was initially confused about wire framing and it was difficult for me to identify how much “detail” is required. During my initial brainstorming with the CMOA website, I thought that my wireframes would contain further descriptions of what each part of the web page was dedicated for. For one reason or another, I did not fully understand what a threshold was and how it is used digitally. However, after we did wire-frame exercises with IKEA pages and different app pages, I began to understand that digital thresholds were similar to how doors work as physical thresholds — separating one space from another.
CMOA WEBSITE (highlighted areas are thresholds):
When I began wire-framing the website, I wanted to focus on the homepage. The overall setup was somewhat of an overview of what kinds of services CMOA provides and the primary navigation bar held thresholds that would lead users to pages with more specific topics (Art, About, Programs, Donation, Visit, and Calendar). Throughout all of the pages on the website, there is a large consistency, which would be the header and the footer. I also found that most pages had a highlighted image banner on the top EXCEPT for the art page and the calendar page, which had a similar wireframe layout to one another.
Then I focused on making a path from the CMOA homepage to an exhibition page (all of the exhibition pages follow a similar wireframe). I found that once I arrived at the exhibition page, there were not as many thresholds available — most likely not needing anymore since it is such a specific post. However I was confused as to whether or not a dropdown menu that holds thresholds or if an image that can be clicked on and enlarged while staying on the same page would be considered a threshold.
CMOA APP (highlighted areas are thresholds):
Since I began feeling a bit more confident with wire-framing, I decided to go straight to drawing out a path.
The CMOA app feels a lot more straightforward than the website—most likely since it was made to be a gallery guide—so it only contains the exhibits and basic information. The app thresholds were much more straightforward as well, as they all seem to be “buttons”, a consistent feature that would be helpful to users so they know what to press. The only thing I was disappointed by is how often most thresholds redirect you to a pop-up of the CMOA website instead of having the information already in the app. One of the only thresholds that led to an “end” would be the Exhibit Discover page.
The only part of the app wire-frames that I found confusing was whether or not the primary navigation of the Exhibit Discover page would be considered a threshold, since it “flips through” different sections, but does not send the user to a new area.
Part 2 | CMOA MUSEUM VISIT
Unfortunately I was absent on the day to our trip to the Carnegie Mellon Museum, but I went the day before due to a misunderstanding on my part (which ended up benefitting me anyways) Walking from CMU, I first get a glimpse of the museum (their bright parking lot sign) at the intersection at Forbes and Craig.
When I first see the CMOA building, I don’t actually see the large interactive sculpture that’s placed in front of it since it blends in to the building and the environment behind. It doesn’t fully take me out of the “public” threshold, but since it was my goal destination, it did catch my attention.
Once you walk closer to the museum, the threshold between the public property of the sidewalk and the private property of the museum becomes more apparent, especially due to the material used to separate the two visually.
What stood out to me most is the modern and unique look of the building compared to the neighboring buildings. The building hung large, bright signs representing its interior exhibitions. These posters were like bright posters and they were the ones that really brought me out of the public threshold.
The overall material of the buildings exterior is dark, and almost more costly looking compared to the public space — especially the sidewalks. The stonework used on the museum ground is a dark and smooth stone that carries elegant plants and a sculpture that really made the museum feel like a completely different place. The fountains were turned off when I arrived, but from my past experiences, they are usually what catches my attention.
As I approach the entrance, I ran into two interactive pieces. The first is a camera and timer which carries results back into an installation in the front entrance of the museum. The second is a large metal sculpture, most likely a permanent installation. People can walk inside, and surprisingly, it’s very spacious inside, with a small glimmer of light coming from the top. I personally think this is a good transition for new visitors as an introduction to the interactive nature of a lot of the work inside the museum.
The glass walls and doorways of the museum further pushes its modern, posh look. I don’t initially see the museum hours written on the doorway since so much light reflects off the doorway. and the glass walls and doorways stay consistent all the way inside. The vestibule that you enter is pretty much a glass box, so it doesn’t feel uncomfortable since you can still see the outside while also being able to see the inside of the museum. The transition between the outside to the inside is smooth and almost unnoticeable besides the clear temperature change. The ground is the same stone material (besides the carpet to wipe off shoes, which is a transition from outside to inside as well).
Once inside, you can see the cafe and an interactive piece on the left, the information desk to the front-right, and a hallway to the right. While all the different “places” seem clumped together, they are clearly separated by area expectations. For example, so many chairs and tables together generally represent a cafe, the interactive piece created a relationship between it and the view from outside the museum, and the information desk had a large desk with people who are obviously workers.
