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A pop-up exhibit about bird migration and conservation for the Carnegie Museum of Natural History. Project for Learning in Museums at Carnegie Mellon University.


Exhibit Design + Research


Jan - Apr 2023


Learning in Museums, CMU

01. Overview

We are nature

For this project, we collaborated with the Carnegie Museum of Natural History (CMNH) to engage audiences both inside and beyond the museum walls. Our team was tasked to design a pop-up exhibition about bird migration and conservation to help raise awareness and support for more systemic change toward a sustainable future. We conducted two rounds of user research and two rounds of user testing that led to our final delivery, which tells the migration story of an American Tree Sparrow. 

The "Teedle-Eet" Exhibit consists of cartoon panels, an acrylic map installation, a digital minigame, take-home zines and window decal stickers

02. Research

What does Anthropocene have to do with birds?

We conducted four rounds of interviews with subject matter experts to learn more about the current effort to conserve bird species, common misconceptions about bird migration and conservation, and why we have the responsibility to protect birds. 

"People tend to ignore the fact that they can do simple things to create better environments for birds. We call these things 'low effort, high impact'. "

We decided to address the "low effort, high impact" things in everyday life and encourage visitors to take action. 

"People will not necessarily care for birds unless they start appreciating them first."

Birds are cute! We decided to center our design around one species of bird to make visitors feel more empathetic and connected towards the bird.  

“ I hope the visitors can know that they have a part to play within the big story of nature…whether it's positive or negative, they have a role to play.”

We decided to incorporate story-telling elements to convey the idea that we all have a part in the bigger story. 

"Bird-protective windows can be designed in a way that is perceivable by birds while not being intrusive to human life."


We decided to focus on the aspect of how humans and nature can co-exist in a sustainable way, which is central to the Anthropocene. 

02. Research

“Birds? I can't think of anything."

To better understand visitors’ mental models and associations with our design topic and to get an in-depth idea of how to approach Anthropocene values through design, we conducted a Personal Meaning Mapping session at CMNH. We presented visitors with three words, "birds", "human", and "nature", with arrows connecting them. We then asked visitors to write or draw down whatever comes to mind. 

Personal meaning maps

As a front-end exhibit evaluation tool, Personal Meaning Mapping allowed us to collect both quantitative and qualitative data. We synthesized these Personal Meaning Maps based on the extent (quantity) and depth of the nodes.


The average number of nodes per participant (14 participants in total)


Of the nodes are centered around human


Of the nodes are surface-level kowledge

We categorized surface-level knowledge nodes using a Venn diagram

We categorized in-depth knowledge into three categories

Key insights:


  • Most people know a lot of surface-level information about birds, but little in-depth knowledge about how birds are related to both humans and nature.


  • Most people did not associate a connection between bird migration and anthropogenic consequences.


  • People are very human-centric, and almost half of the answers revolve around humans. 


  • People want to take action but don't know how they can contribute to the cause.

03. Reframing

How might we...?

Based on what we've learned during research, we came up with three driving questions for future design iterations:


How might we allow visitors to understand birds' points of view to empathize with the species and take action?


How might we enable visitors to recognize that humans and birds are both inseparable from nature, and should to co-exist with the species in a sustainable way?


How might we direct visitors to useful resources on protecting birds and encourage them to spread awareness outside of the museum?

04. Ideation

Storybook, but make it interactive

We wanted to have a cohesive narrative in our exhibit, and we wanted visitors to experience the story of bird migration through interactions. We adopted a top-down method to first determine what we want the narrative to be, then brainstorm about specific elements to add in.


