UXDI Project 2 Case Study
Overview: The Art Institute of Chicago is a major part of the Chicago experience for millions of annual visitors. It is has a world renowned collection, and was recently named “The Best Museum in the World” by Trip Advisor, a popular travel website. As museums often do, the Art Institute of Chicago also collects revenue from a popular gift shop near the entrance of the museum. The Museum Shop also has an online store, where they sell museum related items, handmade goods, books, things from around the world, and other unique things. I was tasked with redesigning the Museum Shop online store as a class project. The assignment was to be completed in two weeks, and result in a low-medium fidelity clickable prototype of my design.
This project was assigned for my User Experience Design Immersive course at General Assembly. To complete it, I was to meet a list of requirements basic to e-commerce, and most importantly, to create something unique and better suited for the user. As I found in my research, their current web store is not receiving very much traffic because it does not cater specifically to the users that are loyal to the brand.
Research: My research included observation of the brick and mortar store and the customers inside it, interviews with customers, staff, and online customers, and reviews of other existing platforms. I first went down to the Art Institute of Chicago and dropped in on their Museum Shop. I walked through the store, took notes on the layout, and observed customers browsing and purchasing habits. I interviewed three Museum Shop sales associates with a list of questions about sales and customers as a guide, but I generally tried to keep the conversation fluid. I then interviewed eight customers in the store and tried to get some information on who they were, why they were there, and what they were looking for. Later, I interviewed two friends, one who was a loyal customer to the Museum Shop, and one who was not, but had attended the Art Institute of Chicago’s School. They both had very different opinions of the Museum Shop and were very useful in helping me see a larger picture.
Based on all of my interviews, I found that the Museum Shop’s customer segments were mainly Tourists and Members. The tourist segment consisted of just over half of the customer population, and were mainly looking for small cheap things to commemorate their time in the Museum, and small gifts to bring home to their loved ones. The
Member segment are people who have bought membership to the Art Institute of Chicago. Membership costs range from $75 to $190 for a year of unlimited access to the collections, and special discounts in the store. The more expensive range include perks like ability to bring more guests, parking discounts, and even access to other museums. The member segment were also purchasing small things mainly as gifts, but also were more interested in some of the more expensive artist-driven products like jewelry and scarves. Both customer segments were highly attracted to the sale section.
Key Findings: I found a few key similarities that were true among all customer segments. First, they were all looking in the store because they were previously in the Museum. None of the customers had come to the Art Institute just to look at the Museum Shop. Second, that the vast majority of the customers had not been to the online store. I talked with three customers who had visited the online store, but they did not make any purchases. I repeatedly heard customers tell that they much preferred the brick and mortar store experience because they could pick things up and look at them, and preferred real life experiences. Third, many of the customers were looking for gifts.
From my findings, I had four main insights. First, that the Museum Shop is a literal and conceptual extension of the Art Institute of Chicago. In the literal sense, the Museum Shop is physically a part of the Museum. It is located right next to the main entrance and exit of the museum, and accessing it is as easy as walking into any other part of the museum. In a conceptual sense, the Museum Shop mimics the Art Institute in layout and display of product. The items in the Museum Shop are displayed and arranged in a very similar manner as the museum, and many of the items for sale are either exhibit themed, or are objects crafted by artists or from around the world that have a similar look, feel, and quality of something being displayed in an exhibit. Because of these similarities, I drew the conclusion that the Museum Shop was really meant to make visitors feel as though they are buying art off the walls of the museum, or from the glass cases of one of its exhibits.
Also, the Museum Shop supports the browsing habits of the museum goers and the museum itself. The shop displays are arranged by categories like books, jewelry, and prints, but much of the merchandise is grouped by artist or exhibit. The exhibits are also organized by artist, movement, or origin, not by medium or type of artifact. This style was preferred by the visitors, who were often shopping based on their favorite experience in the museum, rather than by their favorite type of item.
