Musuem of Man

Map Redesign


My Role: UX Researcher, HCI student (class project)

Tools & Methods: Empathy-Building, Contextual Inquiry, Ethnography, Interviewing Users & Stakeholders, Affinity Diagraming, Slack

Deliverables: Redesigned Map Brochure, Client Presentation

Client: San Diego Museum of Man



The Museum of Man is an anthropologic museum in San Diego’s historic Balboa Park with a variety of exhibits exploring the human experience.

Tasked with the mission of improving patrons’ wayfinding experience, our team set about building empathy to discover pain points, interviewing patrons and “hidden experts” to gather insights, conducting competitive analysis for design inspiration, and doing contextual inquiry to assess prototype effectiveness. This became a project that (although not pixel-based) utilized out-of-the-box creative solutions and still followed a textbook-worthy design process.



The museum’s existing map failed to communicate spatial relationships and wasn’t accessible for visually-impaired patrons. As a result, museum visitors wasted time and energy as they searched for exhibits, and there was increased reliance on museum staff.


Our team designed a new map that had improved spatial recognition, allowed for quicker identification of exhibits, adhered to visual accessibility guidelines, and reduced reliance on staff. Along the way, I came up with novel procedures to test map usability.

Building Empathy

Me, armed with a stroller and dad-like attire, taking on the "Father and Child" persona at the museum to build empathy. 

Before starting any design work, we did an empathy-building exercise to better understand visitors’ varied experiences. We took on different personas of common visitors and groups:

1. Father and Child (Me + Stroller)

2. A Couple

3. Visually Impaired (Accessibility)

4. Solo visitor - with and without a map

Visiting the museum as these personas allowed us not only to observe, but also experience the pain points of the people we were designing for.

Needfinding - Interviews and Observation

We combined on-site guerrilla interview techniques and ethnographic observation to identify additional pain points. vis with museum visitors, staff, and volunteers to gain additional insights into visitor goals and pain points. While museum visitors gave us a better understanding of our target audience, employees and volunteers (the “hidden experts”) shed light on valuable insights that quickened our user research. We used affinity diagramming to organize clusters of user needs. Based on our research findings, we realized that a map redesign would be the most effective and practical means of solving user needs.

Key Insights:

  • Although not all visitors used a map, those who tried to use one did not find it helpful.

  • Just because visitors can find something on the map doesn't mean they can find it in space.

  • Visitors mistakenly attempted to use the side exit as an entrance.

  • The special exhibit and the bathrooms were difficult for visitors to find, even with a map.

Competitive Analysis

Visiting other museums in Balboa Park to look at their map designs gave us inspiration for our own designs. We identified several areas to prototype: color coding, flat vs. 3D, labels and icons, and the inclusion of descriptions.

Testing Prototype Effectiveness — Usability Testing / Contextual Inquiry

How does one measure the effectiveness of a map in an objective manner? Doing so required me to come up with novel testing procedures and success metrics. We conducted our first usability tests on-site at the museum with 3 designs using between-subjects designs. 

TEST PROCEDURE 1  Location Identification

Museum visitors were given a map prototype and asked: “Can you point to where we are currently standing on the map?” Using a stopwatch, we recorded their response time and correctness.


During research, we discovered that visitors had a difficulty finding the special exhibit across the street, even with the existing map. So, when we gave visitors a map prototype, we simply asked: “Where is the special exhibit?” and checked for correctness.

Prototype Evaluation - Exhibit Location.png


“Where is the bathroom?” was the most frequently asked question, according to museum staff. It was also the question we asked visitors. Using an ethnographic approach, we gave visitors a map prototype and asked them to use it to get to the bathroom and think aloud. We followed behind them and took notes.


  • Icons alone were not effective. Our prototype that incorporated both labels and icons outperformed both other maps. We later found supporting evidence from a research study published by the Nielsen Norman Group advocating for the use of icons in combination with text.

  • Color guides visual search and communicates meaning. Only 1 out of 6 visitors could even find the special exhibit on the original map. This is likely due to the fact that while 95% of the original map’s diagram was blue, the special exhibit was yellow to match the header background color. As such, visitors only scanned the blue diagram — it was like the yellow became invisible.

  • Orientation should match the real world. Placing the first and second story of the building side-by-side on the map made it more difficult for users to recognize the distinction between stories (compared to an up-down orientation).

Iterative + Parallel Prototyping

After our initial round of usability testing, we reviewed our findings to guide the creation of our next round of prototypes. Testing out our many design ideas within our limited time frame required rapid prototyping, both iteratively and in parallel. We prototyped our way through rounds of testing until our design was finalized.


Final Design


Before and After


Old MAp

  • "I can't read the text... It's too small!" 
  • "It's hard to distinguish exhibits."
  • "Where is the special exhibit?"
  • "Oh, I walked in the wrong direction."
  • "It was not helpful."

Final Design

  • Improved Spatial Recognition
  • Accessible Design (for visual impairment)
  • Reduced Reliance on Staff
  • Easier Identification of Exhibits
  • Modern and Clean Design

Wrap Up

Lessons Learned

  • Expand the scope of your interview participants. At first, we only interviewed our target audience. But when we expanded our scope of interview participants, we identified new user needs and discovered "hidden experts" who gave us valuable insights.

  • Design thinking doesn’t apply only to pixels. Map design is usually a job for graphic designers, but we but we approached the project with a UX focus that allowed us to build empathy, address pain points, and dramatically improve map usability.