Museum Exhibit App Design






The Smithsonian Institution is the world’s largest museum, education, and research complex. Smithsonian Gardens showcases the science of environments and their organisms. Their mission is to engage, inform, and inspire guests.

One of their exhibits, Key to the Forest, teaches about keystone species that are crucial for properly functioning ecosystems.


I was asked to design a fictional iPad app for the Key to the Forest exhibit. This app was to offer a more engaging, hands-on learning component to the existing written plaques. The goal was to help guests retain their learning and hypothetically increase attendance.


Through client research, I discovered that Smithsonian museums appeal most to young adults and families. I also learned how they use free admissions, workshops, and online resources to make their knowledge as accessible as possible.

The mandates became making the app’s language and process accessible to all ages and using activities to create interest for a wide variety of learners.

I gathered the exhibit’s content and created a task flow for an interface that would teach the user about keystone species.

The task flow outlined the steps of using the app and created a guideline for its content and UI.


The solution uses touch gestures (tap, swipe) and multimedia (text, imagery, video) to teach the user about the concept of a keystone, how it relates to species, and why they are so important. The app’s language explains ideas and terms for all learners to understand. For instance, if the user taps a sea otter, they read why sea otters are considered keystone. They study videos and images of how it behaves as such.

To validate learning, an interactive quiz asks whether a species is keystone based on its description. Even if users score incorrect, the app will explain how the correct answer ties into what was learned earlier.

Designed for iPad, the app follows appropriate iPadOS guidelines including a consistent top navigation bar and sidebar layout for content selection and display.

The colour palette and circular background graphics reflect exhibit branding. Turquoise is used for all interactive elements to facilitate learning. This helps the app fit in with the rest of the exhibit.

The final high-fidelity prototype can be found here.


The iPadOS guidelines affected the task flow, types of interactions, and content display. I used my own research notes on the relevant app features to make these guidelines easier to reference. This made it quicker for me to ensure I was designing the app appropriately to the iPad ecosystem.



Start & End Pages

Fruit Bat Photo By Eric Gropp

Original Source from Flickr

Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution

Pink-Necked Green Pigeon Photo by George Chapman

Original Source from Flickr

Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial

Keystone Species Examples Section: Species Select Page & Otter Page

Main Sea Otter Photo by Karen Hall

Original Source from Flickr

Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial

Keystone Quiz Section: Habitat Page & Zebra Mussel Question Page

Zebra Mussel Photo by tfsammons

Original Source from Flickr

Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial