A1: Noticing Environments (Steps 1 — 3)

Environments is not a study exclusive to design. It can take on many forms– from physical to digital to hybrid environments.

Step 1: Wireframing

CMOA Website Wireframes

CMOA Mobile App Wireframes

Step 2: Getting to the Carnegie Museum of Art
Approaching the intersection of Forbes and Morewood

I began my trip to the Carnegie Museum of Art (CMOA) at the intersection of Morewood Avenue and Forbes Avenue. On my way to CMOA, I realized the major differences between traveling as someone who is visiting CMOA for the first time and someone who is a returning visitor.

Various sources, such as a new exhibition, may prompt both new and returning visitors to go to CMOA. However, the experience of getting to CMOA is quite different for the two visitors. For instance, returning users can refer to a mental map built from past experiences to navigate to CMOA whereas new users have to use a map for directions.

Unlike the app, the physical path to the museum is not perfectly linear

In the case of a new visitor, during her trip to CMOA, she may still have to refer back and forth between the app and physical environment to ensure that she is heading the right direction and did not past the destination.

The brown CMOA building is seen in the background.

The point at which visitors start to see CMOA is also dependent on whether they are a new or frequent visitor. A returning user is able to spot part of the CMOA building earlier when the building is sticking out from behind the Carnegie Mellon Innovation Institution.

The intersection of Forbes+Craig

While a new visitor does not identify the building until she has reached the intersection of Forbes+Craig and passed by the parking sign.

CMOA entrance

There are many features dividing the public space and private space owned by CMOA. A visitor enters the museum property once she crosses the threshold between these two spaces. The first step into CMOA space is made out of some sort of granite.

Diagram of public and private features in front of CMOA

The granite steps are the main threshold that separates CMOA’s space from the public sidewalk. The threshold has a change not only the elevation but also in material (from cement to granite) and color of the space. These steps lead people further into the private CMOA property, where the lighting (the cast of a big shadow because of the building’s roof) and landscape (fountain, glass walls, patio tables/chairs) change as well.

The ramp near the bushes is another threshold between the public and private space. This slope, most likely there for wheelchair accessibility, is a transition into a new space.

Space under the CMOA roof

The overlap between outside and indoor CMOA begins with the space under the roof. This space is a transitional area that uses both the outdoor space for activity and physical roof for protection. The glass doors is the main threshold to indoor CMOA from outdoor CMOA. Since the visitor is able to see through these glass doors, transitioning into the new space may be less jarring because of how long the visitor was able to see the other space before entering it. In addition, the banners/advertisement at the top of the building and the clock or structure artifacts reveal part of the museum, giving the visitor a preview of what to is inside.

Layout of the outdoors CMOA entrance

A couple of interesting and problematic spots/transitions seen from an environments experience perspective:

  • Two main entrances are located on the right side of the building. This means that people walking from the left side must go all the way to the right end. As shown in the diagram, the movement from left to right leads to many possible paths for the visitor to take in order to get to the entrance (whether they decide to walk down the steps first or continue alongside the sidewalk before crossing the threshold).
  • The patio tables are placed in front of one of the entrances, causing visitors to weave around the tables if they wanted to use those set of doors.
  • The railings of the steps are placed far apart from each other, it invites the visitor to step down at different areas.
  • The entire perimeter of the pond may be underused since most people will just pass along one of its side
  • Outside structures/artifacts could be overlooked.
Step 3: Observing a piece of art
Entering CMOA

After entering the museum and checking into at the ticket desk, the steps to observing one piece of art can (again) differ based on the visitor’s familiarity with the museum and its changing/permanent exhibits.

Nonetheless, any visitor can pick up a map from the ticket desk to locate current exhibitions and follow the signage around the museum. Today, I wanted to see the “Shrine of Spirit” piece, which is part of the “20/20: The Studio Museum in Harlem and Carnegie Museum of Art” exhibition.

The sign lead me to this long staircase leading up to the second floor where the exhibition is located. This set of stairs is a transition between the first and second floor. Unlike the entrance area and second floor, the environment of the staircase has limited artificial lighting and receives a lot of natural lighting due to the tall glass windows. These stairs serve as a transition for obvious reasons as well: change in elevation, change in movement, railing, colorful block design on the wall, and wall texture.

