At the end of 2015, the product development team launched the new audio guide to the permanent collection. As the lead designer, I developed both the user experience and visual design. The design was based from formative research on visitor segmentations. The result was a bespoke app running on HTC smartphones, offering ten languages and new functionality. After its launch, we saw the take up rate increase from 2% of total visitors in December 2015 to 5% in August 2016. Though the team saw this as a great success, we never saw the product as complete. We always planned to iterate the user experience based on an evaluation of its performance.


The research

The team, led by our user experience researcher, focused on three questions:

  1. What do visitors expect from the audio guide when they decide to purchase one?
  2. In what ways is the British Museum audio guide meeting (or failing to meet) visitors’ needs?
  3. How do visitors from different parts of the world use an audio guide?

The methodologies used to conduct this research were:

  1. Observations at the audio guide desk and in the galleries
  2. Moderated interviews conducted in English, Mandarin and Italian
  3. Unmoderated surveys completed on tablets near the returns station

In total, the team interviewed 127 people (spread evenly across English, Mandarin and Italian) and received 191 survey responses.

The research revealed that the main reason for renting an audio guide was that it was the only way international visitors could understand the Museum. But, most found that wayfinding seriously underperformed from a technical perspective. The building’s wifi connection wasn’t strong enough to make the in-app map functional. From a content point of view, the guide offered additional content for objects, but was never accessed. Visitors were only looking briefly at their devices for primary call-to-actions, and skipping over the additional content.


The improvements

Though there were many opportunities to improve the visitor experience, we had to prioritise what was feasible to improve based on limited resources and constraints around deployment. The team decided to make incremental usability improvements to the following functions in the app: the home screen and an object detail screen.


On the home screen, I clarified the icons in the top navigation, as well as dealt the users confusion with the section “Explore the collection.” It turns out that “the collection” is not well-understood in other languages. Instead, we decided to re-name the section, “Explore the Museum.”


On the object detail screen, I brought the additional content above the fold, so it could be accessed easier, rather than relying on a user to scroll further down the page.

Next steps

The product development team identified numerous opportunities for future product releases. There is work to be done to improve integration of mobile technologies in the larger visitor experience. We could expand our language offerings through automated translations. Lastly, one of the biggest questions for the team is how can we extend the visitor’s experience after they leave the Museum or (one step further) how can we reach people who will never come to the British Museum?

Image credit: © Benedict Johnson