Houston, We Have Lift Off — National Air & Space Museum Gets a Mobile App Upgrade

Designing a mobile app with personalization features and augmented reality

Moon landing showing astronaut with American flag


The Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum wants to extend the audience reach and provide potential new revenue channels. With that, my team and I set out to design a comprehensive museum experience and provide a more personalized avenue by allowing visitors to find exhibits that most interest them, along with easier navigation of the museum itself.

Discovery + Research

I created a user survey with my team. I wanted to know what excited people about visiting museums, who did they go with, what their frustrations were and more. I was able to analyze this data and brainstormed a variety of features from augmented reality for the interactive function to a personalized itinerary, both would be great for families, tourists, and locals alike.

Pie Chart infographic showing 60% are excited to visit a museum to see featured exhibits

In addition to the user survey, I performed user interviews to gain additional insight. With this information combined, I created an affinity map with my two team members, breaking out three dominant user archetypes.

Affinity Mapping with information from survey results to break out user archetypes.

Our priority persona, Lynda, is a mom of three and is planning a vacation to DC for her family. She’s interested in a personalized itinerary with a range of exhibits and events for all her family members including interactive games for the family to enjoy.

Next, we have Henry, a non-profit policy researcher living in Capitol Hill planning a date. He wants to be sure to avoid crowds and see feature exhibits. Thirdly, we have Ally, an engineering student at GW who works to work for NASA one day. She goes to the Air & Space museum every 2–3 months, loves learning new tidbits, attending lectures, and wandering around exploring.

“I go to museums to be inspired” — Ally

Common frustrations:

  • Crowds
  • Navigating through the museum
  • Information is not easily accessible
  • Not enough interactive activities
The 3 Personas: Ally, Henry, and Lynda

Design Process

During my competitive analysis, I took note of various features and functions that I wanted to sketch out. I loved the idea of creating an interactive map, where it would be aesthetically pleasing as well as valuable because there would be images instead of simply exhibit titles on the map. The images are clickable and will take the visitor to the exhibit info page and provide them with a range of information. With this functionality, adults and children alike can interact with the map beyond a superficial level.

Map iteration process from sketch to prototype

Below, I show another iteration process of what started out as the Highlights page, this turned out to seem impersonal and didn’t explain that it was the automatic list compiled with exhibits from the visitor’s interests. Also, through usability testing I received feedback that the plus signs only seemed to denote that a visitor could add something, but what if they wanted to take something away. With that, my team decided to insert x’s instead.

Highlights iteration process from sketch to prototype

Prototyping + Usability Testing

During usability testing I noticed that there were some navigation problems and confusion around the AR Navigation on the map and how to get to it. In the final iteration, I added a back button and created an AR Nav icon to solve for these problems.

We also narrowed down our global nav bar and since we wanted to highlight the personalization, as well as keep the map prominant for easier navigation, we kept the hamburger menu in place and added “My Interests” so visitors would always have access to the exhibit information that they curated for themselves at the top of every page.

With usability testing wrapped up, my team and I made changes where necessary, updating our clickable prototype in InVision.

Aren’t you just a bit curious? Explore below.


As a team, we aimed to solve the frustrations that we encountered during our survey and interviews. We created an interactive map with images, a personalized itinerary option, AR interactive, and an exhibit list curated by the user themselves to put the information in their hands, making it more accessible no matter the size of the crowd or if your family wanted to rest on a bench. We also featured an AR Navigation system to solve the frustration of trying to navigate through the large museum.

Lessons Learned

Reflecting on this project, I would have pushed myself to do more usability testing. I received incredible feedback from the first round, iterated on that feedback, and then I was running low on time so I didn’t test the iterations. With that time constraint, I also would have removed the AR Navigation feature. The survey results stated that 71.9% preferred to wander around museums, so I would have liked to divert my focus to diving deeper into the other frustrations, such as high volume crowds and making exhibit information readily accessible.

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