Georgia Aquarium revealed expansion plans for a new gallery featuring sharks one of the most misunderstood species in the ocean to open in the late fall of 2020.
Sharks typically have a notorious reputation of being dangerous creatures of the sea that devour humans. With the new shark exhibit, Georgia Aquarium hopes to change the perspective that their visitors possess about sharks.
Specifically, their primary goal was to change the perception that their visitors have about sharks from fear to fascination.
Our task was to understand the emotions of the visitors of the exhibit and how could we transform these emotions in a way that aligns with the aquarium’s goals.
Jae Hyuk Kim
Aug 2019 - Dec 2019
Sketch, Figma, Principle, Protopie
My Role - UX / UI Designer, UX Researcher
Contributed to user research, ideation, UX workflow development,
UI design, interactive prototyping, and evaluation.
Sponsored by Georgia Aquarium
" Georgia Aquarium Shark Exhibit 2020 "
Being the largest aquarium in the Western Hemisphere, The Georgia Aquarium boasts more than 100,000 animals; representing several thousand species. The Aquarium houses this massive variety of marine fauna in 10 million gallons of marine and saltwater. Georgia Aquarium revealed expansion plans for a new gallery featuring sharks one of the most misunderstood species in the ocean to open in the late fall of 2020. The gallery is meant to evoke a feeling of fear in the beginning and turn it into curiosity and finally amazement and fascination. Essentially, the exhibits should be imparted education and entertainment at the same time.
" Change the perception of the visitors about sharks "
Georgia Aquarium believes that sharks are misunderstood creatures and have always been a victim of bad PR. They currently do not have strong advertising in favor. Most people have a misconception that sharks are predators and kill humans. However, in reality, sharks are not violent and only attack humans when they confuse them with food. To add to that, sharks are an important part of the ocean system and are even labeled as the ‘Garbagemen of the ocean’ since they weed out residues of dead fish by consuming them. However, sharks are an endangered species; most sharks that deep-sea divers have come across have noticed some sort of marks on these sharks that were caused due to human inflicted violence. With this background, the main intention behind this expansion is to change the perspective of the visitors towards sharks.
" How might we change the perception of visitors
about sharks from fear to fascination? "
Based on project kick-off meeting with the Georgia Aquarium representatives, we were able to set the high-level goals of this project.
Break stereotypes and change the perception of visitors towards sharks.
Educate and inform visitors about the shark's role in the marine ecosystem.
Provide an added element of entertainment to the exhibit through an interactive experience.
• Research Questions
• Observational Study
• User Interviews
• Elicitation Methods
• Affinity Mapping
• Persona & Journey Map
• Brainstorming & Ideation
• Idea Synthesis
• 1st Design Iteration
• Final Concept
• Feedback Sessions
• 2nd Design Iteration
• Final Design
• Shark Panel Poster
• Mobile Web Application
• Interactive Game Display
• Cognitive Walkthrough
• Task-based Usability Testing
• Design Recommendations
• 3rd Design Iteration
• Next Steps
1. Research: Understanding Users & Context
We conducted multiple research methodologies to better understand our target audience and their needs. At the beginning of the project, we conducted exploratory user research to obtain a general understanding of exhibits in Georgia Aquarium and get broader and general information about certain contexts and user groups. After that, we performed in-depth research to find out the target user's needs, pain points, and potential design spaces.
What research methods did we conduct?
Based on the initial meeting with the aquarium stakeholders and the project goals, we planned our user research in the planning table shown below. We initiated by listing out questions and information needs for each goal and then pick a proper UX research method for each question.
A screenshot from the research planning table we used internally in the team
Observation (5 Visits)
What did we want to understand?
01 General understanding of exhibits in Georgia Aquarium
• Understand the current flow of exhibits that are similar to the upcoming shark exhibit
• How is information in exhibits consumed?
• Which parts of exhibits attract or don't attract visitors?
02 How visitors behave in exhibits
• Where visitors go and which routes they take?
• How much time do visitors invest in a certain part of an exhibit?
• What visitors are saying?
• How visitors express their feelings and physical reactions?
User Surveys (202 Responses)
What did we want to understand?
01 Understand visitors and identify target visitor groups
• Categorize visitors by groups(visitor demographics).
• Frequency & duration of the visit of visitors to figure out patterns.
• Whom they are visiting with, How many people are in their group?
02 Spot potential problem areas in visitors' exhibit experience
• What type of activities do visitors do?
• What activities are enjoyable in the current aquarium?
• What activities make visitors undelightful in the current aquarium?
• How is the usage pattern of technological tools in the aquarium(smartphone, info panel)?
Elicitation Methods (21 participants)
What did we want to understand?
01 The perception of people about sharks
• What feelings or emotions do sharks evoke in people(e.g. fear, admiration, respect, and etc)?
• What are the most common themes people associate with sharks?
