How I empowered young adults to contribute to the design of a new museum

  • Co-design with young adults 15-25
  • Workshop facilitation
  • Journey mapping visitor experience
  • Persona development
  • Research design (surveys, interviews)

Timing: Jan 2017 – May 2018

A group of young people sitting on the floor listening to someone speak
MOD. CoLab

The Challenge

MOD. was a new museum being built in South Australia with the goal of engaging young adults aged 15 – 25 in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM). MOD. aimed to be Australia’s leading future-focused museum – a place where young adults could come and be inspired, could socialise and hang out. With 18-months until the launch, the MOD. team needed a way to empower young people to be part of the design process to make sure MOD. met their expectations.

Solution – MOD. CoLab

I created a monthly ‘drop-in’ space called MOD. CoLab in an old tute room on campus and near a city tram stop. We invited people, via our social media channels and using Eventbrite to manage RSVPs, to drop in after school with the promise of free pizza and the opportunity to contribute to the design of MOD.

To make people feel comfortable and welcome, the team wore casual dress (to be honest this was our uniform anyway), we had drinks and food on hand and a collection of robots and other tech for people to come in and play with as an icebreaker (we knew formal introductions can be scary).

The sessions were designed to be fun with a bit of design mixed in. We let attendees know what we were working on, gave them sneak peeks of what the team were considering and then applied a range of different human centered design activities to empower them to help us solve our design challenges.


I facilitated workshops to understand the needs and drivers of young people and then converted these insights into easily actionable recommendations for the MOD. team. Outcomes as part of these workshops included:

  • Prioritised ideas for what young adults wanted to see in the museum (via interviews and open discussions)
  • Five validated young adult personas and set of user needs (via interviews, user reviews and testing)
  • A mapped future-state visitor journey including pain points and opportunities to innovate (via a journey mapping workshop I facilitated where young adults mapped the journey they wanted)
  • Prioritised list of ways to consume exhibition content (card sorting workshop and focus group)
  • All galleries and exhibits tested prior to launch (scenario and usability tests, walkthroughs and face-to-face-interviews)

I blogged about key insights here.

Testing our hypotheses and finding new solutions

The insights gained from the young adults we designed and tested with significantly shaped key elements of our launch exhibition including way-finding, the delivery of content and information about the exhibit, event programming and gallery designs. Two examples of where they shifted our thinking are included below:

Our hypothesis: Young adults love technology and so an app that helps visitors navigate the exhibition and access additional content will be their preference.

Insight: Young adults told us they were concerned about storage on their phones, they don’t always want to have to download apps to experience things and have diverse needs and expectations around how they experience a museum or exhibit. One size won’t fit all.

Result: We parked our idea to create a bespoke app and instead created a range of content layers that could be flexibly used and accessed by visitors allowing them the freedom to choose how they would experience the exhibition. All barriers to access were removed within these content layers that included: a responsive website (MOD. provided free wifi), digital screens on site and embedded content within exhibits so that explanatory signage wasn’t needed.

Our hypothesis: Young adults don’t want a traditional museum experience with signs and dictated paths – they want freedom to explore in their own way and will be happy to ask someone for help if they need.

Insight: Young adults told us that while they want freedom they don’t want to feel conspicuous (‘look stupid’ or ‘feel confused’), providing them with enough information to navigate a space their own way (and without feeling like they have to speak to staff) is really important.

Result: We added in more self-serve instructional elements that we originally planned for those that wanted them including a map of the museum, on-site signage and web content. We also providing training to our Moderator staff on when/ when not to approach visitors and what their needs were.

Lonely Planet even covered the work that I did in an interview with our Director, Kirstin Alford.

What I learnt

I learnt that young people really prioritise function over form. They wanted a visitor experience that is both unexpected but still easy for them to navigate. As I wrote in a blog post about the insights we learnt – the most surprising one for me was an overarching desire to not be made to feel conspicuous and this really shaped my thinking on the type of place MOD. would need to be.

In terms of the MOD.CoLab process, there are several things I would change about this project if I had my time again. I would probably recruit a group that followed the design process through from beginning to end, rather than working with a new group each month.

I would also go to where they were rather than inviting them in to meet us. Young adults take a bit of time to warm up, especially when dealing with something as ambiguous as MOD. was in the early stages and I think more time and more effort on building a relationship would have further empowered them to have more of a voice. I would also have run longer sessions to allow us to delve deeper into the process and include more opportunities for young adults to lead the prototyping rather than just test ideas.

A journey map showing different coloured sticky notes stuck to a wall
Journey mapping workshop
A journey map depicting the visitor experience
MOD. Visitor Journey Map – insights for the MOD. team


A single page displaying a picture of a girl and insights about an audience segment
Explorer visitor persona
Socialiser visitor persona
Images of 4 different colour cards with icons and descriptions on them 'Talk to a MOD. staff member', "Download and app on my mobile phone' etc
Card sorting exercise preparation