Part 3| VISIT AN ART PIECE
From the entrance, I walked to the right down the hallways and immediately ran into Ian Cheng’s exhibition. Even if I did not walk in, I would have been able to notice it. His name was large and immediately caught my eye as something I can easily see and read. Underneath his name there was an description, however, I did not feel the need to reed it as there were brochures on him and his work available on the side. However, the hierarchy used is incredibly beautiful and I really appreciated that.
The first thing I noticed about the room as I was approaching it was how the color of the entire room was changing and was completely different from the lobby of the museum, separating the two without using a physical “door”.
Once you near the exhibition room, even without going inside, you can immediately hear loud noises and see a very bright and giant screen and with colorful lighting. The threshold between the museum lobby area to the exhibition does not change in material, but what’s inside the exhibition creates a very unique environment with the use of lighting color and noise.
My first course of action when I walked in was to stare at the screen and watch as the pixels moved around. The colors slowly transitioned and it was an overall fun piece to watch. From there my goal was to figure out where the loud noises were coming from. Speakers were located in each of the four corners of the room with a small description on the left, something i would assume most people would overlook due to it being easily overtaken by the piece itself. Another thing I noticed is how when the screen changes color, the lighting around the screen changes color, illuminating the white room and creating a completely different environment from the rest of the museum.
As I walked behind the giant screen, I saw that all the technology involved in the piece were available for visitors to see. I found it really fun and interesting because it showed how the piece worked and how complex it really is.
Visit to the Secret Bird Exhibit
As I approached the bird exhibit from the first floor, the overall look of the museum began to shift from a modern and dark look towards a brighter, larger, and more elegant look. Before even seeing the exhibit, I immediately heard sounds of birds (accurate sounding as well, it did not sound like audio). The noise slowly transitioned me into a narrow hallway—a look that is very different from the large areas and galleries surrounding it.
I already knew what the secret exhibition was, so instead of focusing on the birds in the glass cases, I kept my gaze on the left side of the hallways in order to look for a door. Even though I knew where I was going I was definitely caught off guard by a door telling me to use the other door. Bird calls were definitely coming out of it as well, so I did not fully understand why it wasn’t a functional piece as well.
Once I reached the bird noises from the actual secret exhibition, I was still hesitant to open it since closed doors, especially traditional wooden one, are generally not supposed to be opened since they usually lead to an office that is not open to the public. Once I opened it, I forgot that it wasn’t a room and almost ran into the piece itself—a hologram of the bird that the audio is representing. It’s honestly a little underwhelming for a little secret door.
As I observed other passerbys, most people generally just walk through the hallways since that’s how hallways are usually treated, as a transitional threshold from one place to another. The sounds of birds throughout the hall could just be assumed to be theming.
Part 4| Digital Thresholds
In order to analyze both website and application, I decided to trace paths throughout each of them in order to determine and understand how the digital thresholds work compared to the physical thresholds of the museum.
The path for the website that I decided to take was from the homepage of the CMOA website to a specific image in the 20/20 exhibition page (you can see the thresholds for this path highlighted in yellow).
While in the homepage, you can immediately see the rows and rows of information that are highlighted to promote CMOA and their events/exhibits/websites/etc. The amount of information is not only laid out in front of the user all at once, but the colors on the homepage seemed inconsistent, and had no real purpose except to stand out in front of one another, causing everything to visually fight with one another.
Thresholds on this page can either be easily found or very confusing. The homepage button and main navigation bar play on what most people are used to dealing with on web pages so it was easy to assume those were thresholds, however it was a bit difficult to see what were thresholds for the highlighted events or projects.
While for the events, you can either click on the large texted title of the event or its corresponding photo, however for everything underneath it, it seems that the only thresholds available are “buttons” or only the corresponding photos.
This does not pose to be too big of a problem since it can be assumed most people would think to use photos of the projects and exhibitions as a threshold to a page that goes along with it, but the inconsistency of text thresholds did bother me a bit.
From the homepage, I went through the primary navigation and ended up at the art page. The art page seems to be organized by highlighted exhibitions on the left and a smaller section of collection&archives on the right.
Similar to the homepage, this page follow a similar inconsistency with text-thresholds. I think that it could have been assumed that the large header “Art” could be clicked on and sent into a more detailed look at all the art available at the museum. Same with the large text “Collection and Archives” on the right. This page also follows a color key that is not obvious to the user — so if it did have a purpose, it would not be very effective. However, this page is much more straightforward than the homepage. It lists out highlighted exhibitions in an organized and consistent fashion, so users know what to expect.
From the Art page, I clicked on the exhibition I was looking for: “20/20: The Studio Museum in Harlem and Carnegie Museum of Art”.
