MUSENSE is a mobile app that provides comprehensive, real-time statuses of the sensory conditions and accommodations available at museums so that autistic patrons can better anticipate and plan their visits.

My Roles:
User Research / Usability Testing / Prototype Interaction Design / UI Design

The CDC currently estimates 1 in every 44 children born with ASD, with more than 5.4 million US adults on the spectrum.

Autistic people make up a sizable percentage of the US population, but are still not properly represented, normalized, or accounted for in public spaces. Because of this, many common social environments are not suited for individuals with Autism, causing stress and reactions that further stigmatize and isolate them.

There is an undeniable cause to account for the needs of this population.

If more public institutes can be outfitted to support these adults, it can help them achieve social empowerment, success, and de-stigmatization. 

Our team focused on advocating for these changes specifically in museums, as one of the most prominent public centers in any city. From art to history, science, and more, museums are a common social hub for activity and education, providing the perfect opportunity for adults with Autism to develop their interests and engage in community settings.

Social Stories

Simple, step-by-step narrative of an example museum journey illustrated online so visitors can plan their visits similarly.

"I don't know what that is, but I suspect it's for children."
- Interviewee

Sensory Days

Dedicated museum events where sensory conditions are heavily managed and attendance is limited for fewer crowds.

"I've never heard of that at the museums I like to go to, but I would love that."
- Interviewee

Quiet Rooms

Separate, secluded areas of the museum where visitors can step away and decompress or relax before resuming their visit.

"It's hard to locate those areas, oftentimes I've ended up leaving the museum."
- Interviewee

A scattered handful of museums offer various sensory solutions for patrons with autism, but none are consistently available or even widely known.

We visited several museums ourselves, noting all key touchpoints and interactions in our journeys.

After that, we drafted and sent out a survey to 65+ participants. We asked our users about their experiences at museums in order to pinpoint what specific struggles that adults with Autism face in these environments. We pivoted from the trends noted in our survey results with a series of semi-structured interviews that informed our understanding of the wants and values autistic adults have in public spaces.

Initial User Research

- 50+ respondents
- What kind of museums are people visiting?
- Do people know what resources are available?
- What are their impressions of these resources?
- What stresses them out at museums?

Semi-structured Interviews
- Positive/negative museum anecdotes
- More in-depth insights onto survey trends

“I got so overwhelmed I had to sit on the floor for 40 minutes and just ended up leaving anyways”

- Interviewee

Managing Expectations

Museums have/have not accommodated my symptoms

The museum staff did not understand my needs

The existing resources are for kids

Coping methods are ridiculed in adults

I would love sensory days at my museum

I wish there were more virtual resources

I have to plan in specific ways for my museum visits

My family did the planning for me

Check online where everything is located

I look immediately for disability services online

Spend hours researching beforehand

Google tells me what hours are least busy

I look up exactly what exhibits I want to see

Managing External Factors

Crowds have an impact on my mental state

I generally just get anxious around other people

I get too stressed trying to follow the crowd's pace

I can't filter out individual conversations

I go to museums to be alone, and crowds do the opposite

Certain features of the museum upset me

I'm hypersensitive to repeating sounds

Flashing lights at exhibits wear me out

Layouts confusing sometimes, get lost

We organized all of our user feedback onto an affinity map, grouping common points into larger categories until we were able to see overarching themes in our user needs that we translated into key user insights for our design.

User Need 1

Users need to manage anxiety in public

Design Req 1

Should provide info on managing anxiety in crowds

User Need 2

Users need to manage anxiety in public

Design Req 2

Should provide info on managing anxiety in crowds

User Need 3

Users need to manage anxiety in public

Design Req 3

Should provide info on managing anxiety in crowds

User Need 4

Users need to manage anxiety in public

Design Req 4

Should provide info on managing anxiety in crowds

User Need 5

Users need to manage anxiety in public

Design Req 5

Should provide info on managing anxiety in crowds

We used our design implications as criteria in a brainwriting ideation session,

generating 70 rapid ideas and eventually narrowing down to two concepts that achieved all 5 of our criteria. We reviewed both concepts with several of our target users and received significant preference for one concept that we then advanced into a more high-fidelity prototype.

Sabrina is a 21 year old college student living with autism.

She often visits science museums as part of her academic research, and she spends hours before each visit researching the museum  to have some idea of what to expect, but on more than one occasion, she’s been quickly worn out and had to leave unexpectedly. She would love to be able to experience these museums  without worry or stress.

“I don’t really like going to new places. I’d rather just stay home.”

- Sabrina             

Feedback 1:
Understanding Resources

Users occasionally did not recognize the resources presented to them

“Social Story? Don’t know what that means”

Feedback 2:
Digital Affordances

Users had minor misunderstandings in clickable elements

“I thought the tags were clickable”

Feedback 3:
Tailored Experience

Users would benefit from a more personalized app experience

“If I already know what I want, I’d rather just see that than have to go into the full page”

We evaluated our prototype with several users through a series of designed tasks

In addition to this, we also reviewed our design with usability professionals, rating our tasks through a series of heuristic evaluations.

Overall, our users all successfully navigated and completed every given task. They responded positively to each feature and repeatedly expressed desire to use this app in their real lives.

Our next steps would be to iterate on our prototype to implement changes based on feedback and continue evaluating with users further. That being said, our research up until now has been undoubtedly informative and supports our prototype as an effective concept for supporting adults with autism as they navigate museum experiences in a positive, stress-free manner.