Observation at The Met Fifth Avenue: How is the museum tour guide in including different kinds of visitors.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art is the largest art museum in US and the third most visited art museum in the world. The main building in Manhattan’s Upper East Side in one of the world’s largest art galleries. As was posted on January 4, 2019 that 1,659,647 visitors were attracted to The Met Fifth Avenue and The Met Cloisters from May 10, 2018 to October 8, 2018. Based on the data from Wikipedia and MET official website, with such large number of visitors from all over the world, I began to curious how the visit guide provided by the museum service did well in considering different kinds of visitors.

According to what I learnt from Design Justice, the tour guide designed by MET should aim to ensure a more equitable distribution of the benefits and in this case, the museum tour guide should also consider non-English speakers, people with disabled, etc.

I went to The Met Fifth Avenue on 27th, Sep. to directly observe as a visitor and my goal was to see whether different kinds of visitors were guided friendly and effectively in visiting the museum. It was a cloudy afternoon with crowded visitors, and I waited for 10 minutes in line to get my ticket.

1 Manual Guide

I saw several cicerones surrounded by a small number of visitors. I joined them for free. Some visitors followed by cicerones carried backpacks and not seemed like locals. The good thing for getting a manual guide is that you could directly ask questions and get answers, especially for history or art fanatics who are always filled with questions.

But this method is not that feasible for visitors who prefer to get through the museum quickly and are not fluently English speakers. Since you are guided by a certain route and listening to deep explanations of the exhibits really takes time. In this period, I found some of visitors would only follow a few minutes then left the group to visit by themselves.

2 Audio Guide Rent Onsite

These days the most commonly used tour guide in museum is audio guide. At the museum lobby visitors could easily find the words “Audio Guide”, and the return place was also obvious to find. During my observation period, I found no more than 50% visitors were using audio guide and I guess it was because the audio guide in MET was not free, or some were not first-time visitors or some just preferred to quickly visit the whole museum without deep explanations.

2.1 Whether considering non-English speakers.

Yes. The audio guide provided by MET contains 10 different languages, which is especially considerable for foreign visitors. When I visited the museum, I found a lot of Asian visitors renting audio guide and listening to the guide frequently. It’s much effective for them to get the explanations in their mother language.

2.2 Whether considering visitors with disabilities.

During my observation period, I did not find disabled visitors. But I found some information on the MET website that the museum offered assistive listening devices and real-time captioning for visitors with hearing loss.

2.3 Whether considering aged visitors.

I found an old woman who seemed uneasy to input numbers into the audio guide to get the explanations. And some visitors seemed tired to hold the guide near their ears to listen all the time and they needed to find a place to sit or change to another hand to hold the guide. I think the interaction method between visitors and audio guides is not that friendly especially for aged visitors. Manually inputting numbers could waste time. Besides, the guide is not that easy and convenient while the MET is large, and most visitors would stay more than 2 hours.

I guess it’s better to add automatic induction function to the audio guide and visitors don’t need to input numbers themselves but only to answer yes or no to listen the guide. In addition, always holding the guide near ear to listen is not convenient. Why not provide earphones to aged visitors together with audio guide? Or support the visitors using their own earphones.

2.4 Whether considering visitors who prefer quickly visiting the whole museum.

I did find a visitor hanging the audio guide around her neck, but she didn’t use it during the whole process. And some only listened a few seconds then gave it up. I guess the contents provided in audio guide were too long and they only wanted to get a concise version. They came to the museum to get something new but not preferred to get that deep understanding towards a single exhibit. In that case, perhaps better to provide different versions for visitors to choose from. For instance, a quick 1-minute explanation together with a detailed 5-minute version.

3 The MET App

There is an App called The MET which also provides travel guides and even augmented reality function. The good thing is you could use it offline, while the bad thing is that you have to download it beforehand. How many visitors would take trouble to download an App to help them visit the museum? I guess better to develop a Web App for visitors who just want to visit temporarily.

During my observation period, I only saw a young woman using her iPhone to get the audio guide. Generally speaking, not a large number of visitors choose to get a guide on App. I believed one of the problems was not enough contents on App, compared to the audio guide you rent onsite.


In 2015, the MET did a thorough research on how to improve the audio guide and during the research they did find 40% visitors were foreigners and the importance of reducing the complexity of using audio guide. However, just like what Norman said, “The world is not neat and tidy and things not always work as planned.” All the tour guides provided by MET are roughly satisfied but still have space to improve. Perhaps reconsidering different visitors’ needs could help better the overall experience.


1 Wikipedia: Metropolitan Museum of Art: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Metropolitan_Museum_of_Art

2 Met Welcomes Nearly 7.4 Million Visitors in 2018:


3 Improving the Audio Guide: A Look at Our Visitors:


4 Norman, D. A. (1998). The Invisible Computer: Why Good Products Can Fail, the Personal Computer is So Complex, and Information Appliances are the Solution. MIT Press. Chapter 7: Being Analog http://www.jnd.org/dn.mss/being_analog.html.

5 Costanza-Chock, “Design Justice: Towards an Intersectional Feminist Framework for Design Theory and Practice”

Meetup: Designing Technology for Older Adults

In September, I attended my first Meetup – ‘Designing Technology for Older Adults.’ The speaker was Yasmin Felberbaum, a Ph.D. student at the University of Haifa. The focus of the talk was threefold: (1) the challenges of designing for older adults; (2) the design decisions that could improve products for these users; and (3) examples of well and poorly-designed products aimed at older adults. For this article, I will use Felberbaum’s research to show how these design considerations tie into our readings about user-centered design, design justice and the political economy of information. First, I will highlight the design challenges associated with older adults, and how these are undergoing a transformation. Next, I will discuss what inclusive design means in the context of Chock’s ‘Design Justice.’ Finally, I will use Felberbaum’s research to show how we can best design for an elderly population, reflecting principles championed by the Design Justice movement.

