Laura Zuk

Tactile Tote

A collaboration with the Boston Museum of Fine Arts (the mfa), myself and fellow students Olivia Martinez, Isabelle deMetz and Steven Meyer worked to enhance the experience for visually impaired guests in the renowned art museum. Over the course of 4 months we developed a solution to the problems in the already existing system that was thousands of dollars cheaper than expected and easy to implement.


Since we had a fairly limited time to work on this projects (4 months is a lot shorter than it seems when you're juggling three other classes and other responsibilities), we had to create and stick to a tight schedule.

Below is a detailed diagram, starting with our basic timeline - defining what we should be working on at which point in the project - to a breakdown of what we actually did and what we learned from it. Over the four months we worked on this project, we met with a stakeholder or took a trip to collect data almost every week.

Chart detailing project from start to finish with photos of the process lining the bottom

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Analyzing & Defining the Problem

The next steps in the process were to figure out the problem we were trying to solve. What we understood was that visually impaired people were fairly satisfied with the museum experience, so we had to create a way to make it better. What was supposed to be one solution turned into three that ended up being beneficial to way more than just our target stakeholders.


Initially, we developed three personas to help us develop what we needed for the solution. All three were visually impaired, with varying degrees of sight and age (and hobbies, personal lives, etc). In the latter half of the project, we added in Madison, a tour guide for visually impaired guests at the mfa. We wanted to cover all bases for guests, and then expanded towards those who would be using the system behind the scenes as well as on the front side.

Chart with the Four personas and details about them along with the characteristics specifically considered for the project (vision ability, memory of vision, connection to art, etc.)

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Collecting Data

During the research period (and into analysis and prototyping), we collected a monumental amount of data. Of course, we had to organize the info. Below are three pieces of data we've organized into (somewhat) neat pieces of information architecture.

First off, we have the stakeholder map, depicting the relation of everything the main user (the visually impaired guest) will interact with over the course of their time in the museum. The circles indicate proximity to the guest, and the different colors show what different parts of the museum or the user's life they interact with.

The second diagram is from a field study in which we went into each gallery and took detailed notes on the piece and how it made us feel. The last section is from our group member who did not go with us to the museum, and instead formed her opinions on our descriptions and then was later showed the pictures. The squiggly lines indicate the mood of the person viewing it.

Lastly, we have the survey questions, sent out to mfa guests who had taken the tours before. Unfortunately, we didn't get sufficient results to form any conclusive data, but below are the questions we formed to ask.

A group of circles showing the connections between people who will be using the product and those they interact with.

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Infographic charting user's engagement as they were taken through the museum.

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Screenshots of survey sent out to learn more about MFA visitors.

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Creating a Solution

After all the research, we began to form a solution. We brainstormed ideas on real sticky notes and then transferred them into a digital format, and organized them by a variety of categories. After we laid out our ideas, we picked the ones we decided would be the most feasable and cost effective with the budget were working with. Thus, we rounded it down to two ideas which we then set into motion.

sticky notes with lines connecting them showing ideas for digital, in person, and other elements of the project.

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Chart with sticky notes brainstorming based on feedback given.

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Ultimately we came to two conclusions: Tactile navigation, and a Tactile Tote bag.

First off, we have the Tactile Tote enhancements. We proposed the idea of the guides carrying around bags with different objects inside, but that was already being implemented by mfa workers. Many of them were creating their own objects and bringing them in so visually impaired guests can get a feel for the pieces (pun intended). The system, however, operated mostly by word of mouth where a guide would tell others about different objects and that was the only method of the information getting around. In addition to creating an organizational system, we also prototyped a bag redesign to help brand the tours better and make sure the objects stay safe to increase their longevity.

Click to use the organizational system prototype

Illustration of Tactile Tote bag and various art piece related contents
Photo of binder and prototypes of the plastic tote bag with art related contents.

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The other idea was introducing a tactile map to the tour takers to help them understand the layout of the museum better and their location in it, as the shape of the gallery can impact a piece's presentation. We considered having tactile maps placed on the wall of each gallery, but creating a not-too-obtrusive and cheap map wasn't exactly possible, as it would require the pieces to be shifted in every gallery and an installation that would have to change as the gallery pieces shifted. There would also be a component that would be attached to the floors - grit tape - that was textured enough to be felt by both shoes and white sticks, and would loop around the massive museum to help visitors on their way back to the information desk or check-in. This would not only help visually impaired guests, but also sighted guests as well.

Concept sketch of various textures to be used on tactile maps of museum
Map of MFA made with puff paint and legos glued to it to emulate differnt textures.

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Photos and notes about textured tape and how it feels and works.

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Final Proposal

Our final proposal was database / application for accessibility tour guides to select objects that will help VI visitors to experience artworks more deeply. The following diagrams describe the current system and how our proposed system would enhance the overall system.

Tactile touch tour items and a chart detailing how the mfa's current system for visually impaired guests worked.

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Proposed system suggests taking notes on visitors to better tailor tours to their preferences

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Notes on Impact of project an how it can be used in other museums.

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Table detailing overall costs of project, which end up being 31 thousand dollars less than the budget at 875 US dollars.

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Below is the prototype drawing for the new, redesigned tote bags that the tour guides would carry around with them. They would be branded and advertised to sighted guests, who would pay to take the bags on their own walks around the museum (selecting the pieces they wanted to experience more closely before they obtained the bag) and the payments would help cover the upkeep of the bags, while it would remain free to visually impaired guests.

Illustration of tactile tote bag with mfa logo and dimensions.

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To illustrate how these bags would be implemented in the museum, we created service blueprints to show the front and back-end of how the tours would work with our enhancements. Below that is also a storyboard, for those who would want a more narrative rendering of the experience.

Timeline of how an average tour for visually impaired guests would go.

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Illustrated storyboard of a user and tour guide's process and actions during the tour.

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Overall, our project would make a tour guide, and a guest's, experience run much more smoothly and the costs would leave tens of thousands of dollars left to spare.