exhibition design for the National Civil Rights Museum

fall 2017 · 12 weeks · UX / Exhibition Design

how might we design an exhibition that captures the spirit of the protesters and educates museum visitors about the Civil Rights Movement?

The National Civil Rights Museum (NCRM) chronicles America's historical and modern struggles with Civil Rights issues.  Honoring the Civil Rights Movement 50 years after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination, the museum is installing designer Derek Ham's "I AM A MAN: The Virtual Reality Experience".  The experience focuses on the 1968 Memphis Sanitation Worker Strike.  My team developed a concept exhibit in which NCRM visitors would learn about and participate in the Virtual Reality (VR) experience.  Our design will be on display at the museum and contributed to the exhibit debuting in fall 2018.


precedent review & semi-structured interview

VR technology is relatively new to museums and public spaces, and unprecedented in the National Civil Rights Museum.  We reached out to several museums including the Carnegie Museum of Art to inquire about their unique experiences with VR technology.  For a more detailed report of our findings, see the presentation below.


research questions

exhibit cost

  • is the cost of the VR experience included in Museum admission?


  • what kinds of spaces are used to house in-museum VR experiences?

  • how is the exhibit set up within that space


  • how are VR exhibits staffed in museums currently?

visitation stats

  • what are the visitation rates of VR exhibits?  What are the most popular days / times and why?

pain points

  • what complications arise when installing and running an exhibit in a museum setting?


key insights

The biggest complications faced by the museum were equipment failure and crowd management.  How do we design an exhibit that mitigates these problems?



understanding VR technology, its advantages & pain points

To design a VR exhibit, we first had to understand VR Technology's operation, strengths, and usability pain points. The I AM A MAN Virtual Reality Experience experience would operate on an Oculus Rift VR headset.


location analysis

The National Civil Right Museum sits in the Lorraine Motel, the site at which, in 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King Junior was assassinated while speaking to Memphis’s Sanitation workers.  The workers were striking for better and safer working conditions and equal rights.  The slogan they wore to define their struggle read, "I AM A MAN"


The museum has two buildings: the Lorraine Motel and Legacy Building, the latter of which is the location of the new exhibit.  We mapped users' experiential interpretations of the museum's various nested physical and virtual spaces to get a better sense of their mental state.    


understanding the existing "I AM A MAN" exhibit

The museum already has an "I AM A MAN" exhibit in which visitors interact with a life-size sanitation truck, video, audio, and a timeline of strike events. We mapped the user's journey through this and other exhibits to better understand their mindset and needs upon entering our exhibit. 

Museum visitors will already have seen some "I AM A MAN" material.  How do we draw them to our exhibit, enhance the exhibit experience and honor the museum's history-rich location without presenting redundant information?


design goals for the VR play area


of viewers in history and the experience



of visitors of all ages and abilities (within Oculus rules) 



for VR headsets, monitors, accessories, and cleaning equipment



Privacy to comfort visitors in VR play area while remaining visible to other exhibit visitors

easy acce

Easy access to equipment for museum staff or technicians (consider human factors)


designing the VR play area

insert image & talk about fac

VR play area





glass facade


staff kiosk


back wall








explaining VR




suspended signage




the VR play area facade 

The exhibit's facade was designed to balance visitors' privacy and intrigue and to make them feel as though they are a part of the photograph.




how do we engage visitors beyond the VR play area?

designing the exhibit space

Upon receiving the exhibit dimensions, we discovered that we had a lot more space to work with than the 8 x 16 rectangle we had designed previously.  The museum permitted us to use as much or as little of this space as we deemed necessary.  See the floor plan and my sketch below to get a sense of the space.


We considered a variety of physical and digital opportunities for visitor engagement and interaction, including times.ines, group and individual reflection, and VR education.




proposed exhibit visitor journey

I modeled this diagram to explain the visitor's experience at each area in the exhibit space.



digital exhibit renderings

I modeled our team's graphics in 3D space using Fusion 360.  Click through to walk through the exhibit!

design proposal


physical exhibit scale model

Together, we created a physical representation of our exhibit at scale.

awards & recognition

My team's exhibit design was on display at the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis in April 2018.  It was also featured in an exhibition at North Carolina State University's African American Cultural Center (see photos below) and as the cover story in The Technician, NC State's newspaper. 


This project was a lot of fun!  I loved the complexity of the challenge and learned so much.


This project was a collaboration between myself and my talented teammates:  Clara May, Magdalyn Foley, and Mackenzie McCallum



let's chat about design :)



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