The Frick Collection: Usability Research on In-Gallery Devices

June 12, 2018 - All

Courtyard at The Frick Collection

The Frick collection is a staple of New York’s MuseumMile, the museum was founded in 1919 and holds a rich collection of old master paintings, and European and American decorative arts. Unlike some of the white-cube museums around the City, the Frick Collection looks like a home. The museum walls lack labels and room names. The museum’s lack of signage is one of the ways it tries to keep the spirit of the original building, a home for the museum founder and the wealthy industrialist Henry Clay Frick, alive.

The lack of wall-text and information is a hurdle the museum has tried to overcome through the use of their downloadable application and its current audioguide, which is provided by Acoustiguide. The museum is hoping to develop their current audioguide into a newer loanable device that is more in-line to its downloadable application.

Homepage for downloadable and loaner devices

There are two main features the newer loanable-device and downloadable application offer to users and that is the map and object information. As part of our research, we tested both by asking museum visitors to do two simple tasks:

  1. We tested the map by asking users to locate the Living Hall.
  2. We tested the content on each device by asking users to pick an artwork of their choosing and use the device to gain information about the piece. We also then asked users to switch devices and repeat the second task.
The Testing Area at the Frick Collection

As part of our research, we tested the Frick Collection devices with seven museum visitors using both devices. Users were recruited at the museum and screened to ensure this is their first time at the museum and they haven’t used the application prior to the visit. This was to ensure that users were not using their prior experience at the museum or their experience using the application to assist them in completing the tasks. Each users was given one primary device to complete both tasks then users were asked to repeat the second task using an alternate device. Hence, all users were provided with the opportunity to try both devices.

Throughout the task, users were encouraged to talk aloud and their thoughts were recorded and assessed.The screens used during the test were recorded and further quantitative data including duration and number of clicks were extracted. Moreover, after every task, users were asked about what they thought and their reactions and opinions were recorded through writing and audio recordings. Finally, users were asked to fill a post-test questionnaire.

Results for The Post-Task Usability Rating

Experiences with the devices differed from user to user, however, many similarities were observed:

  • Most users had difficulty with Task 1 because they had trouble using the map, and figuring out where they were in-relation to the Living Hall therefore most users did not know how to start the task. Many of the users commented that the map isn’t like Google Maps and one user insightfully said,

“Your reference point is, I think, Google Maps, because that is what everyone else is using but this doesn’t act like Google Maps, so you are creating a new metaphor while the whole world has already adopted that metaphor.”

  • Users using the app or loan device were typically older (reflecting the museum’s average visitor) and thus many of the icons used were misunderstood or unfamiliar to users. On the homepage, users found the Explore icon to be particularly confusing. Additionally, on the object page, users were unable to locate certain buttons and mistook some. Users found the “i” icon for application information instead of object information; instead users clicked on the static page description “Artwork Details” for further information.
  • On the homepage, a large audio guide button was available for users but none of the users clicked on it. Moreover, some users completly missed the audio function on the content page.
  • Even though the devices used (iPod and Samsung phone) had a larger screen the current audioguide, users still found the text, images and map to be too small.

Overall, most users said they did not have a preference between the two, but would ultimately choose the loanable device even though the downloadale application has additional features includingg favorinting and sharing images. Its important to note, the museum does not allow photography, and sees the sharing and saving of images on the application as a way to provide the experience of sharing one’s visit with friends without having to take photographs.

Three main recommendations were suggested:

Recommendation A: Users wanted the signifiers (arrows, icons, boxes, hyperlinks that showed that something was clickable) clarified through better understood text, icons and buttons.

Recommendation A

Recommendation B: Include flexible as well as interactive imagery, which was achieved by making sure the icons were clear, pinch-zoom functions were created, auto-rotation function supported, font size flexibility ensured.

Recommendation B: Added Features

Recommendation C: Add responsive map features to ensure first time guests can orient themselves within the collection and a “You Are Here” feature paired with static landmarks such as Central Park and the fountain in the Courtyard to further help orient guests.

Recommendation C

Overall, users enjoyed being able to read about each piece, seemed pleasantly surprised by the fact that there was dual function of text and audio.

Current Interface
Recommended Interface

Author Bio:

The authors of this article and report are Alanood Al Thani, Katherine Curran, and Shannon Mish. We are all graduate students in the Museums and Digital Culture program at Pratt Institute.

The Frick Collection: Usability Research on In-Gallery Devices was originally published in Museums and Digital Culture - Pratt Institute on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

› tags: digital culture / museums /