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Washington Place Experience

A revamped digital experience at the historic Washington Place.

Introduction

Incorporating digital technology into a historic institution, the Washington Place.
During my senior year of undergrad, my major advisor, Sharla, asked me if I was interested in joining this project back in August of last year. This project stemmed from a request from the First Lady of Hawaii, Mrs. Dawn Ige, and her involvement with Washington Place, a historic home in downtown Honolulu. The property is best known for being the private, residence of Queen Liliuokalani, and it was subsequently used as the residence of all Hawaii governors. Today it also a museum where the general public can schedule tours to visit the house.

The Challenge

Initially, Mrs. Ige requested a product that incorporated digital technology into the museum, and during previous meetings with her, Sharla had suggested we create a mobile app that uses Augmented Reality (AR) to enhance the visitor experience.
Me with the First Lady of Hawaii, Dawn Ige; Washington Place curator Cynthia Engle; and Sharla Hanaoka at the reopening ceremony of the Washington Place on December 14, 2017, where we debuted a beta version of our app.

The Process

Phase 1

August 2017 – December 2017

Debut a beta version for the Washington Place reopening ceremony on December 14, 2017

Phase 2

January 2018 – Present

Finish building the app for a public launch in the summer

Research
I conducted market analysis on the technologies used by different museums. Within the local market, I found that the popular Bishop Museum used QR codes so users could scan them for more information. With another popular museum, Iolani Palace, one thing that stood out for me was their website. They featured a lot of information on their collections and artifacts, including a 3D virtual tour.

I also researched museums abroad and focused more on successful use cases of AR. I found that the apps that did feature AR created games or incentivized users to explore their museum in new ways. I concluded from my market analysis that AR could be really successful in creating these engaging and fun experiences, especially for younger audiences.

For further research into Augmented Reality, Sharla mentioned an AR program called Aurasma where users can scan 2D and 3D objects with their phones and reveal more information about the object in front of them. The program was not only easy to use, but we also had the option to install the program into our very own Washington Place app with an SDK.

Findings
From my research I found that a successful museum app presents their content to their users in two ways:

1. A more traditional way to browse via galleries and text where users can read more about something they’re interested in, and

2. A more interactive way that implements new technology in order to encourage users to engage with artifacts when they’re at the museum in person.

So really to design one holistic and cohesive museum experience, you should design these two different yet similar experiences to give the user options to explore. *This cohesive experience would be called “Washington Place Experience.”

Visual Design
The vision that I had for the visual design of the app was to blend the past with the present, that is Washington Place’s rich history with 21st century technology. I chose purple and gold to represent Hawaiian royalty, and because purple is also the color of the Queen’s favorite flower, the crown flower, which is also used in the quilted pattern designed by Sharla.
Wireframes

Testing

Getting feedback from our Phase 1 Beta
In December 2017, we debuted a beta version of our app and the planned visitor experience to Mrs. Ige and gave her a demo of the Browsing and the Interactive features.
First Lady of Hawaii, Mrs. Dawn Ige, demoing the Augmented Reality experience.
At the reopening ceremony, people really loved the AR scanning feature and were impressed by its potential at Washington Place. I noticed that people were really impressed by the AR feature, which led me to realize this would be an important feature in the Washington Place experience. Mrs. Ige also mentioned that kids who visited the museum really loved the scanning feature and they explored the museum looking for more artifacts to scan.

However, during our beta testing, we did discover that the museum did have low WiFi signals in certain parts of the museum, which affected the performance of the AR feature.

With the feedback and learnings we got from this beta test, our next step was to start the build for a public launch.

Outcome

For Phase 2, our current phase and a phase in which we incorporate all our feedback, we brought in a programmer onto the team to help us build the app fully. However, in this phase, we experienced A LOT of technical issues.

The 1st issue was with the new program we were using to build the app, which was Xcode. We had difficulties building out the app in that system.

The 2nd issue was that the AR company we used, Aurasma, actually made their programming kit unavailable to the public just a few days after we debuted the beta version to the reopening ceremony. What this meant was that there was really no way for us to install that AR feature into our very own app.

So after all these issues, I concluded that it would more feasible under our circumstances to build a web app or website that’s accessible through an internet browser rather than a native app that you would download from the App Store.

Our original plan wasn’t really ruined due to these issues, but what this meant was that the two experiences that we had designed originally would be experienced in two different platforms, a website and the in-person experience.

The website would focus on the Browsing experience where users could read more about the items in the museum when they’re not at Washington Place.

As for the in-person experience, it’s still the same interactive experience as we originally designed, but the museum would actually lend visitors mobile devices with the AR program already installed. Users could then use this special device and the original AR app to interact with artifacts by scanning them.
Check back soon for my thoughts and reflection once Phase 2 is finished.
Me with Hawaii Governor David Ige at Washington Place on December 14, 2017.