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Turning Museum Visitors into Designers
Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum
July 2013-Dec 2014
Local Projects
UX Design/Direction, Concept
Image © The Verge

A design museum exists because of designers, and yet previous visitors to the Cooper Hewitt were rarely so; the idea of viewing the collection seeming more the realm of collectors than designers. With that in mind, I wanted to instead find a way to encourage museum visitors to look at the collection like designers—with a more opportunistic eye, and view the museum's permanent collections with renewed interest. Was there a way to motivate visitors to utilize the collection as designers rather than curate a design collection catered for museum viewers?

A smart pen is the means to your creations and your unique identity.

It all starts with a simple idea. Browsing and finding inspiration encourages visitors to design their own objects while the act of making encourages visitors to seek out other objects as inspiration.



Multiple ways of browsing can provide different ways into the collection. It can also be the start of your own design.

With visitors flipping between making and browsing, the 'Inspiration Feed' acts as the lynchpin between the two, a continuous recommendation engine for objects based on your choices.

Image © The New York Times

Immersion Room

The Immersion Room lets visitors explore the museum’s wallpaper collection as they were meant to be seen, in situ. The same making and browsing paradigm is exploited here but amplified due to the dynamic, immersive aspect of seeing your designs live. In addition, key wallpaper objects trigger audio accounts from both past and contemporary designers on their favorite pieces, so that everyone in the room can participate.



Visitor designs, images taken from Instagram

Your body inspires design

Through movement of their own bodies, visitors learn how objects in the collection are designed to fit our everyday activities and impact our lives. Movements made by the visitor match poses from works of art that show design products in their natural environments.


A real design process usually evolves over many iterations; insight and progress are often made through painful elimination and prosaic processes. Moreover, a blank slate is intimidating, even to the most practiced of designers. These aspects hardly entice would-be-designers with varying skill levels.

Thus my goal was not to emulate the design process but to focus on the gratification of design, to elevate mark-making to the level of shape-and-pattern-shifting. Pedagogy is communicated rather through the voice of other designers via the collection, borrowing their color palettes and material selections.


Given the many unknowns, we quickly moved into problem-solving the interactions with low-to-high fidelity prototypes including full-scale mockups, animated wireframes outlining core interaction flows, diagrams exploring various physical and digital spatial configurations, and responsive layouts across multiple design resolutions and arrangements.

The tools that shape us

We created a set of bespoke tools that would act as a wrapper on top of the museum's exisiting databases, each designed to shape content in the way needed.

Since the museum reopened and the Pen distributed, the latest figures have far surpassed everyone’s expectations. Within just a 100 days, there were over 35K objects designed and almost a million objects collected and saved to user accounts. Visitor dwell times for the museum also increased to over 100 minutes.

Selected Awards
  • SEGD, Top 20 Most Influential Exhibit Designs this Century
  • MUSE, Gold for Interactive Exhibits
  • D&AD Graphite Pencil, Digital Design (UX, Interface Navigation)
  • One Show, Gold
  • One Show, Best in Category
  • SEGD, Merit Award
  • Core77, Interaction Winner
  • Fast Company Innovation by Design, Experience Winner
Collection Tables ((7)4k Multitouch tables)
Immersion Room (Projection + Touchscreen)
Gesture Match (Kinect)
Hewitt Sisters Table (Touchscreen)
Mansion History (Touchscreen)
Process Lab (Touchscreen)
Wireframes (static and animated)
Rapid Prototyping
User Flows
Content Analysis
Information Architecture
Program Architecture