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UMSI students team up with Smithsonian Institution to improve digital museum experience

Tuesday, 09/26/2023

University of Michigan School of Information students teamed up with the Smithsonian Institution’s 3D Digitization program to help bring space shuttles and dinosaur bones right into your living room. 

Bachelor of Science in Information students Benjamin Decker, Lexi Fogel, Arjan Guglani and Christine Pak worked to evaluate the user experience of the Smithsonian’s 3D content platform, ‘Voyager’, as part of their user experience design capstone course project.

The Voyager 3D platform seeks to bring the most notable objects of the institution's collection into the digital realm. Through the creation of highly detailed 3D models of objects ranging from fossils to spacecraft, more people throughout the world can interact with objects they might not otherwise have the opportunity to see in person.

students near a fossil in a museum
Christine Pak, Arjan Guglani, Lexi Fogel and Benjamin Decker at the University of Michigan Museum of Natural History.

"Our goal was to figure out how they can better adapt the Voyager 3D tool to be more usable to the museum-going public, as well as educators and students," says Arjan Guglani. “We focused our efforts on usability studies and user interviews to characterize how different groups use the tool or what they expected out of the tool.”

Through the usability studies and interviews, they discovered that one of the pain points for users was a cluttered toolbar, which often caused confusion. "We tried to declutter the tool by providing better iconography and more steps and directions," says Benjamin Decker.

“I think the biggest takeaway here is the level of treatment and care you have to put into your research and avoiding bias, and building that trust,” Arjan said of working with a client. “Even though we're still students, they will heed those recommendations and integrate them into a product that's used by millions of people.”

a screen shot of a 3d viewer of a space suit
A view of the Smithsonian's 3D Voyager tool.

Jamie Cope, lead developer for the Smithsonian 3D digitization team, said the students helped improve the Smithsonian 3D experience for all users. "Working with the UMSI student group was a great opportunity for us to get fresh eyes and new perspectives on our tools.”

Megan Dattoria, project manager for the Smithsonian 3D digitization team also noted the students’ fresh perspective and energetic attitude. ”They gave us actionable feedback that we've already begun to implement.”

While the undergraduate capstone course is designed to provide students with important real-world experience working with a client, Benjamin says the team found unexpected benefits during the process.

“We made such a bond over this project," Benjamin said. “I made three besties in my last semester of college, and it's all because of this project.”

Jeffrey Smith, multimedia producer

Learn more about UMSI's Bachelor of Science in Information program.