Dinosaur Passage

Dates: November 2017 to December 2017
Team: Scott Dombkowski, Devika Singh, and Shengzhi Wu
Work Type: Academic

Dinosaur Passage is a dynamic and evolving experience that allows for deeper understanding, interaction, and connection with the Carnegie Museum of Natural History. This project was specifically designed to improve the museum's visitor experience.


When looking at the museum we observed a number of opportunities:

  • A lack of experiential activitiesMuseum visitors are typically only engaged through their eyes. Can a museum trigger more of its visitors' senses?
  • Glanceability vs. ImmersionSome exhibits at a museum are designed for glanceability, while others are designed for immersion. Should a museum be designed with a single criteria in mind?
  • Relationship Beyond the MuseumMuseums struggle to extend a visitor's experience beyond their walls. How can museums extend a visitor's experience? Can visitors leave a museum with a changed perspective?
  • One Size Fits AllMuseums lack personalization. Can museums better personalize experiences or should they continue a one size fits all approach?
  • A Lack of DirectionVisitors are currently left to their own devices when determining the trajectory of their visit? Is there a better way to guide visitors through their experience at the museum?
  • Appealing to the MassesMuseums struggle to appeal to the wide range of possible visitors. How does a museum engage young children, seniors, blue collar workers, and design grad students all at the same time?

Our design process included understanding, analyzing, defining, realizing, visualizing, and documenting phases.

Dinosaur Passage Process

Research and Insights

During the understanding phase, we completed both primary and secondary research.

Secondary Research

My team read a variety of literature on museums. Through this research, we:

  • gained a better understanding of the variation in museum visitors (their motivations, etc...).
  • learned how identity dictates a user's visit to the museum
  • learned how museums are seen as institutions of society
  • saw how learning could improve through limited choice activities and already established connections.

Secondary Research Affinity Map

Primary Research

We also completed primary research that included an online survey, conversation with visitors, and expert interviews.

The online survey revealed that most people go to museums to be entertained and don't enjoy reading the information on exhibits.

Our conversations with visitors showed us that:

  • museum visits are special experiences. They are not regular occurrences.
  • museums forge connections and traditions in families.
  • museums are thought of as places of learning.
  • local visitors see the Natural History Museum as a connection to the past. These same locals have ongoing relationships with the museum.

Primary Research Affinity Map

During our expert interviews, we learned:

  • about the difficulties associated with serving such a wide range of visitors.
  • that the museum wants to engage individuals in ways similar to those outside the museum (popular culture, etc...).
  • that museums want to make their visitors aware that they are not only enjoying themselves, but learning at the same time.
  • how the museum is interested in what people retain from their visit to the museum.

Expert Interviews Affinity Map

Overall Findings

We compiled our research into four main findings.

  • Longstanding InstitutionsMuseums are institutions that last for centuries, as opposed to many modern-day enterprises that go through frequent and rapid transformations.
  • Dynamic LearningMuseums are interested in educating the public, but more often than not the public visits a museum to have an out of the ordinary experience and are not necessarily concerned about learning. This leads to an inherent misalignment in motivation.
  • Lasting MemoriesMuseum visits often involve moments of learning and spending precious time with family/friends. These visits are not typical occurrences and only happen once in awhile. Visits to a museum as a child go a long way in inculcating a curious mindset.
  • Evolving ConnectionAn individual's connections with museums are built over time. One visit to the museum will not establish a connection. Numerous visits may.
Design Question

With this information in hand, we formed the following design question.

How can an individual's experience at the museum allow for deeper understanding, interaction, and connection through dynamic and evolving experiences?

Opportunity Areas

We also developed a number of opportunity areas we hoped to address.

  • Can the Natural History Museum forge deeper and longer-lasting connections with its visitors?
  • Can the Natural History Museum become a collection of artifacts and experiences? Can you possibly bring life to the collection of artifacts?
  • Can the Natural History Museum create more dynamic learning experiences?
  • Can the Natural History Museum take advantage of its unique role in society?
Dinosaur Passage

Dinosaur Passage is a dynamic and evolving experience that allows for deeper understanding, interaction, and connection with the Carnegie Museum of Natural History. We take advantage of alternate realities' unique capacity to merge the artificial with the physical, by bringing alive the environments museums reproduce. Through our experience, visitors become creators and builders of universes existing within a museum. Therefore, more immersive learning opportunities and extended engagements between museums and their visitors are generated.


To explore a user's Dinosaur Passage experience we created a persona.

Sarah is 12 years old and lives in Pittsburgh, PA. She's been to the Natural History Museum a couple of times, with the last being a school field trip. She enjoyed that visit, but wished it was a little more interactive. She enjoys playing video games and staying in touch with her friends on her cell phone. Every week, she has music and art lessons that she enjoys. As she has grown up, she has spent more and more time with her friends and less and less time with her parents. Her parents wish that there were more activities that they could enjoy with their daughter in Pittsburgh.

One thing to note is that Jurassic Passage can engage a wide variety of audiences. While, it is specifically targeting pre-teens, a twenty-something or a mid-age couple could enjoy the experience.

Four Stages

Our concept consists of 4 key stages: the immersion stage, the creation stage, the experience stage, and the connection stage.

To further understand Dinosaur Passage, you can find a walkthrough of Sarah's experience below.


Sarah visits the Natural History museum with her parents.

She is particularly excited about the dinosaur exhibit. One of the docents introduces her to Dino Passage. She is really interested and asks her parents if they can buy a ticket for her. Her parents agree and buy her a ticket.

Sarah retrieves her AR glasses and book.

