An Adventure from Concept to Prototype for the Intrepid Air and Space Museum by Brian Engel

Our Client: Before


Our task was to redesign the website for the Intrepid Air and Space Museum.  We were told they were looking to appeal to New Yorkers and make their website more mobile-friendly, but we soon found they have many more problems.


The Card Sort and Tree Test


With our goal in mind and a firm grasp on the user bases we wanted to interact with, we hosted a series of Card Sorts.  We learned from our users that while they could easily decide where to categorize Membership, there was no consensus for the other categories.

Nevertheless, we persevered and used the data to form our Tree Test.  It was here that things started coming together.  Users felt as though there should be multiple solutions to particular tasks.  As such, we created a Site Tree that reflected just that.


Competitive Analysis


It was during the Competitive Analysis that our vision really started to come together.  Taking cues from websites such as the Met and Tate, we incorporated several choices that would make the experience better for our users.




Utilizing all this, we came up with a series of sketches that would later develop into our finished product.  While some choices did make it into the finished product, there was plenty of revision and retooling.


These soon got translated into wireframes, which were used for the prototype.

Intrepid Prototype_HOME

Finished Prototype


The sketches provided the perfect jumping off point to craft our prototype.  Thanks to the help of Setareh Parvin, Amanda Belantara, and Anish Jajodia, I was able to hone my communication skills and help my group come up with an effective prototype that the Intrepid could certainly see fit to adopt into their website design.


The Insider’s Look: How Autism Friendly Spaces May have Influence in Usability Testing


As I have mentioned in the past, I was part of a special organization called Autism Friendly Spaces.  This organization specialized in helping certain organizations cater to people who are on the Autistic Spectrum.  The tools at their disposal include task managers, rooms designated for quiet time, toys to help those who need something to fidget with in order to feel comfortable, and more.  Back in 2013, I was approached by their director to become a volunteer within their organization.  It was through this that I soon learned the benefits of being an insider helping this organization achieve its goals.

One of my first major tasks with Autism Friendly Spaces was to write a memorandum for the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s website and see how easily a person on the Spectrum could navigate the page.  Of course, looking at the memorandum today, it’s obvious that I didn’t really follow any of the guidelines we learned in class for filing these particular reports.  Even so, I was commended for my insight and my suggestions for the program, even though very few of them were taken to heart.

Now, due to my current schedule at work, I unfortunately have not been in contact with Autism Friendly Spaces for quite some time.  As such, I’m not sure if I have set any sort of precedent for user testing tailored specifically towards people who struggle with Autism.  However, going through this class and learning how these designs are rigorously put through all sorts of tests just to give people the smoothest experience possible, I would argue that this sort of specific testing should be implemented.

Consider this.  There is a significant percentage of people that struggle with some sort of mental disability.  They do not see the world the same way others do.  This is something I can tell you from experience, being autistic myself.  I commit to routines, I sometimes struggle with self-awareness and social cues, and there are times when I’m easily overwhelmed by various stimuli.  However, not everyone on the spectrum can express these thoughts as articulately as I can (and that in itself is something I also struggle with, so that’s not saying much).  If there were more instances where high-functioning autistic people could participate in user testing with the specific goal of making the experience more comfortable for people like them, that wouldn’t only change how we perceive autism in this country, but it may improve the user experience for everyone involved.

For as much as autistic people are described as different from neuro-typicals, there is still a lot that we have in common with the rest of the population.  Not every autistic person sees the world in exactly the same way, just as not every person see the world in this way.  But wouldn’t everyone benefit from a website that’s easier to navigate, or a schedule to organize what you’re doing and when?  I feel like such things would be appealing to everyone, not just those on the spectrum.  And while my proposal does specifically have autistic people in mind, I feel in the end that it would benefit everyone.

Design Critique: Metropolitan Museum of Art Website (Programs for Patrons with Learning Disabilities)

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The Metropolitan Museum of Art is one of the most popular museums in New York City, spanning a large collection of various pieces of art from around the world and from every age of history.  Three years ago, I wrote a memorandum regarding their web page, specifically in reference to people on the autistic spectrum and the programs provided for them.  Revisiting the website now, a lot has changed for the better, but some aspects still need a lot of work.

The first issue that I had while exploring the website is one that I brought up in my memorandum: The layout.  In order to find the programs for people with learning disabilities, one must click on the Learn tab and summon a dropdown menu.  Now, knowing what I know now, this was easy for me to navigate.  But for some people on the spectrum, this might not be readily apparent.  The word “Learn” can be unintuitive if the person viewing the website is not a student or a teacher.  What’s more, when you click on the events provided for autistic patrons, the category shifts from Learn to Events, as highlighted by the dropdown menus above.  Without the logical constriction of autism friendly programs being in a logical category, it would be confusing and frustrating for a person with autism to navigate the website blind.  In essence, they would feel that the mapping is all over the place.

Now, of course, there is going to be overlap between these categories in the dropdown menu.  That is why the link redirect users to one category or another, depending on what they click.  But to avoid confusion, especially when dealing with autistic patrons, there needs to be clearer indications of where to find certain information.  Looking at it now, I believe the best solution would be to utilize a tagging system.  Folksonomies are starting to be the most widely-used method of cataloguing on the internet, and categorizing things is something autistic people enjoy.  The dropdown menus can still be there, but an option to search out specific tags might be helpful in finding the right information.

Another aspect of the website is that special social narrative is provided for autistic people who like the idea of a plan or routine.  The narrative can be viewed here, and I must say, this is one of the bigger improvements they made.  A previous problem I came across was that the narrative for children and the narrative for adults were, if not verbatim, too strikingly similar.  This in turn would dampen the user experience for high-functioning autistic people who do not like being patronized.  This problem was fixed, as reading over it now, it’s not nearly as patronizing.  However, both versions still feel too similar, almost as though it’s a copy/paste job.  That still doesn’t send a good message to patrons, as people of all ages don’t have the same needs.  In fact, different people with autism have different needs.

Sadly, there isn’t an easy fix for this particular problem.  The saying goes that if you’ve met someone with autism, you’ve met someone with autism.  There are some behaviors that can be categorized as autistic, but these rules are very loose and flexible.  As the name implies, autism exists on a spectrum.  As such, it’s practically impossible to design a narrative for every degree on that spectrum.  As such, the Met did the best thing they could in regards to this.  By modifying the language of the narrative, they made it so that it can address the needs of as many people as possible without feeling like an insult to their intelligence.  This in turn improves the user experience and usability of the website’s services.

But one thing that hasn’t improved are the broken links.  Several parts of the narrative and the website itself redirect to 404 pages, as though the interface hasn’t been updated in quite some time.  While some links have been fixed since my original memorandum, some continue to remain broken, throwing the usability of the website into question.  This is probably the simplest problem to fix: Update the links and provide the information users would need.

I’m not sure if the memorandum was sent to the Met itself, as I created it specifically for Autism Friendly Spaces: A non-profit organization seeking to make it easier for people with autism to experience museums, plays, and movies.  Though if they did, I’d say that while they didn’t take all of my suggestions to heart, they made some marked improvements on how to navigate their website.  Nevertheless, there is still work to be done, although the fixes are relatively simple.