​We chose American Tree Sparrow for this exhibit for two reasons: it passes through Pittsburgh during migration, so visitors are more likely to be familiar with it; also, its population has experienced a long-term decline from local development, which calls for action

Since we'll be testing our prototypes during the Spring Carnival at CMU and the Sci-Tech Day at the Carnegie Science Center, our target audience will be families and children. Hence, we decided to draw out cartoons in a first-person perspective for the story portion to grab the attention of our target audience and make the narrative easier to comprehend

American Tree Sparrow

04. Ideation

Initial Prototyping

Our initial design introduced three challenges that an American Tree Sparrow will encounter during its journey from south to north in a cartoon manner. Based on these challenges, we came up with individual interactive elements that complement the cartoons. 

Challenge 1

Rising temperature and climate change


The hotter the world gets, the more north I have to move. If the temperature keeps rising, I'll have nowhere to go!

Interactive elements

We created acrylic maps that demonstrate habitat loss per Celsius degree rising. By laying the maps on top of each other, visitors can play with research data hands-on and see the changes in response to climate change. 

Challenge 2

Farming and pesticides


Human activities like farming and using pesticides will lead to my food source shrinking and habitat altering. Unethical coffee farming in particular will destroy the forest that I rely on.

Interactive elements

People rarely associate coffee with birds, so we created a digital mini-game to address the issue of unsustainable coffee production. Visitors are encouraged to scan a QR code to play the game on their phones and learn about how to help. 

Challenge 3

Light and building collision


Flying through cities can be dangerous for a bird like me. Lights during the night will cause disorientation, and during the day I often mistake the reflections on the skyscrapers as open fields. 

Interactive elements

For the final challenge, we encouraged visitors to take home some free window decals to make their windows bird-friendly, and therefore allowed our exhibit to have an impact after they leave the function. 

04. Ideation

How do we measure success?

We conducted two user testing at two different locations. For our evaluation tool, we referred to Barriault and Pearson's research study on assessing exhibits in an informal learning environment. We came up with our own visitor engagement coding framework to evaluate our initial design. Then, we made iterations based on the quantitative result and our observations. 

Sample coding sheet

We labeled visitor behaviors into three categories: 

  1. Identify/initial behaviors, e.g. approaching the table, asking exhibit-related questions

  2. Transition behaviors, e.g. reading the cartoon panels in order, completing challenges

  3. Breakthrough behaviors, e.g. playing the digital mini game, demonstrating further inquiry on the topic

Major iterations:


  • Made stands for cartoon panels and acrylic maps so visitors can view them at eye level

  • Cut down on text, and made the cartoon panels bigger

  • Changed the digital mini-game to tablet format, and provided an iPad for interaction

  • Created take-home zines for more resources



05. Delivery

Telling the story from a bird's point of view

Cartoon panel set up

Acrylic maps with stand

Digital mini game

Take-home zine

Main features:


  • Visitors can view the story from left to right for the full experience, or jump to any of the sections and still engage with the exhibit

  • We brought a speaker to play the sound of American Tree Sparrow, allowing visitors to feel more connected with the species and immerse in the exhibit with a multimodal experience

  • We printed out photos of the birds to scale to help visitors empathize with the bird

The full experience!

Presenting at the museum

05. Conclusion

Design for learning, design for change

We presented our final design in the museum and hosted a wide range of audience, including museum staff, faculties from CMU, and visitors at the museum. We received a lot of compliments on the cartoons as it's a nice way to allow visitors to empathize with the bird. The three components (acrylic maps, digital game, take-home zines, and window decals) also worked well together and provided us with a lot of opportunities to expand on the topic and to encourage communal discussion and learning. 

My takeaways from this project:

  • User testing and iteration are crucial for any design - we went through a lot of iterations based on our data from user testing. At the final showcase, many visitors were impressed by how our number has changed from the beginning. I realized that good design doesn't come from a bubble, and it's essential to test it and change it again and again to achieve satisfactory results. 


  • Design for learning that lasts - I've always been fascinated by museums and how much I can learn from just strolling through museum hallways. This project allowed me to switch perspectives from a visitor to a designer, and I realized that a good exhibit can encourage visitors to continue learning after they leave the function and influence their perception of the world in the long term.  

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