02 Characteristics of sharks that are attracting people's attention
• Are there any shark body parts that are more symbolic or popular than the others?
• Why did they draw body parts of sharks in a certain way(e.g. sharp teeth, huge fins, big eyes)?
• What body parts or overall characteristics of sharks do they consider menacing?
Semi-Structured Interviews (10 participants)
What did we want to understand?
01 Enjoyable and not desirable elements in the aquarium
• What elements of the exhibits did visitors really enjoy, and their reasons behind?
• What the elements that people are not particularly fond of?
• How did visitors think about the exhibit that is most similar in terms of flow and structure to the upcoming shark exhibit?
• To learn more about the people's interaction with different sources of information at the aquarium.
02 Motivations and pain points when visitors travel with different types of groups
• To uncover the group dynamics behind different types of visiting groups to the aquariums (families, groups of friends, couples, etc.).
• Why they like/ what is good about visiting the aquarium as a group?
• What types of problems that people have when they are visiting the aquarium in a group?
How did we analyze the collected data?
AEIOU & Transcriptions
For observational research, we divided our team into two groups, one team conducted structured observation along the A.E.I.O.U. framework and the other team conducted the unstructured observation. We created A.E.I.O.U. table for structured observation data and arranged visitors’ data to fit in each subset. For unstructured observation data, we transcribed notes/recordings and highlighted notable notes. Click to view the detail observation analysis data.
Data Analysis & Comparison
To interpret the survey results, we analyzed and compared the results. In addition, We added fill-in-the-blank questions for some survey questions to get more qualitative data. Click to view the detail survey analysis data.
Interview & Word Clouds
After participants are done with their sketches and personal meaning maps, we did a brief interview about the details of their sketches and their perception of sharks. And then we transcribed the interview notes and analyzed them. Based on the results, we created word clouds to see the trends and find out patterns from them. Click to view the detail elicitation methods analysis data.
We used affinity diagraming to analyze the data we collected from the interviews. We analyzed the notes/recordings and broke them down into 289 “inferences”, and wrote them onto yellow sticky notes on Miro. We then conducted affinity mapping to group similar inferences, and represent them with user quotes, and wrote them on 66 blue sticky notes. We further synthesized our data by grouping these user quotes and representing them with broader statements, on 18 pink sticky notes. We finally categorized these notes into four categorie - Planning, Group Dynamics, Motivations, and Pain Points. Click to view the detail interview analysis data.
What "Key Findings" did we obtain from the research?
We identified key research findings through our research phase, and discussed the implications these findings might have on our proposed solutions. We identified total 18 findings and their implications. Some of the most notable findings are listed below. Click to view the full list of findings and implications.
People are interested in learning new facts about marine animals, but the current information dissemination mechanisms are not effective.
Employ information dissemination mechanisms that are attractive, as well as help the user retain information.
Most visitors travel to the aquarium in a group, mostly families.
Parents sometimes have to compromise their experience at the aquarium in order to give their kids a better experience.
The solution should afford interaction with, and facilitate interaction amongst, all members of the group/family.
Consider solutions that have the ability to engage all members of the family.
Visitors, kids and adults alike, enjoy the exhibit the most when they can relate with personified traits of the marine animals.
The solution should develop empathy for the animals by helping the user identify human-like traits in the animals.
Who is our main target user?
Based on all the research process and findings, we drew out our target user of this project. We decided to focus on groups of visitors, especially families. And then we created the personas of our target users and journey maps of them with the existing exhibits in the aquarium that have similarities with the upcoming shark exhibit. Personas and journey maps helped us put the research findings and design implications into context to better understand our target user. Click to enlarge.
Persona of family visiting Georgia Aquarium
Journey map of family visiting current exhibits at Georgia Aquarium
2. Design Ideation: Exploring Design Ideas
From the research findings and design implications, we had spotted opportunity areas that could guide our subsequent design process. We began this phase of our project by brainstorming design ideas based on the research findings while keeping the project goals in mind. We brainstormed a number of ideas and then combined viable and similar ideas and rated them to come up with several design ideas. And then we organized them into four ideas to be prototyped.
Photo of brainstormed ideas
Grouping similar ideas and rating the ideas
Divergent Design Ideas
Sketch prototypes and detail descriptions of the four initial design ideas are shown below. Lists of the research findings that we based on for each idea are also included.
Feedback Session #1: Initial Design Ideas
In order to choose the direction that we would pursue in our design, it was important to look at them through an external eye. We hence decided to conduct two types of sessions at this stage. The first session was conducted with the stakeholders at Georgia Aquarium, in order to assess the feasibility, efficiency and business appeal of the solutions. Our second session was conducted with visitors to the aquarium, in order to get feedback on attributes such as desirability, usability, and usefulness.
