I led interaction and interface design of an Augmented Reality app that facilitates inquiry-based exploration of objects and people in a research museum.





Interface Design

Visual Design


6 weeks


Gaby Chan

Giada Sun


Adobe Illustrator

Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture

Seattle, Washington

Supported by the Burke Museum in Seattle, we were assigned to create a mobile app and explore how we could use mobile technology and interactions to create a new visiting experience.

Designed alongside the clever Gaby Chan.


The Burke is a research museum in Seattle, collecting more than 16 million biological, geological, and cultural objects to help people understand Pacific Northwest history.

In 2019, it moved to the new building, which is designed to break down traditional museum barriers and inviting visitors to be part of a working research facility.

The New Burke Museum

Apart from the exhibits, visitors could view and interact with the labs in the new Burke.


The Burke wants to facilitate inquiry-based conversations between the Burke staff and visitors by launching the volunteer program and conducting Oepn Door sessions to visitors.

However, those resources are only accessible to visitors on weekend. That makes weekday visitors’ experience more passive and alike visiting a traditional museum.

Open Door session on weekends

Design Challenge

How might we provide visitors the opportunity to gain a deeper connection to the Burke labs on weekdays?

The Response

Behind the Glass is an Augmented Reality app that facilitates inquiry-based exploration of the Burke Museum's research labs.

Feature 1

Use AR to Explore the Labs

Pan around the labs and workrooms with the phone to discover AR markers on the screen.

Tap a marker to bring up the information card of the 2D or 3D artifact, fossil, or equipment.

Feature 2

Participate in inquiry-based dialogue

Select a question you want to ask about the objects on the information card.

When a question is selected, a conversation will pop up with the answer populated by the volunteers and researchers.

Feature 3

Stay updated on the work

Check out the role and the ongoing work of the researchers you’ve chatted with.

Scroll through the work on done on an object over the past few days.

Design Process

Kate Fernandez
Admission ticket

Client interview & Contextual inquiry and observation

The primary research started with an interview with Kate Fernandez, the Director of Visitor Experience at the Burke, and three museum visits to observe and speak to the researchers, volunteers, and visitors.

The Goals of the New Burke

“Our goal is to compel all visitors to believe and takeaway that the new burke is alive.”

— Kate Fernandez

The museum wants to show the progression of the works

The labs and workrooms change over time and the museum wanted to keep visitors coming back to learn by observing workroom activities.

Researchers put a whiteboard to explain their works.

The researchers use whiteboards around the labs to show the relevant information about their works.


Whiteboards are limited in physical size and capabilities to show the progression

Through the research, we realized that without human interaction, the whiteboards are unable to really show a comprehensive progression of the artifacts.

The museum wants to facilitate inquiry-based learning

The Burke engages with the visitors using an inquiry-based learning approach, encouraging them to ask questions about what they are curious about rather than directly presenting the information.

Researchers chat with visitors in the Open Door events.
Spark volunteers

The volunteers connect with researchers and facilitate conversations with visitors. They answer visitors' questions and build on common questions to share with visitors.

Open door to visitors

The open door events on weekends allow visitors to directly interact with the researchers and get a closer look at the museum collections.


Volunteers and researchers are not accessible to all visitors on weekdays

Weekday visitors do not have the opportunity to interact with researchers and volunteers who bring the you closer to the real work.


Visitors have questions that remain unanswered

Visitors are left to their own interpretation, no longer meeting the goal of "making learning accessible and understandable to the public.

Pivoting on Augmented Reality

We considered mobile phones shouldn’t replace visitors' entire experience. It should be a tool to mediate how we interact with the real world. Also, we were assigned to create a mobile app and explore how we could use mobile technology and interactions to create a new visiting experience.

We saw AR as the best technology to enrich people’s experience without taking over everything.
Application of AR in museum


We came up with 3 AR-related directions and down-selected to the AR maker.

AR Marker

Volunteers capture and input information they gather from the workrooms by planting AR markers and referencing past relevant field notes for more information.

AR Digital Floor Maps

Visitors get more information about the museum by browsing digital floor plans with location-triggered notifications and scanning fossils and artifacts in workrooms.

AR Q&A Board

Visitors submit public questions attached to any objects or people in workrooms, which will be followed up by staff members or volunteers soon, using AR interface.

Downselecting to the final idea

We chose to go ahead with the AR Marker idea but refocused on visitors' experience rather than volunteers’ to refined the concept.

We would like to empower visitors to access more information when researchers and volunteers are not available and actively explore the labs.


We created digital prototype to simulate the interaction in Augmented Reality using gyroscope sensor. The goal of the prototype is both to validate the concept and observe how people explore museum space using our AR interface.

