A Crash Course in Evaluating Museum Mobile Apps (With Field Trip!)

Workshop
Kathi Kaiser, Centralis, USA, Tanya Treptow, Centralis, USA

Mobile apps and in-gallery interactives offer the promise of engaging visitors in innovative ways, but how do we know if these technologies are actually providing a better visitor experience? Visitors’ enthusiasm for something “new” and “cool” can quickly turn sour if the reality of using it is confusing, frustrating, or distracts from the exhibit itself.

In this workshop, participants will conduct in-gallery usability testing of a mobile app. A combination of observation, interviewing, and experimentation, this method enables museum professionals to assess the direct interaction that visitors have with technology and offers practical guidance for making digital interactives easier and more rewarding to use.

We’ll begin by sharing the basics of this informative and easy-to-learn research method, including the five components of usability, how to spot common usability issues and methods for interviewing and observe research participants to maximize what can you learn. We’ll illustrate these points with examples and videos from our work with Chicago’s Field Museum and other organizations.

Next, we’ll head over to a local museum near the conference venue to evaluate a mobile app in the galleries, in real time. By role-playing the parts of the visitor and the evaluator, participants will gain direct experience with how to assess usability, explore the fit between the digital interface and the physical environment, and identify opportunities to improve the overall experience.

After testing the app at the museum, we’ll return to the conference and debrief about what we learned, both about the design of the mobile app and about the experience of evaluating it. Attendees will leave the workshop armed with a new method for understanding the role of digital interactives on the visitor experience in their own institutions.

Bibliography:
This workshop is a concentrated interactive learning exercise inspired by a graduate class (Usability Evaluation Methods) taught by one of the presenters at the Institute of Design at the Illinois Institute of Technology. Course materials have included:

Krug, Steve. (2005) Don't Make Me Think: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability, New Riders.

Krug, Steve. (2009) Rocket Surgery Made Easy: The Do-It-Yourself Guide to Finding and Fixing Usability Problems, New Riders.

Rubin, Jeffrey and Chisnell, Dana. (2008) Handbook of Usability Testing: How to Plan, Design and Conduct Effective Tests, Wiley.

Both presenters will also draw upon their extensive experience with usability testing across a wide range of industries and products to share concrete examples and practical considerations.