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Bridging visitor expectations and the museum's focus through interactive experiences and developing strategies for engagement.

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User Research-Driven Approach to the Design Museum of Chicago's Post-Pandemic Engagement


Despite initially hosting 175,000 visitors, the Design Museum of Chicago nearly closed in 2020 due to COVID-19. Since reopening, it struggles to maintain its previous attendance levels. Limited appreciation of design's impact may hinder its value recognition. The museum aims to develop new experiences for more consumer engagement despite its smaller size compared to renowned Chicago museums.


Identifying gaps between visitor expectations and the museum's focus and developing experiences that bridge these gaps and foster a deeper understanding and appreciation of design within the Chicago community.


By defining an ideal visitor profile and developing engagement principles (click to view), this project successfully piloted a public experience (click to view) in Chicago. This resulted in a 10% increase in DMoC's web traffic during the initial testing phase.


Design Museum of Chicago


Museum and Entertainment

My Contributions

Design Research and Experience building


Design Museum Seeks Solutions to Reinvigorate Public Interest in Design 

The Design Museum of Chicago (DMoC), a cultural institution with a unique mission to elevate the understanding and appreciation of design, faces challenges in attracting visitors despite its reopening after a near closure in 2020. While traditional museums often draw crowds for social outings, the DMoC, with its focus on a less-recognized field, aims to bridge the gap between visitor expectations of interactive experiences and its goal of showcasing design's profound influence on our lives. In this context, the museum seeks to develop engaging experiences that effectively communicate the value of design, fostering a deeper connection with the Chicago community.

..we want to bring the museum experience outside of the four physical walls of the museum..

- Design Museum Chicago

Process timeline






Opportunity Discovery

  • Desk research

  • Intercept Interviews

  • Surveys

  • User interviews

Research Synthesis

  • Visitor Journey mapping

  • Design Principles development

  • How might We

Design and Testing

  • Wizard of OZ prototypes

  • Real world testing

  • Final Presentation

Thanks to the smart combination of gamification and generative design, we'll greet a wider and more diverse public at the DMoC doorstep. And we'll fulfill our mission to help visitors better understand the power of design—so that together we can use that power to fundamentally improve the human condition.

- Tanner Woodford, Executive Director, Design Museum of Chicago

Client Testimonial




Desk Research: Understanding Visitors and Value.

The Critical first step was understanding DMoC's target audience and the value proposition it offered. This involved identifying the visitor profile, defining the museum's unique selling point within the broader museum landscape.  Research explored mid-sized museum trends, competitor value creation, and demographics of the DMoC's target communities, laying the groundwork for focused primary research.

Desk research revealed museum visitors crave social experiences, discovery, and a mix of engaging exhibits with thoughtful design to meet their learning and entertainment needs.

“The power of design is great, but just not many people realize that the benefit of design yet.”

- Research Participant


Deep Dive Research: Identifying Non-Designer Millennials as a potential audience.

Identifying the Gap: By comparing visitor expectations with the Design Museum of Chicago's (DMoC) current offerings, a significant gap emerged. The museum's focus on reflection and limited space potentially fell short of visitor desires for a more interactive and engaging experience.

Gap Analysis: Seek vs. Get

We analyzed the disconnect between visitor desires and the DMoC's current offerings:

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Leveraging visitor research, we identified non-designer Chicago residents aged 25-35 as the ideal target audience. This demographic perfectly aligns with the museum's goals: they value social experiences and discovery (Social and Discovery), are receptive to interactive exhibits (Interactive Experiences), and are active on the DMoC's social media (Existing Reach). Targeting this younger audience fosters long-term engagement and ensures the museum's continued relevance (Future Engagement).

Chicago’s largest demographic are people between 25 and 35 years old.

- Town Chart

Strategic Advantage: By focusing on non-designer Chicago residents aged 25-35, the DMoC can:

  • Bridge the identified gap by developing more interactive experiences.

  • Leverage existing social media reach for targeted marketing efforts.

  • Attract future visitors and foster a deeper connection with design within the community.


Multi-Method Research: Uncovering Audience Perspectives and Engagement Pain Points

The primary research phase focused on understanding their perspectives on design and the Design Museum of Chicago (DMoC).  To achieve a comprehensive picture, a multi-method research approach was employed:

  • Surveys and Intercepts: These methods aimed to gauge participant perception of Chicago's design culture and their general awareness of the DMoC.

  • In-depth Interviews: A selection of survey respondents were chosen for in-depth interviews. This allowed for a deeper exploration of individual needs, pain points, and expectations related to design and museum experiences.






hours of desk research

Survey Response


Building empathy through interviews and observation studies with potential  consumers


Leveraging User Personas and Jobs-to-be-Done for identifying pain points and  Value Proposition development.

