Digital Underground continues its Met + Parsons Museum Accessibility Workshop series by taking a look at a project that tackled the thorny problem of accessible wayfinding in a large, overwhelming museum such as the Met. Not only did the participants in this group develop a paper prototype outlining a user interface for wayfinding, they also did the practical work of walking through the Museum's first floor and identifying multiple points of accessibility metadata (stairs, lighting, acoustics, flooring, etc.) for every room. This effort led directly to a follow-up project during the following semester by Media Lab Intern Yuliya Parchina-Kottas, which you can read more about in her Digital Underground post. We caught up with this workshop team to discuss the inspiration for their project, and how the workshop helped them to better understand the museum experience.
Min Sung Kwak
Joo Ri Lee
Constance Von Rolleghem
Lin and Manny Jacobson
Digital Underground: How did you come to the idea for your project? What were your inspirations?
Met + Parsons: We all agreed that the biggest problem in the Metropolitan Museum is the wayfinding system. The Met is quite different compared with other museums in that it is an enormous space totaling nearly four city blocks. We began our project by researching the maps and wayfinding systems of Disney World and several universities campuses, and quickly began to determine usability criteria.
Digital Underground: Of all the advisors and industry partners, with whom did you work the most closely, and why?
Met + Parsons: We worked closely with Constance Von Rolleghem, Dana Simon, and Lin and Manny Jacobson.
Mrs. Rolleghem was a great help in describing and sharing how important it is for caregivers to know where they are in relation to the nearest exit, elevator, and restrooms. As a caregiver, she said it is always good to know where there are quiet places, too—places to sit down and rest, away from the crowds. Constance suggested that, for her, it would be helpful to know the ambience of the gallery: Does the gallery have hard natural light? Does the space have an echo? How cold is the area? Knowing these attributes of each space could be really helpful should a visitor be easily upset in crowded places, or if fluorescent light triggers a certain reaction. Knowing these environmental properties can affect the outcome of any visit.
Ms. Simon contributed to our project by informing us of existing technologies for use by people with disabilities. She explained to us how she uses her iPad to help her navigate the places she goes, which gave us insight into features that work best for users with physical impairments or visual/hearing disabilities.
Lin and Manny Jacobson were the stars of our demonstration video. Mrs. Jacobson was wonderful! She always asked us good questions like, "How do I get to the cafe from this gallery? How do I navigate the app if I want to change our point of interest?" It was actually Ms. Jacobson's suggestion to add a feature allowing visitors to pre-plan their trip to the Museum before even getting here. She provided a special insight into her life, explaining how it can be a real challenge to even get to a museum, store, or doctor's office. Using technology could really benefit her daily life, and take away some of the unpredictable stresses.
Digital Underground: What were some surprising discoveries you made along the way? Were there assumptions you had made that were challenged, or aspects of your design that didn't work the way you expected? Were there parts of your plan you had to jettison because of time or practicality? What would you do differently if you were starting from scratch?
Met + Parsons: We came up with the idea of designing a mobile application while we were researching wayfinding in the Museum, but we later transferred our concept to a tablet application because the wayfinding system in a space as large as the Met's is not easy to show on a mobile screen. We also tried to make an augmented reality game for kids, but then our main interest focused primarily on wayfinding systems. While listening to visitors who have disabilities, and observing the physical space in the Met, we could see that there were problems from their perspective. For instance, it would be difficult for a disabled user to approach an artwork due to obstacles in their way, like stairs that are not shown on the standard Museum map.
Digital Underground: What questions do you still have about your work?
Met + Parsons: As there is a weak Wi-Fi signal in the Musem, I still wonder about the possibility of making an app that doesn't rely on Wi-Fi. [Authors' note: The Wi-Fi is getting better!]
Digital Underground: When your final project was presented to a group of people who were seeing it for the first time, what was some notable feedback you received?
Met + Parsons: The feedback that we received was incredibly positive, with many people noting that they wanted to see our work implemented in order to experience it first-hand.
Digital Underground: How has this workshop affected how you think about accessibility, as well as the needs and expectations of people with disabilities?
Met + Parsons: We had not previously taken into consideration all of the limitations that a disabled person could face while at a museum, and this helped open our eyes, understand these difficulties from their perspective, and think more critically about how spaces are designed.
Digital Underground: How has this workshop affected how you think about the Met?
Met + Parsons: The Met has a lot of possibilities to explore with technology. Not only is the Museum about seeing artwork, but being in the building itself is an incredible experience. The Museum provides a truly multicultural experience for everyone who lives in or visits New York City.
Digital Underground: What else would you like to tell us about your experience in the workshop?
Met + Parsons: We hope that one day our project can be released at the Metropolitan Museum, so people could use our design work to experience a new way of navigating this incredible space.
Museum Accessibility data-visualization maps
Accessible Wayfinding video on Vimeo
Accessible Wayfinding final presentation
Accessible Wayfinding project pitch (PDF)
Digital Underground: Posts related to the Met + Parsons Museum Accessibility Collaboration Workshop