Direction: The main conclusion I drew from my research and insights is that customers were not visiting the online store because it has none of the qualities that make the brick and mortar store so enticing to museum goers. It is not arranged by categories like the museum, the main navigation the online store offers is browse by item type, while most customers are really interested in the categories that make the merchandise unique. The web store does nothing to make the items appear special or artifact-like as the brick and mortar store does. Items are displayed in huge lists of 100 per page, and if you choose to see more, it just expands that page infinitely so see every similar item. When you view the individual items, there is very little storytelling, historical, or artist driven information like what is produced in the museum or the brick and mortar store.
Our users attracted to the museum because they value originality, creativity, uniqueness, learning, and mind-opening experiences. They are then attracted to the Museum Shop because it replicates the experiences they had in the museum, and offers them a chance to take a piece of that experience home with them, or share it with a loved one. Unfortunately for our users, the online shop does nothing to replicate or extend that experience and feeling. I decided that this disconnect was the most important issue that my design should address.
My design directives were all based on the premise that the online Museum Shop needed to better replicate the museum experience in order to attract customers. To do so, it should first and foremost enable users to browse by the subjects that make the Museum Shop’s products unique. The customer segments were shopping in the Museum Shop because they had unique items and unique items related to the exhibits. They could have gotten gifts at any other gift shop or department store, but went to the Museum Shop because they knew they wanted something original and beautiful. I heard this sentiment in almost every interview that I conducted.
Second, the design should promote the uniqueness and originality of the product. After users have come to a product of interest, they should be engaged by visual and written information that make the product seem more “real” and tangible to them. Again, the users are completely fixated by the idea of originality and the beauty of handmade goods. Therefore, the design should accentuate the qualities that make these items attractive to the users.
Third, the design should create a more personal experience between the users and the store. Viewing art in a gallery or museum is a very personal, thought provoking experience. The Museum Shop also had a friendly and knowledgeable staff on hand to personally assist customers and show them product. They were the equivalent of museum tour guides in the store. As our users value personal experiences, they also seek personally catered guidance and education.
The Solution: I focused on a navigation that catered to the users actual browsing habits, and the categories that made the Museum Shop’s product unique. The main categories of uniqueness that the shop offers are locally made goods, things from around the world, and merchandise themed around the museum or one of its exhibits. I also included a clearly defined sale section and a browsing centered gift area.
If customers are not looking to browse by any of these categories, they can browse by the standard categories such as apparel, jewelry, books, etc. They can then refine these searches by any of the categories above, and also by price and category specific content. Additionally, they can use the search bar to find a specific item or artist if they do not want to browse at all.
The category pages are reduced from 100 to 18 items per page in order to promote the uniqueness of items. There is also a featured item and description on each category page that caters specifically to the audience who is viewing that category.
The item pages include a wide range of additional information that make buying much more informative and personal for the viewer. I included an option for several photographs or videos to be uploaded for each item. The item description can also be linked to the museum exhibit, or the google earth street view of the exhibit itself. If it is not an exhibit related item, then the information window can be linked to whatever relevant background information is available. I also included an artist bio area, where users can learn about whoever made the product, or the artist that the product is referencing. These features give users more of a story behind the products, and make it seem like they are buying from an artist, rather than a website. The additional images and video give a little more contextual and tactile information to the users, who value hands-on experiences.
Moving Forward: The problem with this project is that you can’t truly replicate a real-life experience online, and our users are more aware of this than others. Their value of real world experiences, and personal experiences is evident by their love for artwork, and enthusiasm for the museum experience. However, through this design, we can bring users much closer to the products that they love, and make the online experience a little more relevant to their desires and behavior. The online store should really be seen as a third extension of the museum experience, following the brick and mortar Museum Shop, and the museum collection itself. Moving forward, I would like to include more personalization for returning customers, and start hosting more exclusive content online to draw customers back into the store.