Museum user experience from home

Musetech under CV19: working on (future)in-museum user experience from home

ACMI, unlike most other museums, was already closed to the public when COVID-19 struck. A limited number of the museum’s activities had been running offsite at RMIT’s Capitol Theatre and the Treasury, whilst behind the scenes everyone was hard at work building the new ACMI. Closed a year ago, ACMI has been undergoing a large Re/new project that was intended to open to the public ‘mid 2020’. ACMI, too, has had a long, nearly 20 year, history of delivering remote education and public programs over the internet. Even before closing our doors to the public our staff had been working on Slack, Trello, Zoom, a VPN, and offering flexible working opportunities to staff.

Nevertheless the last month, like everyone else, we saw this forcibly scale up to the entire museum.

The work on the new ACMI continues at pace and our museum technologists have adapted to continue to build and refine the interactive infrastructure and systems that lie at the heart of the new ACMI — from their homes.

Here are some of their stories.

Hi, I’m Pip Shea, user experience researcher at ACMI. Over the course of a month, COVID-19/stage 3 lockdown life has started to become strangely normal, or in the very least a lot more familiar.

With each week comes new working-from-home challenges but also opportunities to help overcome them. For instance a solution to distracting Slack notifications is muting them and setting a status. Lucie, our Head of Experience, Product & Digital has created a ‘focus time’ Slack status to notify others we’re in the zone and might not reply as promptly.

Screenshot of a Slack notification saying ‘Focus time’.
A welcome addition to the Slack status selection

Transitioning to remote work

I always thought being a remote UX designer would be really difficult but as I reflect over the past month, it has become clearer that it can be done, with the right tools, environment, and personal and team mindset.

I haven’t quite figured out how to be my most productive self; things which have worked so far have been starting early, listening to good Spotify playlists (mostly melodic house and downtempo electronic music) and blocking out chunks of time to do solid work. However what works one day might not the next.

A chart depicting a loosely accurate but positive productivity report over the past month
My incredibly precise monthly productivity report

As you can see, there is a steady incline in productivity. Certain roadblocks such as network and server issues, project timelines, and overall low levels of energy and positivity tend to intercept focus sometimes, however I’m quite optimistic about where the projections seem to be heading.

So, what has been working

  1. Having a good home office set up!
  2. SCRUM events (stand ups, retrospectives, sprint planning)
  3. Our team’s constructive feedback (as per usual)
  4. Conference calls (Slack, Zoom)
  5. Our organisation’s attitude
  6. Blocking out time for solid work and turning off phone and Slack notifications
  7. A trial and error approach to finding the best program, way of working

Programs/platforms I’ve been using

Zoom, Miro, Slack, Trello, Confluence, Figma, Evernote (new to the mix), Dovetail (trial).

My projects

Due to COVID-19 pushing our opening date out further, I’m actually somewhat grateful as I can concentrate on projects which have earlier deadlines. These have been a mix of wire-framing, research, creating /organising our database of our software ‘how to’s’ and a few software usability tests. I’ve continued using the online tools/software/platforms I was using in the office which has made the transition to working from home quite smooth. It’s great having access to everything from any device for those moments I want to take the laptop outside for a sunny morning cuppa.

Wire-framing the new website

The bigger project I have been working on is the wire-framing of the new website designed by Liquorice (external agency creating our marketing site). I am utilising their UX and UI to help the Website Coordinator build these pages in the CMS.

Before we moved to the WFH model, he and I met with different teams to figure out user journeys and what content they needed for their individual webpages. This workflow has continued much the same thanks to some great online tools. Slack calls and the collaborative wire-framing tool Figma is to thank for the seamless(ish) transition. I’m able to share my wire-frames and get constant feedback thanks to the comment tool and I can invite anyone from the organisation to the board and see my progress. When on Slack calls, I’ve been finding the draw tool really handy when someone is screen sharing and want to draw attention to a particular section of the screen. Thumbs up Slack 👍.

User feedback for an onboarding video

I recently went through a usability/feedback phase where I asked people’s thoughts on an onboarding video our team created for the Lens experience in the re-imagined museum — and much like a lot of user research, this took longer than planned.

I wanted to conduct these interviews at the start of March, however that conveniently coincided with Victoria’s new working from home recommendations. I was able to conduct three in-person interviews (before the more strict social distancing rules were in place), and the rest over Zoom calls.

On top of figuring out the best platform for remote video testing, I was struggling with getting users to commit to times, which is completely understandable during this strange month, given these strange times, I knew I would have to make some concessions. 2/3 of the first Zoom call was spent troubleshooting the user’s iPad and figuring out how to get the microphone to turn on. Another Zoom interview operated quite similarly. I had to troubleshoot a user’s 10 year-old Macbook and after 15 minutes of trying to get Zoom to work, I ended up screen sharing while remaining on the phone so I could have audio in the recording.

Because we have a little more time to fine tune the video now, this is a really good opportunity to try out user research platforms. For this project I tried out Dovetail and I like it a lot. It’s a Sydney based startup which I discovered through the UX Research Australia conference in March 20'. I will be testing out a few different platforms for when the museum reopens. (If you have any suggestions please reach out!) Presenting my findings were simply done by sharing the link and going through the research over a Slack conference call.

A snapshot of the user feedback in Dovetail

Writing software documentation

This project has continued very much like it did in the office. Our Lead technologist and I working together on creating and organising a repository of software documentation. Each week we have a Slack call using the screen share functionality to work on documents and Trello to help prioritise which docs are created first.

Running usability tests for internal software

I have been conducting usability tests over the past few months with key internal stakeholders who will be /are currently using our museum software. As we’re able to connect to our servers, I am able to test workflows and record it remotely. I have conducted only one since WFH, which would have run completely smoothly had it not been for the staff member’s limited bandwidth, but we’ll be trying again shortly!

It hasn’t all been running as smoothly as I would like and there certain aspects and facts of life right now which can’t be changed: like being home all the time (it’s so not normal) and having the WFH desk so close to the kitchen (fridge & pantry), but almost everyone is in the same boat. I hear constantly ‘we’re in this together’ and the most real it’s felt is when I read sadly true Twitter threads, and speaking honestly and openly with others.

I’ve been taking stock of non work related activities which have been working for me and (somewhat) keeping me sane.

  • Morning exercise. I signed up for Chris Hemsworth’s Centr app and follow insta fitness gurus
  • Playing basketball (by myself) outside
  • Dream Life book/journal, Kristina Karlsson. This book is really great for imagining life beyond COVID-19
  • Indulging in my low moments (for a bit)
  • Making music
  • Going to bed early
  • Dancing!
  • Having a weekly virtual lunch date & after work drinks with colleagues
  • Tuning into weekly events like Virtual Cinémathèque, where sitting in front of the screen feels more like an occasion rather than you’re average Netflix binge (which I don’t hate either)

We’re getting there!


Museum user experience from home was originally published in ACMI LABS on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Museum user experience from home