Feedback session with the Georgia Aquarium Stakeholders
For stakeholder feedback, our main goal was to find out which of the four design concepts were most desirable for the Georgia Aquarium. We presented our four concepts to a panel consisting of multiple stakeholders from the Georgia Aquarium. The panel included: Jahmar Hannans (Director of Guest Programs and Entertainment), Joshua Blaylock (Assistant Project Manager) and Jerry Harris (Sr. Director Exhibits Graphics and AV Services). The presentation was followed by an informal discussion on the strength and weaknesses of every idea. We sought feedback from the stakeholders on topics such as integrability, feasibility, and practicality of the ideas.
Feedback session with the aquarium visitors
In order to gather feedback pertaining to the experience of the visitors, we conducted a focus group session. Each of the four potential solutions was presented to the participants, followed by a discussion. Our goal with the session was to gauge which of the four solutions is the most appealing to an average visitor to the Georgia Aquarium. The session was open-ended, however, we sought feedback on the desirability, utility, and usability of our concepts. We ensured that each of the participants had visited the aquarium more than once. We also ensured that the participants had visited the aquarium both as family, as well as with a group of friends.
Converging Ideas into "Final Concept"
Based on the feedback we received from the stakeholders at the Georgia Aquarium and the focus group, it was clear that while each design idea had unique affordances, each of them also had several usability or technological shortcomings. To create more compelling solution, we decided to create a hybrid idea that incorporates better aspects of the initial 4 concepts. In merging these ideas, we wanted to keep in mind our initial findings and design implications that led us to these ideas. We kept the research-driven features from the initial concept while trying to minimize the technological challenges posed by them.The aspects we considered and left out from each initial concept are laid out as follows:
Final Concept & Low-Fi Prototypes
User flow of the final concept
Step1: Shark panel poster with scannable QR codes
Step2: Mobile web app having information on the scanned species
Step3: Interactive Screen with a child-friendly game
Feedback Session #2: Low-Fi Prototypes
To get feedback for our final design concept, we carried out a role-playing session where participants can do a walkthrough of the prototype for different roles of family members while using the think-aloud user testing method. Our first goal was to see if the participant users can clearly understand and walk through the proposed prototype. The next goal was to identify critical issues and useful aspects through the think-aloud method and contextual inquiry. Our last goal was to validate that the prototype addressed to design insights that we discovered earlier in research, and met the needs of our specific user group. For the session, we recruited 4 participants and assigned the role of each family member to the individual participants as specified in the parentheses.
Design Iteration points
Spread out QR code posters across the exhibit.
Update photos of sharks into 3D models of sharks.
Have only one QR code for each poster so that users use it more intuitively and easily.
Replace heavy instructions on the poster to a simpler ones.
Use more bite-sized and interactive methods for information dissemination on the mobile phone.
Provide more directional information on the phone about the NFC reader.
Provide more detail information on the screen about why sharks behave in a certain way when they face certain food items.
Set the maximum movable area of sharks to prevent them from moving freely.
Have multiple smaller areas to drop in ‘food’ items rather than one large one.
Consider accessibility for children and wheelchair users for the input display.
Have a set of physical buttons separately to trigger food options to be active on the screen to distribute the crowd.
Iterate, Iterate, Iterate
Iterations of the low-fidelity prototypes with annotations based on user feedback
3. Design Prototype: Final Design
Interactive Game Display
Our design is a three-part system of multiple prototypes in sequence that can be interacted with users throughout the exhibit. They consist of the panel board of a shark, the website for mobile devices, the interactive screen display with tangible control buttons.
Step1: Shark Panel Poster
Shark panel posters will be located on the wall next to each viewing glass and will be created for each shark species.
3D Shark Figure
On the panel, there is the 3D shark figure that first draws the attention of visitors. This 3D layer of interactivity allows another view of the particular shark inside the tank that can be matched. It also gives visitors chances to have tactile interaction with the shark, which can be more useful for kids and visually impaired individuals.
Below the 3D figure, there is a QR code that seems to branch out of the particular shark’s name. Scanning the QR code will prompt visitors to open a web browser prototype that is a connected experience.
Description of the shark species
On the bottom of the panel, there is a description of the particular shark species. Visitors can get a quick understanding of the characteristics of the shark species.
Step2: Mobile Web Application
Scan QR code and name your shark
Visitors can scan the QR codes on the posters and give their scanned predators a name. The goal here is to anthropomorphize sharks by naming them and learning about them.
QR code scanning
Consume bite-sized information of the shark
After name their shark, users will go through the information about the shark including educational and fun facts about the shark. The card-based layout presents the information in a manner that is easy to consume.
General information of shark
Fun facts about shark
Shark's dietary habits
Fun facts about the shark
Learn how to drop your shark into the interactive game display
After visitors consume the information, on the last screen, users will get the instruction of how to drop their personalized sharks into the interactive game display.
