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Copyright 2019 Rachel Pollock. All rights reserved.

Find Your Marbles

design consultation for Marbles Kids' Museum

fall 2018 · 8 weeks · UX & wayfinding Design

how might we provide playful ways to welcome and orient Marbles' guests across the museum campus?

Marbles Kids Museum is a critical institution in downtown Raleigh, North Carolina.  Tasked with providing playful ways to welcome and orient museum guests and to help them navigate seamlessly around the museum campus, my team designed a research-based, guest-centered wayfinding experience.  We worked with and alongside another team focused on improving the museum’s engagement with its larger exterior community 


This project was completed as part of a class called "Design It Forward". Interdisciplinary teams of students partnered with nonprofits to solve their problems, under the guidance of IBM designers and IBM's Enterprise Design Thinking problem-solving framework.  

my role

primary research (observation, interviewing) and secondary research, explaining the design research process to the non-designer members of our team, persona generation, as-is journey mapping, workshop facilitation, to-be scenario, presentation information architecture, 

as-is scenario

We synthesized our research into the following as-is scenario which summarizes the visitor pain points we recognized in our research.  Click through to follow the Brooks family through a visit to Marbles.

developing personas

The Brooks Family persona is composed of a Grandmother (Age 67), her son (Age 38), and his two young children, Noah (Age 8), and Violet (Age 5).  Many of the pain points we observed occurred during first-time Marbles visits. Therefore, the Brooks family has never been to Marbles before.

research goals

What is the current experience like for Marbles' guests?  My team spent about 3 weeks researching the existing Marbles Kids Museum guest experience.  I assumed a leadership role during this phase of the project by explaining design research methods to my non-designer teammates and empowering them to conduct them on their own.

research methods

- examining the museum's website and marketing collateral

- fly-on-the-wall and participant observation

- unstructured and semi-structured Interview (with museum team members)

- on-site surveys (with museum guests)

- stakeholder mapping

- site mapping

- photography

- examining user-generated content (online reviews, social media posts etc)


We researched their mission, current engagement strategies and visitation rates and presented our findings to the Marbles Team for validation (see clickthrough below).

research synthesis

key pain points, takeaways & insights


  • There were 3 degrees of signage that compose Marbles' Wayfinding system: permanent, temporary, and changed-daily 


Pain points for Marbles Guests 

  • As a whole, the Marbles signage system was not cohesive.  Even the restroom signs varied from space to space.

  • Between watching their children and visual/auditory stimulation, parents already suffer a large cognitive load at the museum.  Therefore, they won’t offer more than a glance to figure out where to go before asking museum staff.

Pain points for Marbles Employees

  • Signs are mainly analog, making them time-intensive to change
    • Marbles' takes pride in the fact that it is a screen-free environment

  • The root of the problem was a general lack of efficient inter-team communication. This invaluable insight was only uncovered through in-depth observation of the Marbles’ team’s internal operations.  The Marbles team lacked a centralized communication system.  In addition, each team was responsible for developing its own signage and communication for its own events, leading to a general lack of cohesion across the museum.  


At this phase in the project, our design team split into two groups: one focused on improving Marbles' exterior engagement, and one focused on improving Marbles' internal campus flow and connectedness.  I worked on the latter.


After discussing our research findings with the Marbles team, we determined that, while it would be valuable, restructuring the teams’ internal communication was not feasible for the project scope.  Therefore, we chose to focus our efforts on improving the current wayfinding system for the Brooks family. We re-framed their needs and summarized them in the following statements:

who? what? wow!: defining Hills

“Hills” are statements that align the design team around a single goal.  They detail who is being designed for, what will be designed (in very general teams), and the value that design will bring to the client.  We developed the following hills for our target personas and validated them with the Marbles team.

what if the toilets were shaped like frogs? 

(and other big ideas)

Sometimes to get the right solution, you have to ask some crazy questions and generate some even crazier answers. And we did.  Every idea was met with a "yes, and...?".  From candy-dropping, guest-directing drones to frog-shaped toilets, we considered as many ways as we could to make Marbles' wayfinding experience playful, fun, and engaging. Though drones couldn't personally direct guests (not on our budget at least), we could use the attributes of some of our craziest solutions to devise a more practical one.

to-be scenerio

To demonstrate the efficacy of our solutions to the client, we created the following to-be scenario which explains how our would solution solve the problems we observed in the as-is scenario.


so how will we get there?: 

design proposal


implementation timeline


Ultimately, our solution set works together to empower Marbles' guests.

the gala

We presented our final design proposal to our client and their stakeholders at a Gala at Marbles Kids Museum. 

reflection & next steps

Our proposal received overwhelmingly positive responses from the

Marbles Team.  The team is discussing the potential implementation of our solutions.


Our research uncovered something really important- the lack of a centralized internal communication system.  Time permitting, we would have solved the internal communication issues we observed within the Marbles team.  


This project taught me a lot about collaborating with non-designers (engineers, business students, and even physics students) who did not understand the design process when we began the project.  I found myself not only in the role of a student in the class, but also as a facilitator.  There were a few bumps in the road but I became a better facilitator and advocate for our users in the process.  


Check out the NC State College of Design's summary of the project here



I couldn't have done this project without my team of designers, engineers, business students: Jecori Owens-Shuler, Kylie Ogburn, Cait Rathvon, Cole Ferguson, Paola Amparan, and Camden Conekin.  Shout out and thank you  to the IBM designers who guided us along the way!