Card stack interface

Inspired by Fluid Interfaces, we would like to put users in total control while using AR camera and browsing works profile. We chose to create a card stack interface to present different hierarchies of information, which also enable users to go back to any previous screens by using one gesture.

Home screen

Here people can browse the information of upcoming events in different workrooms, making a better plan of their visit. The bold yellow button will lead them to the AR camera. Besides, people are also allowed to review the objects they have explored and follow up the questions they posted on the history and question page.

Medium fidelity digital prototype of home screen interface

AR camera

Once people launch the AR camera, they can uncover the profiles of labeled works in workrooms. The profiles are composed of the most common questions and photos left by volunteers and researchers. People can also ask questions about the works and check back to see the responses.

Medium fidelity digital prototype of AR interface

We conducted usability testing with 3 participants, asking them to finish 3 tasks in an imaginary museum setting.

Usability testing protocol


Through the usability testing, we realized we had to reduce both the learning curve and the information architecture of the app, providing the right amount of information in each context with comprehensive instructions.


Participants need more instructions or visual cues to find AR markers while they are not pointing the camera to any work in workrooms.


We redesigned the AR onboarding screen to guide users find out AR markers in any possible situations. Once the users point the camera to a workroom, the green dots will show up on the sides to indicate the nearby AR markers which are out of screen.


Participants had a hard time navigating stacked cards. The IA is over complicated and the amount of page jumping should be limited.


We abandoned card stack interface and chose to use the most common back button for navigation, smoothing the learning curve.


Participants didn’t stick around the answer pages for long and finish the articles since they felt the answers are generally too long.


We decided to put most questions and answers into dialogue boxes, in which form the users are more comfortable and willing to read through just like reading messages from friends casually.


Participants wanted to know what is the app for before signing up. Otherwise, they would just drop off on the landing page.


We redesigned the onboarding by adding instructional pages and simplifying the signup flow by requiring users to input minimized information to start their inquiry-based learning journey.

Information architecture

Meanwhile, we considered the touchpoints of our solution, mapping out the structure of the app to help ourselves to think through the user experience from a holistic point of view before diving into details.

We organized and labeled interfaces in information architecture.

Design system

The final prototype

We went through the user experience through the story of Olivia to present our final concept:

Meet Olivia

Olivia is a high school student. She attended an archaeology course at school and is highly interested in what an archaeologist does every day.

Arrive at the museum

Upon doing some research, Olivia visits the Burke in the afternoon over the weekend, when the museum has open door events where she can directly chat with the researchers working in the labs.

In front of the ticket booth, Olivia notices the information of Behind the Glass that helps her go deeply into the ongoing works in each lab through Augmented Reality. She downloads the app while waiting in line.

Browse today events

Olivia signs up with her Google account promptly and reviews today events in the museum on the main screen. Unfortunately, she misses all the open doors because she arrived at the museum too late.

Explore workrooms in the museum

Olivia disappointedly walks inside the museum. She sees the indicator signs on the glass that encourage her to scan the objects in the workrooms.

Olivia takes out her phone and follows the instructions to scan through the fossil preparation lab. Since the volunteers are talking with other visitors, she decides to explore the triassic phytosaur skull by herself.

Review common questions

Olivia reads one of the questions on the work page about where the skull came from. A researcher in the workroom has answered this question by sharing the map location following by a short description in dialogue format.

Ask a question

After browsing the common questions, Olivia comes up with her own once to the workroom. She writes down her question  briefly and sends it out to the museum with one click.

Uncover work process

Olivia also reviews a photo of dinosaur eggs. She finds the scroll bar on the side that enables her to easily trace back the progression of the work by showing the everyday photos of the eggs.

After leaving the museum

Olivia retrospects her journey and shares the works she saw with other her family at home.

Revisit the journey

Olivia reviews the fossils, workrooms, and people she explored in the museum on history page and saves the ones she really likes.

We separated history and bookmarks into individual pages in the final prototype to simplify information hierarchy.

Follow up the questions

The next day, Olivia receives a notification that her question has been answered by a researcher in the workroom.

In the final prototype, we integrated the question page into user’s profile page, where users can review the their questions by tapping their thumbnails.


Olivia is empowered to explore and learn in the Burke Museum through inquiry-based instruction when the staff and volunteers are unavailable.


Designing AR should start with the user journey and consider the user’s holistic visiting experience to create an smooth transition between physical and digital worlds.
Carefully consider marginal cases while creating AR prototypes and designing usability testing. It’s important to get all the users’ experience right the first time.
At the next step, we should revaluate the value of the inputs from the researchers and volunteers and create an effortless inputting experience without increasing their workload.

Next project

Helping people who are blind perceive their physical surroundings