Following our primary research with the target audience, we utilized the 5E framework to analyze visitor expectations of the Design Museum of Chicago (DMoC). This framework provided a lens to examine the collected data and identify key themes related to each stage of the visitor journey.

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Experience should be more inviting.

User feedback consistently emphasized the importance of a museum environment that feels inviting and fosters exploration.


Tangible Interaction as Engagement

User feedback underscored the value of interactive exhibits that allow visitors to physically engage with design concepts, promoting deeper understanding.


Demystifying Design Narratives 

there is a need for clearer narratives within exhibits, making design concepts more understandable and engaging for non-designers


Element of surprises are memorable.

Findings highlighted the effectiveness of incorporating unexpected elements within the museum experience to create lasting memories.



Drawing on the research findings, we identified key visitor needs: clear communication, engaging experiences, and memorable moments. this was synthesized to key insights which highlight the value proposition for both the DMoC as an organization and for visitors as they experience the museum.

DMoC Value Creation:

Enhanced Visitor Satisfaction

Clear storytelling clarifies the museum's message and design's impact (Finding #2), fostering deeper connections and potential membership sign-ups and donations.


Increased Engagement & Support

Interactive exhibits and curated collections (Findings #1 & #4) encourage longer dwell times, potentially leading to increased  membership and potentially attract corporate partnerships.


Brand Differentiation

Findings highlighted the effectiveness of incorporating unexpected elements within the museum experience to create lasting memories.


Visitor Value Delivery:

Deeper Design Appreciation

Clear narratives and engaging stories make design accessible, fostering a newfound appreciation


Active Learning & Engagement

Interactive experiences and curated collections allow active exploration and deeper understanding


Lasting Positive Memories

Surprise elements create a more memorable and enjoyable visit, promoting repeat visits and positive word-of-mouth



The research insights were translated into actionable design principles, providing a framework for developing engaging and consistent experiences across the DMoC's rotating exhibits. This framework allows for continuous assessment of visitor engagement, addressing the challenge of maintaining a unified experience despite the changing nature of the exhibitions.

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Overview of the 5- fold design principles for experience building.

How Might We..

Develop an approach to identify opportunities for value creation for visitors and evaluate engagement,


non-designer Chicago Millennials audience


that effectively communicates the impact of design on everyday life, fostering a deeper understanding and appreciation.

so that..

the Design Museum of Chicago (DMoC) can increase visitation and strengthen its connection with the community?


Leveraging the Upcoming Exhibition to Spark  Engagement and Awareness

This research coincided with the DMoC's upcoming exhibition in partnership with the Mystery League – a puzzle exhibition. This presented a strategic opportunity develop solutions  to bridge the gap between visitor expectations and the DMoC's offerings.

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Decision tree visualization

Decision Rationale: Snapshot

Research showed a gap - visitors wanted interactive exhibits, while DMoC offered reflection-focused displays. To bridge this gap, we recommended a public, gamified experience before their upcoming puzzle exhibition. This approach:

  • Meets visitor desires for interaction, social discovery and lasting memory.

  • Tests the design principles (interactivity, surprise) at a low cost and get real-world feedback.

  • Creates pre-visit buzz and leverages the exhibition theme.

  • Increases DMoC's reach and promotes design understanding.

This sets the stage for our "Design is Around You" campaign, a public experience bridging the visitor-museum gap.


An interactive public experience using kiosks across Chicago to contemplate the influence of design in daily life.

We developed "Design is Around You" campaign used five interactive kiosks across Chicago to engage residents and highlight the influence of design in daily life. The kiosks beckon passersby with simple questions. Participants answer these questions, which are about design’s role in everyday life. They receive collectible cards as tokens for answering questions. The campaign entices them to complete their card collection. In doing so, they embark on a journey, and the Design Museum of Chicago is their final stop.

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Visitor journey map for the new experience.

User testing of the experience inside IIT campus.


Evaluating Engagement, interaction, and brand awareness

To refine our design and gather user feedback in a real-world setting, we deployed a prototype kiosk on the IIT Chicago campus, a location with a high foot traffic of young adults within our target demographic, for three rounds of testing with over 15 participants.

Key findings from the studies revealed:

  • Strong user preference for interactive elements: Participants expressed a strong preference for the kiosk's interactive features, particularly those that employed gamification techniques.

  • Effectiveness in capturing attention: The data confirmed that the kiosk successfully grabbed the attention of passersby, sparking their initial curiosity about design concepts.

  • Positive feedback on engagement: User feedback indicated a high level of engagement with the prototype, with participants expressing a desire to explore the content further.

Importantly, the data confirmed the kiosk's effectiveness in capturing attention and sparking curiosity about design concepts, validating our framework for user engagement. 

“...I think it was really cool to see design around me. It asked me things I never thought to think about—like how there are different types of potato peelers...”

- User testing study participant

User testing of the experience inside IIT campus.


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