Walking up the steps

One problematic aspect of this threshold is the strange rhythm in the movement of the staircase. The width of each step only allows for one walking step before having to climb another step, creating a strange flow and break. This may have been done intentionally to slow movement in this threshold.

At the top of the stairs is the space outside of the exhibition, which can be used by those entering or exiting it. This is another environment that acts as a transitional space between the museum and the exhibit itself. On the wall is the title along with descriptions and cropped snapshots of pieces that can be seen inside. While some parts of the wall are the same as the main CMOA museum, the colored part of the wall and posters match the plaques inside the exhibition.

Visitors use the table to engage with books related to the exhibits. Additionally, the “gallery guide” displayed on the orange stand and table have brief descriptions of the pieces and give an overview of the exhibition space. The glass doors is the main threshold between this environment and the next. Because of the displays on the outside of the exhibit and the fact that someone can see through the glass doors, the experience of crossing the threshold should not be too jarring.

Inside the exhibition is another environment with different lighting (specifically angled white lighting), tiling (white tiles that are more reflective), organization (walls and exhibition positioned in the middle), and color scheme (white with neutral colors). Additionally, there is usually a security guard standing by the door and an device situated on the other side for visitor feedback.

The walls and exhibitions are main features that help guide movement throughout space. In a way, the walls serve as thresholds separating one space from the other, and obscuring parts of the room to give the viewer a specific walkway/experience. The line placed next to art pieces also helps prevent people from getting too close to the item, directing the viewer’s path in a specific manner.

The threshold of between big sections/spaces in the exhibit occur through changes in space, changes in color and presence of the security guard. The small hallway forms a “doorway” into the new section/environment. I finally enter the environment that houses the art piece I want to see.

Shrine for the Spirit

Looking at the art piece, the first thing that caught my eye was the green reflective circles on the ground. I decide to stand at the center of the green circle and observe the piece from top to bottom (looking up to the shrine).

It wasn’t until I overheard the conversation of a tour guide did I realize the use of light in the shrine. Light is an interactive element in this exhibit. If a visitor stands inside the circle and looks up at the Shrine, the face shown on the green circle disappears. This change is a part of the art piece that represents not only spirituality, introspection, and reflectivity, but also the multicultural experience of being African American.

The light of this environment is angled intentionally to cast the green circles and cause the “hologram” to disappear when looking at the circle in the right angel. The color of the walls are off white color and the floors are tiled. My focus jumps between the different components of the piece, but I start to mainly pay attention on the reflective green ring.

The sound in this environment is very minimal. There are soft footsteps and people talking in a low voice.

People leave the exhibit when they are finished looking at the shrine, or if more people are gathering to look at it too.

Both big pieces and small pieces are surrounding the left side of “Shrine of Spirit”. To the right of the exhibit, there is a door for entering the “Hall of Architecture”. Additionally, on the other side of the wall is a projector showing another art piece. The shrine becomes the only art piece on its wall which allows the shrine to be the main focus of that corner. This is appropriate since approaching a shrine is usually a solo/isolated experience.

Some problematic spots of the environments are:

  • The fact that you need to stand at a very specific angle (inside the circle) to see his “head” disappear. This means that only one person can really look at the piece at a time because only one main angle creates this effect. If you do not know about this effect, you may not notice it.
  • Additionally, when visiting the museum with friends and family, space around this piece is limited, so people can only see this effect one at a time.
  • The piece is next to another doorway, which is at risk of movement that might disrupt someone’s experience with the art piece
Bird Hall on the Third Floor

The Bird Hall is a long hallway with glass walls filled with various types of birds. One of the first signs you see in the hallway is to watch out for traffic.

The threshold for this “secret” exhibit is the door and sounds resulting from opening the door.

A person is inside the exhibit if they are able to hear and see any part of the mystery exhibit.

The materials that shaped the environment are the mirror, curtains, door, shape, sounds, and protection.

Some problematic features of this environment:

  • The walkway gets clogged if someone is using the door and a flow of people are trying to get by
  • It is difficult to determine that opening the door more than once results in a new bird if you are looking at the exhibit by yourself or did not see anyone else experience the exhibit earlier