Sarah walks over to the dedicated Dino Passage section of the museum (near the main dinosaur section) and finds a lone dinosaur skeleton in the room. She puts on her AR glasses when she arrives.

With the AR glasses on, Sarah is introduced to the butterfly.

The butterfly serves as guide, personal assistant, and Carnegie Museum of Natural History representative. The butterfly (the guide character) is energetic and helpful.


The butterfly guides Sarah through the creation of her Dino Mate. Sarah is asked a number of questions concerning the preferred characteristics she wants her mate to have. For example, their ideal food, habitat, and location.

After answering a set of questions, Sarah is instructed to open up the book by the butterfly. When she opens the book, the dedicated Dino Passage section comes to life.

Sarah's new universe is based off her earlier answers. For instance, if Sarah wanted her dinosaur to come from a more mountainous region, her surroundings would now reflect that.

When opening the book, Sarah is first introduced to the book as a source of creation in her new universe and to alternate realities' unique capacity to merge the artificial with the physical.

Once the book is opened, Sarah has the ability to select from a number of dinosaurs. The selection of dinosaurs are based on Sarah's answers to the earlier questions.

Through this process, Sarah not only finds her perfect dino mate, but learns more about dinosaurs (personality, diet, etc...).

Once Sarah decides on a dinosaur, she places that dinosaur in her universe.

No longer is Sarah an observer, she is an active participant.

One aspect to pay special attention to is the gesture required to place an object in the world. Instead of a more aggressive action, we wanted Sarah to take a more respectful posture and offer the object to the universe.

Once her dino is in the world, Sarah has the ability to customize the color of her dinosaur and the pattern of her dinosaur's hide.

By personalizing the dino, Sarah puts a little bit more of herself in her exhibit. Secondly, it really makes her think about what a dinosaur actually looks like.

Once Sarah has customized her dinosaur, the butterfly lets her know that she can add additional dinosaurs, animals, and plants to her new universe.

Sarah has the ability to not only learn about dinosaurs, but the world dinosaurs inhabited (other animals, plants, the dynamics between them).

While adding additional objects to her universe, Sarah employs custom interactions.

To manipulate the position of an object, Sarah grabs the objects and adjusts its x and y position in space.

To manipulate the size of an object, Sarah grabs the object and adjusts its z position in space.

To manipulate the orientation of an object, Sarah scoops the object with her hand and then turns her hand.

If Sarah decides she doesn't like an object, she grabs the object and throws it behind her.


While Sarah has her AR glasses on, she is part of the living and evolving universe she created. She walks around and appreciates her creation. She experiences the dynamics of her creation (dinosaurs interacting with dinosaurs, dinosaurs interacting with other animals, etc...).

The butterfly is always nearby. Not only providing instruction, but also tidbits of knowledge. Letting Sarah know why and when her universe is out of balance/harmony and potential ways to move her universe into balance.

The butterfly can also provide direction, guiding Sarah's experience and learning, by helping her discover areas she would not of acknowledged on her own.

If Sarah is interested in a specific object, she can walk up to it, open up her book, and find detailed information about that object.

The book not only serves as a source of creation, but provides a channel to deliver more information-heavy knowledge that could not be easily communicated through the butterfly.


When leaving the museum, Sarah receives a customized postcard depicting her Dino Passage universe. At home, she downloads the Dino Passage companion app. In the companion app, she takes a photo of her postcard and her Dino Passage universe becomes associated with her version of the app.

Now that her exhibit is associated, Sarah can open up the companion app's AR mode. When in AR mode, Sarah can center her phone's camera on her postcard and see an AR representation of her universe. This allows her to see what has changed since her last visit.

The companion app also enables weekly notifications that informs Sarah of any big developments.

These notifications include both educational insights and calls to action.

They also preserve Sarah's connection to her universe and make it more likely that Sarah comes back to the museum to tend to her universe.

User Flow

Dinosaur Passage User Flow

Proof of Concept Video

Dinosaur Passage Proof of Concept Video

Blending the Physical with the Digital to Promote Learning

Museums are places of learning. We believe learning by doing is its most effective form and we hope to achieve active learning within Dinosaur Passage. AR allows us to merge the physical with the digital and employ the written word as a medium for more active learning. Books are often viewed as transporting their readers to other worlds. We play off of this and utilize our book as a passage to an alternate universe.

Augmented Reality vs. Virtual Reality

Dinosaur Passage is implemented in augmented reality instead of virtual reality, because it:

  • merges the physical with the digital.
  • allows for visible collaboration between people.
  • builds deeper connections with the museum, since the context of the environment is not lost.
  • doesn't require dedicated space.
Augmented Reality Market Analysis

While still relatively undeveloped, AR technology has the ability to dramatically change the way we interact with the world. Today, AR technology has a number of limitations from its field of vision to the number of sensor inputs it utilizes. Significant investment is being made in this field to overcome such limitations. We can also look at more developed VR technology to see just how far AR will develop.

AR technology also suffers from high cost. This will change in coming years. While today the AR industry is valued around 15 million, in only 8 years analysts are predicting the industry will be valued around 700 million. When the market reaches that level, AR technology will cost significantly less and have significantly lower limitations. Those exploring possible implementations of this technology today, will have a competitive advantage over their competitors when this technology is more mainstream and developed.


Dinosaur Passage is a novel way for the Carnegie Museum of Natural History to create deeper understanding, interaction, and connection amongst its visitors. By creating their own universes, users are unconventionally engaged with the museum and its artifacts. Ultimately, leading to a more dynamic and personalized experience that promotes affection, learning, play, and pleasure.