Preliminary Proposal for An Online Virtual Museum Collection

I put this proposal together as part of my final coursework for my Master’s Degree in Applied Anthropology. The original proposal was developed for a specific museum, but I reworked it a tad to be more broadly applicable.


Virtual collections require special considerations apart from their physical form. Although some consider a virtual collection to be a representation of the collection, others would argue it is an entirely different type of digital artifact (Morgan 2012). There are many approached available for how to digitize and present collections, and there are even more considerations for how to share. To design a collection that will be well-used and shared, I propose a five-stage user experience research and design project.

The theoretical and methodological perspectives for this study are drawn from concepts of digital public archaeology, museum visitor experience, and user experience. Digital archaeology illuminates shifting perspectives of contemporary archaeology and classical interpretive archaeologies that have occurred with the influence of digital technology(Morgan 2012). The field of study now referred to as User Experience (UX), may present a viable set of methods to examine this experience. User Experience is interested in the total experience of designing a system to solve user needs. It studies the experience people have when interacting with a product at all stages of its development, including using, fixing, and upgrading. The main inspiration for UX research questions relate to assessments of product value, usability, adoptability and desirability.

The basic methods of User Experience pertain to questions of understanding users, design and prototyping, and evaluating design (Gothelf and Seiden 2013). This project will consist of five iterative phases, each concluding with a period of reflective analysis and/or deliverables.

This project aims to benefit the Museum and their collaborative partnerships with cultural groups by providing a framework and guidance for the virtual collection design process. Applying User Experience methods to this project also presents a potential model for other institutions and researchers to develop future virtual collections that can enhance the usability and accessibility of their educational and interpretive programs.



The methodology for this project is based on an iterative process from the field of User Experience (UX) Research. User Experience refers to the experience people have when interacting with a product at all stages of its development. In the case of this thesis research, the represented product is the virtual collection. These methods of user research are similar in execution to those used in anthropological inquiry; however, the goal is to understand the experience of the user in a manner that can be applied to a product or system.

Because UX is an iterative process, the methods included in each phase are informed by previous phases. These phases serve as a broad guideline and can be useful when working with multiple stakeholder communities. Each phase will conclude with a summary of analysis and/or deliverables. This project is segmented into the following phases:

  • Phase I: Identify Potential Users
  • Phase II: Assess User Needs
  • Phase III: Build Virtual Collection Prototype
  • Phase IV: User testing
  • Phase V: Virtual Collection Implementation

Phase I: Identify Potential Users

This exploratory phase will utilize surveys shared broadly on the internet and social media to gather evidence on potential users of the virtual collection. Questions will aim to understand key characteristics of user groups, such as age, cultural affiliation, and what their main goal is for visiting a virtual collection.

Phase II: Series of Focus Group Sessions

Data collection for phase II will be drawn from focus-group style sketching session that will include multiple shorter periods of brainstorming and discussion between representatives of the Museum, cultural groups, and a representative sample of any other potential users identified in Phase I. Sketching refers to a rapidly drawn series of ideas that is meant to visualize the potential design discussion. The objective is to explore any potential features for the system, along with any design constraints. 

Phase III: Build Virtual Collection Prototype

The third phase brings the ideas into reality by way of low-fidelity interactive prototypes. To understand the effect of proposed virtual collection features on user experience, partial prototypes will be developed for user testing. These prototypes will contain key elements that users need but will not be fully interactive. The intention is to collect more detailed feedback before investing in a full implementation of an unusable collection.

Phase VI: User Testing

User testing will be one of the most extensive phases of this project. The goal of user testing is to assess how effectively users can perform specific tasks within the system. This experiment utilizes open and closed ended tasks to test functionality of product. In open ended tasks, users select when they believe to have completed, and closed ended tasks have end goals for the users to reach. An example of a task for a virtual collection might be to locate specific information about items in the collection. Specific prototype examples will be determined during phase II of the project. The usability test structure will consist of a combination of prototype examples relating to a sample of the systems elements, along with questions relating to those examples. The participants for this phase will be drawn from potential collection users who will be invited to participate via social media.

Users will interact with the site with the researcher observing and be invited to “talk aloud” while performing tasks, creating a reference to the internal thought process of interacting with the virtual collection. Notes will be taken by researcher, and the session will be recorded via voice recording and screen capture. After completing tasks, the users will be debriefed through an interview, which will be recorded electronically. The information collected from the interviews will be analyzed by means of a content and keyword analysis. This final assessment will specifically focus on the good and bad experiences users encounter when completing tasks in the virtual collection system. User testing can either be conducted in person, or remotely (Symonds 2011).

Phase V Implementation

In this phase, the researcher will work with the Museum and technical specialists to develop the final manifestation of the virtual collection. The final design and platform decisions will be discussed throughout the previous phases, leaving this phase broadly open depending on user needs. There is no assessment or human subjects research planned for this phase.

Special Considerations for Tribal Collections

While some objects may be an essential part of a collection, they may not always be intended to be widely shared. This is especially true regarding Native American collections. Therefore, any Tribal representatives will be consulted specifically regarding special restrictions and sharing constraints. A viable option is to implement a tiered password access on sensitive items. Users who are not granted access will be presented with an error message describing why they may not be able to view the object. There is also the option to limit some images or information to be viewed by Tribal members only.



Gothelf, Jeff, and Josh Seiden
 2013   Principles. In Lean UX: Applying Lean Principles to Improve User Experience. First edition. The Lean Series. O’Reilly, Beijing; Sebastopol, CA.

Morgan, Colleen Leah
 2012   How to understand digital artifacts in archaeology. In Emancipatory Digital Archaeology. University of California, Berkeley, United States — California.

Symonds, Emily
 2011   A Practical Application of SurveyMonkey as a Remote Usability-Testing Tool. Library Hi Tech; Bradford 29(3):436–445. DOI:

Published by Nikki M

Applied Anthropologist and Digital Dance Specialist

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