A Changing Arctic

‍Museum Experience


The ask

Carnegie Museum of Natural History (CMNH) is one of the top natural history museums in the country. Like many other museums, it is facing the challenge of transitioning from rigid institutions to experiential, flexible spaces. In this project, we were asked to improve the user experience of CMNH, which has remained relatively static for the past decade.

The result

Based on research, we aimed to break away from outdated approaches to design relatable, inspiring experiences that provoke reflection on our roles in the natural world and relationships with it. We
proposed a user journey that includes four main interactions in the Polar World exhibit at CMNH, and produced a concept video to document and tell the story.

With interactive projection mapping, the proposed design adds a layer of dynamic context to the existing physical infrastructure in the exhibit and engages visitors in participatory, reflective activities. 

Group academic project in an interaction design studio course at CMU
October - December 2022
Ann Li
Claire Chen
Shelley Tao
Taeyoung Chang
Primary research
Concept development
Video production
Presentation & live demo


Analyzing the current experience

For primary research focusing on the Polar World exhibit, the methods we employed were interviews and observation. The purpose of the interviews was to inquire about people’s motivation before visiting, experiences during the visit, and takeaways from the visit. And the observation aimed to learn the volume of visitors and how they interact with different sections of the exhibit. 

Through analyzing the exhibit in detail, we were also able to map out the current experience in terms of the physical infrastructure/layout and the content.

After synthesizing the data, three key findings and their implications surfaced.



Exhibit experiences are segmented due to a lack of distinction between the Polar World and the Hall of American Indians.

Improve way-finding while acknowledging physical layout constraints.

Use subtle visual cues to create a clear distinction between the exhibits.

Information browsing


Textual information is often skipped, leading to assumptions and unanswered questions.

Improve the 
presentation of content without expensive permanent overhauls.

Create digitally-mediated interactions that foster self-directed discovery.

Experiential Learning


A missing core narrative across the exhibit leads to anthropocentric takeaways and a lack of critical reflection.

Inspire visitors to 
engage with, and see themselves as part of the natural landscape.

Provide connected, dynamic activities to help visitors actively immerse in and identify with nature.

Learning from existing works

For secondary research, we read through Nina Simon's The Participatory Museum to learn about the tools and approaches for transforming museum experiences in general. We found that the formulaic, rigid approach that museums have taken historically has been challenged by recent shifts in sociocultural and economic trends. To adapt, museums need to become relevant, active participants in communities.

Through online and field research, we also looked into how other museums utilize different technologies, such as mixed reality, projection mapping, and AI, to engage visitors in both virtual and tangible experiences. This step allowed us to understand the technologies that we would be designing for in a museum context and to evaluate these existing interactions in terms of what's effective and what's not.

Moonshot Museum (1)
Moonshot Museum (2)
Center for PostNatural History
Museum of Feelings
Shanghai Astronomy Museum
Museo Lavazza Universo


Problem framing

Based on research insights, we developed a guiding question as our design opportunity, or problem, which we continued to refine as we pushed our concept forward.

Breaking away from outdated approaches, 
how might we design relatable, inspiring experiences 
that provoke reflection on our roles in the natural world and relationships with it?

Design principles

With the notion that we are one with nature- recognizing our place in the world to shift away from an anthropocentric mindset, we aimed to deliver an experience that is:


A journey with four main interactions

We proposed four main interactions that visitors can experience with no sequence throughout the exhibit, given the flexibility to explore their own interests.

Fate of the arctic

This interaction is experienced by visitors immediately upon entry to establish a large-scale, immersive environment of the Arctic. With interactive digital projection mapping, visitors enlist others to collaborate in an activity to visualize the impact of human behaviors and reflect on our relationships with the natural world. 

1. Enter active area to trigger interaction and observe the change in environment
2. Activate action platforms and learn about the impact of human behaviors
3. Enlist others to complete the activity and observe resulting change
System diagram

Arctic waters

After exploring the welcome area, visitors enter the main exhibit. As they navigate through the exhibit, they glide along ice floes with dynamic floor projections. For this, we created a working demo using a projector, a camera, and some p5 code, which was showcased in a school-wide demo session that's also open to the public.

System diagram

Life beneath the ice

This interaction is situated on the outer rim of the diorama platforms for visitors to discover the hidden diversity of the species that call the Arctic home. They see physical icebergs and dynamic projections on the platforms, move the icebergs to reveal what is under them, and listen to narratives about the species discovered.

System diagram

Iglu: A disappearing art

This full-body motion-capture activity invites visitors to collaborate with mother nature to build an iglu and learn about the significance of this cultural practice. They watch the dynamic projection mapping on the inside walls of an iglu diorama, follow the visual and audio content to perform building actions, and feel the immersive environment through temperature, lighting, and wind.

1. Step into a projected area to start activity
2. Follow visual and audio content to build an iglu
3. Enjoy the diorama reveal and learn how Inuit families live inside the iglu

Behind the scenes

Our process involved brainstorming and refining ideas, building prototypes for some interactions, making a concept video, and working with feedback and critique. We collaborated very closely throughout the process while each taking the lead on prototyping one or two main interactions. The two that I contributed to the most during the prototyping phase were "Arctic Waters" and "Iglu: A disappearing art."

Concept ideation

Concept evaluation and refinement


Concept video


This project was very unique to me in terms of the type of interactions we designed. At initial stages, we explored and researched various technologies, such as AR and VR, but eventually decided on projection mapping as the main design medium. That is because its inclusive, participatory nature that allows almost everyone to be engaged simultaneously and collectively is very appropriate both in the context of our project specifically and in a museum setting in general.

Within the brief project window, we made lots of progress and learn many new skills, while having lots of fun together. We were able to identify design opportunities in the Polar World exhibit through research, design a series of interactions contextually situated in the exhibit, and present the concepts through prototyping, Wizard of Oz, or simulation. I also leveraged my coding skills directly for the first time in a design project to prototype and live-demo the "Arctic Waters" interaction.

What’s next?

I'm open to
UX, product, interaction design opportunities
in 2023.

Let’s get in touch