Enriching the Intrepid Experience – UX Research & Design

My role: UX research, prototyping, design

Tools Used: Tableau, Sketch, Illustrator, Trello, InVision

The Challenge: Given the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum’s unconventional structure and layout, enrich the museum visitor’s experience by inspiring a sense of welcome, facilitating seamless wayfinding, and encouraging an atmosphere of discovery.

About the Intrepid

The Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum is a non-profit educational institution located on the Hudson River in NYC. The museum features the WWII aircraft carrier Intrepid, Submarine Growler, Space Shuttle Enterprise, and the Concorde, which support the museum’s mission to honor our heroes, and to educate, enrich and inspire.

 The Situation

The initial kick-off meeting with Intrepid stakeholders shed light on several key takeaways. Insights from the meeting indicated that Intrepid stakeholders are most concerned with:

  • Where visitors are from
  • Why they visit
  • Who is not visiting
  • What visitors like to do at the museum
  • How to improve wayfinding within the museum’s unique material constraints (the museum is on a ship!)
  • Making international visitors feel welcome, as they are the museum’s biggest demographic



To launch our research phase, we broke into groups to develop research proposals based on our three areas of focus determined during our brainstorming session (Museum Experience, Wayfinding, Ticketing/Welcome).

My group focused on wayfinding, so we tailored our research plan to reflect three goals:

  • Enhance wayfinding within the museum’s structural constraints
  • Optimize understandability of wayfinding methods by addressing internal and external language barriers, including the museum’s use of jargon and lack of translations for international visitors
  • Establish and implement best practices for wayfinding on the Intrepid compound

We chose five methods, which were driven by our research goals formed during the planning phase.

1. Wayfinding Audit / Observation

First, we conducted a combination observation and wayfinding audit to give us a preliminary idea of visitors’ wayfinding pain points, and also to collect data on existing wayfinding tools such as signage and visual cues. The audit helped us understand the current wayfinding structure at the Intrepid, and our data allowed us to determine what types of signs are most prevalent, and discover which museum areas have the most and least multilingual and icon-driven signage. 

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2. User Testing

After gleaning insights from our wayfinding audit, we designed our usability tasks to reflect issues with signage understandability, the Intrepid’s visitor guide, and inconsistencies with staff directions.

3. Visitor Interviews

We also conducted 6 semi-structured in-person interviews with visitors as they exited the museum. Our questions were designed to learn how visitors prefer to explore the Intrepid, identify any sources of confusion during the navigation process, and hear about what went well during the visit, and what didn’t go so well.

4. Competitive Analysis

Researching other companies and institutions and finding examples of successful wayfinding systems helped us identify some common tools used for seamless navigation. We purposefully researched companies outside the scope of museums, gleaning valuable insights from our research on public transportation systems and theme parks.


5. Yelp/TripAdvisor Audit

As a final step in our research process, we gathered and coded commentary from Yelp and Tripadvisor. Our analysis provided especially strong quotes and insights into visitors’ wayfinding pain points.


Our Findings

After analyzing our research, made affinity diagrams to triangulate and glean some common themes across all five methodologies.


Several of our findings from affinity diagramming directly pertained to wayfinding and signage. We learned that:

  1. Visitors prefer to wander the compound, but are often frustrated when trying to navigate using museum tools.
  2. Visual design, color, use of iconography, and language on museum signage is inconsistent.
  3. The element of “discoverability” is important to visitors’ experiences

Sharpening Our Focus

Our research findings had some surprising results that caused us to recalibrate our areas of focus. With a holistic goal to enhance the museum experience while augmenting a sense of welcome, we reorganized our design challenges into three interconnected categories: ticketing/welcoming, wayfinding, and signage.

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Design Proposals

My team’s focus on signage would emphasize the use of visual cues such as color, iconography and improved signage templates to enhance visitors’ navigation through the museum. Our deliverables for Intrepid stakeholders reflected the “Minimum Viable Product” – a small “slice” of a larger proposal that would will measure and evaluate our suggestions before building out unproven ideas.

Proposal #1 – Integrate Color and Iconography

First, we sourced and customized icons to represent each major area of the Intrepid. We then assigned each icon a color,  and chose a color palette tailored to those who are color blind. We were meticulous in creating iconography understandable to international visitors.

Proposal #2 – Creating New Signage Templates

After developing a working icon library, we then sought to implement these visual cues into museum signage. Our wayfinding audit from the research phase helped us determine that the Intrepid currently uses two levels of signage to orient visitors. We expanded this model by developing a  three level signage system, creating paper prototypes for evaluation before firming up digital prototypes in Sketch.

Paper Prototypes

Our signage proposal is intended to help museum visitors navigate toward general museum areas, such as the space shuttle or the flight, then navigate within those spaces seamlessly. Consistent use of color throughout the levels of signage provides reinforces the visitors’ sense of location.

Proposal #3 – Design Working in Tandem

Our signage deliverables were designed to flow in tandem with with deliverables from the wayfinding group and the ticketing/welcoming group.

– The wayfinding group’s proposal for a redesigned visitor guide would make use of both our color and icon assignments to reinforce the visitors’ sense of place.

– The ticketing/welcoming group’s digital prototypes for a reconfigure Intrepid ticketing website and ticketing kiosk integrate my team’s iconography and color scheme to help orient visitors even before they arrive at the museum.

Ticketing kiosk screen with integrates color and iconography


One of our goals was not only to provide a “slice” of a larger museum experience improvement, but to deliver stakeholders a plan for implementation. Our final pitch to Intrepid stakeholders presented this “slice” of our museum enrichment plan, and was followed by a feedback session with Intrepid stakeholders.

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Our deliverables were designed so Intrepid employees can use our tools to build, measure and learn – testing our hypotheses and slowly building out user experience enhancements based on what we’ve provided.

Final Thoughts

The working product presented user-driven vision of the Intrepid Museum that reflects the priorities discussed in our initial stakeholder meeting. By reconfiguring signage, wayfinding, and ticketing/welcoming, the museum can overcome visitors’ pain points to enrich the Intrepid museum experience for all.