Instruction of how to drop shark into the display
Step3: Interactive Game Display
User flow of the interactive game display
After visitors consume the information on the mobile app, they will get the instruction of how to drop their heir personalized sharks into the game within the display. When they tap their phone to the NFC reader on the controller, their own shark will appear on the interactive screen. Visitors can feed their shark and see the shark’s reaction on each food item.
Controller with NFC reader and food item buttons
One set of controller is dedicated to each section of the interactive screen. This means, there would be 4 controllers for the screen that has 4 sections, and only one shark would be in the one section at a time. The controller has NFC reader and food item buttons and will be placed at least at a 1 foot distance from the screen. This physical separation will be implemented in order to make it clearer to the users that the screen is not a touch screen. Each of these controllers would be placed next to each other but at varying heights to make them accessible to children, adults and wheelchair users as well.
Prototype of controller with NFC reader and food item buttons
Controller for each section
Food Item Design
Drop your shark into the inactive interactive display
If the screen has been inactive for a while, the screen will visualize the appearance of the ocean without sharks to explain the critical role of sharks in the marine ecosystem. When a visitor taps the NFC, the appearance of the ocean will turn into the healthy blue and shark will appear on the screen with a name preset by the visitor. And then the info-card at the bottom will also change to show the dietary information of the shark.
Feed your shark and learning why it 'eats' the food item
Visitors can feed with their own shark by choosing the food item buttons. Once a user drops a food item into the ocean, the shark will move toward the item. If the dropped item is food for a shark, the shark will say “YUMMY!” and the info-card at the bottom will provide more detail information about their dietary habit.
Feed your shark and learning why it 'doesn't eat' the food item
If the item is not food for the shark, the shark will say “NOT FOOD!” and doesn’t eat the item. and the info-card at the bottom will provide more detail information about their dietary habit.
4. Design Evaluation: Testing and Iteration
With the final prototypes, we conducted both expert-based and user-based testing to evaluate the prototypes. We chose to conduct Cognitive Walkthrough as our expert-based testing method to spot and address usability, feasibility, and accessibility problems in our design before beginning a round of user-based testing.
Photos from the expert-based testing sessions
After cognitive walkthrough evaluations with the experts, we wanted to get feedback from actual users in visitor’s perspective and decided to conduct user-based testing sessions. The sessions were moderated & task-based. Our goal was to receive feedback on a variety of topics that include the overall functionality, the user’s expectations, the ease of use, the error frequency, the user’s satisfaction, and the level of connectedness of each touchpoint.
Photos from the user-based testing sessions
Design Iteration based on the findings
From the collected data, we highlighted key findings from our evaluation sessions, and discussed next steps for design iteration. The findings were grouped based on related features and ranked by severity of the problem. Some of the changes that we made after the sessions include:
Explain the outcome of scanning the QR code on the poster more explicitly
Visitors might not be willing to scan without knowing what is in store for them. They cannot expect what are the outcomes of scanning QR codes, so they are apprehensive of doing so.
More than just explicit and clear instructions of using QR codes, it would be better to give a preview of what comes next after scanning QR codes. This will help people to be more welcoming to pull up their phones and scan QR codes.
Get fid of technological jargons
In the last step of the mobile web experience, some users did not understand what NFC scanning is and how it works. There are too many technical jargons used that may confuse and discourage users to continue.
Instead of using technological jargons, we replaced them with friendly language that everyone understand and be accessible to the next step of the experience.
Strengthen the message of the ocean without sharks in the interactive display
Click to enlarge
When nobody is using the interactive screen, the appearance of the ocean without sharks will be visualized to give visitors impactful message and explain about the critical role of the sharks in marine ecosystem. However, the message behind the dead and barren ocean in the absence of sharks was misunderstood by most people.
Rather than just changing the appearance of the ocean, we animated the message delivery process with more descriptions and eye-catching elements on the screen that can explain the message behind like “ This is how the ocean will look if there is no shark. ”
Conduct usability tests in an actual setting
Due to multiple constraints, we were only able to conduct lab-based sessions i.e. artificially recreating the experience at the aquarium and testing our solution. We would conduct usability testing sessions at the aquarium in order to gain more insights on contextual variables such as crowd management, group dynamics.
Address more issues and perform more rounds of design iteration
We identified problems in our design through a number of evaluation sessions. We would keep fixing more usability issues according to the findings for a better user experience. Also, at this stage, we were more focused on the conceptual side of the design features than the precise details of our design. For future iterations, we will explore more into detail to improve our design.
Make it more accessible to visitors with disabilities
Even though we kept considering accessibility aspects of our design. There is still a lot more room for improvement. Since our final design is almost visual, visitors with visual impairments might not be able to interact with our prototypes properly. Therefore, in further iterations, we would like to consider adding haptic feedback and voice user interface as a part of our design to make it more accessible to a certain type of visitor.