The body text talks about the history and background of the work and how it came to be where it is today, which I found to be informative and definitely pushes me towards wanting to experiencing the gallery; however, at the bottom there are a few highlighted exhibition images that only enlarge somewhat if they are clicked on. I expected that there would be more information, or at least have it in a carousel instead of a pop-up, as it feels like I have to click out constantly (but this just might be a personal preference). If you want the basic information, like the name, artist, and size of the piece, users would have to hover over the image. Unfortunately, even after analyzing this page or similar pages so many times, I did not even know this was a function. I feel that it would have been more effective if the information was shown when the piece was clicked on instead.
Reflection of Website:
The website is obviously set up in a way to spark interest and inform new and highlighted exhibitions for people that are considering visiting the museum. It is not set up in a way that seams together the digital and physical experience besides one informing the other if the user chooses to check the website beforehand.
The path for the application that I decided to take was from the homepage of the application to a specific image and its location in the collection highlights (you can see the thresholds for this path highlighted in yellow).
Overall, I feel that the CMOA application seems to have been made for visitors to experience alongside with exploring the museum.
The overall tone of the application is rather dull and follows a very grey-toned color scheme. Everything about how it is organized is incredibly confusing and doesn’t exactly choose to focus on how it should interact with the museum because it tries to separate itself from it with unrelated sections, such as news and videos.
Once you get to the “Explore Art and Specimens” section, it does not seem to be very organized and does not do a good job informing the user as to what these available sections were or what they’re for. A lot of empty space was also on this page, so I feel that they had enough space to either add more sections, or more space to build upon the already available sections.
From there I clicked on the “Collection Highlights”. Initially the only reason I actually clicked on it was because it was the only one with a name that I understood. From there the application sends the user to the Collection Highlights page, where it gives you the option to explore the available tours or to discover the objects. Both of these options were kind of confusing to me. For tours: Was it an online tour or a section where you can sign up for a physical one? And for discover the objects: What kinds of objects? I wanted to look for artwork so I clicked on “discover the objects”
That then took me to a section with a header that still says “Collection Highlights”(something I found confusing), a footer for the first time, and a bunch of photos that I am assuming the museum wanted to highlight. For the footer the only part that bothered me was the titles section, it did not seem necessary since photos were already available and if users were looking for a specific title they could search for it in the search bar.
From there I decided to click on a piece that happened to be called “612–1 Untitled”. I thought that the fact that it sends the user to a new page with information on the painting was a good thing, however the information was not exactly good and I believe that the information given on the description that’s next to the actual painting would be much more informative. It only gives very basic information and it bolds which of the CMOA staff consider it their favorite. While that’s not necessarily bad information, it seems irrelevant to the painting itself and does not pose any use for the user.
Finally I clicked on the bottom icon “Location” since I was curious as to how the application would help the user find the piece. The result was incredibly underwhelming. It just had a pop-up with the Gallery name. All I could think was, where on earth would I find Gallery 15? And once I’m there, where in the gallery is it located?
Reflection of Application
The overall look and visual hierarchy throughout each page and through each threshold felt inconsistent, unintuitive, and not effective.
The application was clearly meant to work alongside the physical environment of the museum but doesn’t work with the physical environment at all. So I feel like it has potential, but it’s going in too many directions at once and does not make its intentions clear to the user.
Step 5 | Identifying Problems and Proposing a Solution
Looking back at my experiences and realizations of the Carnegie Museum of Art, the secret bird exhibit in the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, and the CMOA’s digital environment (including website and application), I have come to see spaces in a different light.
Thresholds can be many different things and can come in different forms, not necessarily as a doorway to a new environment.
I think the most difficult part of this project for me was trying to grasp the idea of what a threshold is. I could not seem to separate them from general descriptions of different rooms or spaces. Eventually as I began to practice more with wireframing and after the discussion on visiting the museum, I really began to notice that thresholds aren’t always just a “doorway”. They can be a mode of transportation from one place to another, a change in lighting, smell, and material, and they can also be sound. Website and application thresholds were a little more easier for me to grasp since thresholds generally present themselves as a “button” that takes a user from one place to another. I feel like this was easier for me to grasp since there was not much to look into the digital thresholds in terms of liminal spaces as compared to the physical thresholds that were presented in the museum.
The digital environment can take away a person from the physical environment that surrounds them, but has the potential to work together.
I remember when our class was discussing digital spaces in a physical space and how being on your phone can take you out of the physical space, since the user is no longer aware of the physical space. This was what led me to want to go towards making these to spaces work together using what I’ve learned about thresholds to transitions users between the physical space of the museum to the digital space of the CMOA application.
The way people interact with environments defines the space.