Design challenges for older adults 

The event began by defining an ‘older adult’ as anyone over the age of 65 and highlighting the challenges associated with designing for this segment of the population. These fall into three main categories:

  • Physical – motor changes, e.g., inability to hold a device for an extended time;
  • Mental – cognitive and emotional changes, e.g., loss of loved ones may cause depression or decreased motivation;
  • Educational – low levels of technology training and skills are still prevalent.

Due to population increases and improved life expectancy, estimates currently put the number of adults aged 65+ at roughly 2 billion by 2050, according to Felberbaum. However, the older adults of today are vastly different from those of the future, a point which Norman references in his ‘Being Analog’ article. As our everyday lives are becoming increasingly complex, ‘the slow evolutionary pace of life is no longer up to the scale and pace of technological change’; meaning that humans must now try to keep up with ever-increasing and oppressive amounts of knowledge. As a result, the current generation of young, digital native adults, are being shaped by different experiences with technology. They have higher expectations for technology to help them cope with so much information. The way that young adults today interact with technology is also fundamentally different. According to Benkler’s ‘The Wealth of Networks,’ our interaction with technology today is much more pervasive than it was 50 years ago. The conclusion we can draw from this is that to disregard older adults as an insignificant portion of technology consumers is seriously misguided. Not only will they become increasingly significant in size and purchasing power, but they will also be more demanding in the quality of that technology and how it serves their lives. They will be healthier and better technically educated and will fully expect to be included and designed for, much as they would have been when younger.

‘Design Justice’ as a way to overcome exclusive design processes

One of the main arguments presented by Felberbaum was that stereotypes about technology products for older adults, e.g., low adoption rates, are often a result of the exclusion of the user group from the design process. This omittance is just one example of designers overlooking users who do not conform to the stereotypical ‘imagined user […]. In the U.S., this means straight white middle-class, cisgender men, with educational privilege and high technological literacy, citizenship, native English speakers’ and, I would also add, young age. Constanza-Chock discusses recent attempts to overcome this in her Design Justice article. Design Justice champions a set of principles that, when included in the design process, should fairly and accurately represent marginalized users. It recognizes that the participation of these end users in the design process is crucial to creating products that are valuable for them. This is relevant to Felberbaum’s presentation, as she gathered her insights through the direct participation of older adults in her research process. She conducted in-depth interviews with her users, who were questioned and observed while using technology products with both inclusive and universal designs. The feedback gathered included which products users were more likely to adopt and why, what product issues they could not overlook and what they found attractive or helpful. Here is a clear example of Design Justice at work: the inclusion of the participants and recipients of the design as key contributors.

Constanza-Chock also presents the idea that designers with diverse backgrounds and experiences, especially those from marginalized communities, could help broaden perceptions of the ‘imagined user,’ resulting in fewer overlooked groups. While this is a worthy goal that should be encouraged, it may prove difficult when considering an elderly population. One of the very reasons that old adult marginalization occurs in design is because they are physically or mentally unable to participate in the process, or are retired from the workforce. Therefore, advocating that adults over 65 become designers to mitigate their exclusion may not be feasible. In these cases, applying concepts of user-centered and empathy-driven design become even more critical. These can help to supplement knowledge and experience gaps when designing for users that cannot fully participate in a process that was created precisely for their inclusion.

Best practice design for older adults

The final part of the event focused on the insights Felberbaum gathered from her research with older adults. These can be summed up as:

  • The social or gamification component of a product was vital to secure adoption and continued use;
  • Adoption only happens where there is a clear added value, e.g., what am I gaining by using this, that justifies introducing a new habit at a late stage of life;
  • The design should be universal and not inclusive – older adults did not want to use products aimed specifically at them due to stigma or emotions in acknowledging a perceived diminished place in society;
  • The lower the interaction and learnability requirement to use the product or device, the higher the adoption rate;
  • Where new information is necessary to use the product, this must build on existing or prior knowledge to secure adoption;

These insights provide good examples of best practice when designing for adults over 65, and they were all elicited by communicating with the target user group. These insights also touch on one of the action’s outlined in Gehner’s article, specifically: ‘understand that charity is not dignity; dignity is inclusion.’ I think this is particularly poignant and applicable to the outcomes of Felberbaum’s research as the products that had the most success were those that did not treat older adults as a separate segment of the population that needed unique designs. The older adults interviewed wanted to feel included, empowered and just like everyone else by being able to use the same products as their children and grandchildren – universal design was overwhelmingly the preferred choice.


The event made me think critically about my relationship with technology as a future older adult. It was also significant, as an aspiring UX designer, to see an example of design justice at work providing higher quality insights. Often, as Norman points out, what we attribute as issues with users, are a result of poorly designed products. Stereotypes, such as low adoption rates among older adults, are dangerous because they similarly focus the problem on the user and not the product, making designers less inclined to change their design process. The key takeaway for me was that it doesn’t matter what user segment you are designing for – if a user-centered approach is used, adoption will occur.

Works cited:

  • Costanza-Chock, S (2018). Design Justice: towards an intersectional feminist framework for design theory and practice, Design Research Society 2018.
  • Norman, D. A. (1998). The Invisible Computer: Why Good Products Can Fail, the Personal Computer is So Complex, and Information Appliances are the Solution. MIT Press. Chapter 7: Being Analog.
  • Benkler, Y. (2006). “Introduction: a moment of opportunity and challenge” in The Wealth of Networks: How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom. Yale University Press, 1–18.
  • Gehner, J. (2010). Libraries, Low-Income People, and Social Exclusion, Public Library Quarterly, 29:1, 39-47.