The National Arboretum holds a unique distinction of being a research facility but also a living museum where Washington, DC locals and visitors alike come to spend some time in the tranquility of nature within steps of the busy energy of the city.
The US National Arboretum is situated in 446 acres in the middle of Northeast Washington, DC, and has 9 miles of roadways lined with thousands of different plant species, each with interesting stories, for people to explore. The Aboretum had something to offer during every season. In spring, the Azalea collection stuns with a sea of pink, coral and purple throughout the park. During the summer, visitors some to picnic around the crape myrtles and soak in the smells of the herb garden at it’s peak. And year-round, the Capitol Columns, which original stood on the East Portico of the Capitol, are a perennial crowd favorite.
After talking to members of the National Arboretum staff, we honed in on why it was crucial to create a mobile application for visitors to the site.
The application aimed to:
I worked with the wonderful team at Blue Raster and members of the Arboretum staff to make this application a reality.
Although our priority was building a mobile application, we looked at this app as just a small part of the overall experience. Together we worked in a visioning session to define what needed to be done to improve the experience at the Arboretum and where the mobile application could help.
To find the answer, we started by asking the Arboretum staff about their typical day, workload, and what they love the most about being on the staff. During the conversations, we learned most of the staff was often asked the same questions over and over by visitors through the course of the day. Since these staff members worked on the grounds as scientists and researchers, not tour guides, these questions distracted them from their actual job. Hopefully, this application could make their jobs easier too.
Visitors to the Arboretum generally fell into 2 categories:
Primary needs: What should I see? Where should I go?
Primary need: To learn additional and new information about the Arboretum
By quickly iterating through rough sketches, we were able to explore many different directions to take before moving to wireframing and the client presentation.
Since this application was just a small part of the overall experience, we started to define the pieces of the current experience – the good and the bad – and what we could enhance even more and what we could improve. Because the U.S. National Arboretum is a government run institution, and unable to collect visitor data, we instead relied on the Arboretum staff, public reviews of the Arboretum and user journeys to understand the needs of visitors.
In order to enhance the experience, what does the application need to do?
Since visitors come from all different backgrounds and with different needs and expectations, we aimed to design for autonomy – giving the uses the opportunity to accomplish goals on their own, aided by minimal design.
We designed the application to give the users a sense they were being looked after and we understood their concerns and needs . This includes the ability to take many different paths to take to get to the same outcome. In this case, enjoying the Arboretum as much as possible. To add to the interaction, we ensured:
Not every visitor to the Arboretum wants to spend their time staring at their phone, and neither do we. So we aimed to engage both active and passive application users.
The application is currently being developed.