Listening to how other people interacted with certain physical exhibits and the CMOA website and application led me to realize that not everyone has the same experience when they interact with different environments. For example, I didn’t particularly find the secret bird exhibit to be that exciting, and in fact, I found it to be pretty underwhelming compared to some of my classmates who really enjoyed it and found it clever and fun. Another time I noticed this was how some of my classmates found the website and application lacking and needed a completely redesign whereas I found it to be a diamond in the rough that could be build upon into something amazing. This has pushed to me consider future exhibits and spaces with a more open mind to other people’s interactions.
I decided to focus on the problems that the CMOA application faces since I believe that since most people own and use smartphones, it could be a useful tool that can help to further benefit the museum experience by bringing bringing together the digital and physical environment.
The CMOA application seems to have been initially made for visitors to experience alongside with exploring the art section of the museum. The application’s functions is currently set up in a way that may not be clear to users that may be trying to use it, or trying to figure out what exactly it is and how they should use it. And as an application that should work alongside the physical space, it brings up irrelevant information that the user could easily search up without needing the application, such as Hours, Location, Admission, Social Media Handles, etc.
The user experience section, “Explore Art and Specimens”, does not inform the user of all the sections available in the museum, where they are, and what they are.
From there, if users press “Collection Highlights”, they are presented with a page that gives users an option to look at available tours or to continue to look for “collection highlights”. This page disrupts the expected transition from collection highlights to the actual collection highlights.
Once the user continues they will find a footer for the first time and will be presented with a bunch of photos of art pieces. If the user presses on one that they like, they will be moved to a new page with information on the painting. Most of the painting information is irrelevant though and are available next to the descriptions of the real works of art (which have more info on the work). Finally, on the bottom icon “location”, the underwhelming result is a pop-up with the Gallery name. No location of the gallery or even where the painting is located within the gallery.
Disregarding the issues regarding how the application is introduced to the user since I feel that could be solved with a simple reformatting and a proper introduction and application description, I wanted to focus on solving the issues that the “Explore Art and Specimens” brought up. While I am not against the idea of showing “Collection Highlights” — as it could almost be like a fun scavenger hunt for users to find pieces that catch their eye, I feel like the first screen’s options should be a map of the Art Museum. It would highlight the area as to where the user is currently located and will pick up the artwork in that specific location. Once picked up, users can simply click on the work that they are interested in to get further information on the art piece. That way, users can physically interact with the work around them without being completely focused in the digital environment — this would help to fix the disconnect between the application and the physical space of the museum.
For the collection highlights page, I feel that the page between the “explore art and specimens” page and the actual collection highlights page. All it adds is an “explore the tours” threshold that would be more useful at the homepage of the application. It disrupts the actual threshold to the collection highlights page.
Once in the collection highlights page and once the user chooses an artwork that they like and want to find, I believe that the description underneath the work in the application should also be updated to include further information than the small description box next to the piece. Personally, I find that the history behind the work and the artist of the piece would help to create a deeper connection for the user and the piece, thus in a way, connecting the digital realm to the physical space of the artwork.
There should also be a map that indicates both where the user currently is and where the work they are looking for is located would be much more helpful than just stating the text location of where it is.
Part 6 | Project Reflection
What I’ve learned after doing this project is that thresholds are crucial for environments, spaces, and for how people interact with them in both physical and digital environments.
After a lot of difficulties on my part, I finally understand what physical and digital thresholds are and how to make them while understanding the general thought process the designers may have when creating them. The thought process behind each choice that has been made for an environment and the spaces between each environment can be impactful, even if it’s not made aware to users. Because of what I’ve learned, I’ve slowly become used to considering the digital and physical spaces and environments of my day-to-day life and am able to consider apply what I’ve learned to future design projects.
This project included an already pre-planned step-by-step process for our class to use. It was set up in a way where we had to complete each step by a certain time in order to most efficiently finish the project. My process was completed using Medium; while useful, it did feel rather strange to write out my process on it so I ended up writing on a google document, then copy-pasting to my process page. I wasn’t as efficient as I would have liked, due to personal and health issues; however the times when I was able to put in as much time in as possible towards a particular step, I did my most productive work. I feel that deep down, I could have made this project something I could have been much more happy with, but since I pulled in so much effort together at the end, I can say that I am pretty happy with the result.
It was hard for me to keep motivation due to health issues on my end. I ended up feeling more lost than I actually was, but it made me feel insecure and I constantly questioned whether or not I was really understanding the new material. This led me to compare myself to my classmates and I ended up dragging myself down with negative thoughts and emotions. Through these difficult moments I tried to talk to my professors in order to hopefully figure out what I may or may not be understanding, but I mostly depended on my drive to absolutely not fail even if my health fails me. The most motivational moment would have to have been during Step 5 — while I wasn’t able to present my ideas the way I wanted to, I was actually rather excited about my what I came up with.