When we first pitched Tour Sync, we thought it would simply be a way to modernize the clunky audio devices currently used for museum tours. We thought that perhaps we could make it more interactive as well. We weren’t sure though. Would people want to take a selfie with the Mona Lisa? Would kids enjoy a smartphone scavenger hunt through the museum?

These were all assumptions and ideas. We knew what was possible, but we did not know what people wanted. We changed that this week. We took a prototype and went to the most iconic location at UNC: the Old Well.

For those of you not intimately familiar with the Carolina campus, the Old Well is a gorgeous rotunda that used to be the university’s water supply.

In 30 minutes, our group gathered feedback from 15 individuals. We showed them pictures of our prototype and asked them which features they liked and didn’t like.

Having conducted user tests before, I was prepared to affirm some of our ideas and have others blown apart. But that’s not happened this time. We still got some ideas affirmed and others challenged, but first and foremost, we realized that we had focused on the wrong features.

Some users wanted the app to provide audio. Some users just wanted to be able to scroll through information at their own pace. Either way, they wanted the audio as an option. Some users wanted the app to automatically change content when they walked by each exhibit, whereas others wanted simply a push notification that new content was available.

The takeaway? They wanted to control their museum experience. They wanted to make it personal. Many of our users said that they don’t visit museums alone, so why would they want an experience that only involves their smartphone?

Overall, they needed options that would allow them to decide as a group how they wanted to experience the museum.

Another surprise was that users really cared about the implications the Tour Sync technology could have for location-based activities in museum. One woman was excited simply by the fact that she could get directions from her current location to the closest bathroom in the museum. We hadn’t even considered the implications for users in terms of precise location technology.

This also surprised us because it aligned with the desires of museums. One of the museum professionals that we interviewed said that the number one thing he wanted in his museum was a better way for users to locate themselves within their app.

User testing also provided the familiar affirmations and challenges of our initial ideas. First, content is still king. It applies to the media, and it applies to museums. Users would not be interested in the product if it did not provide compelling content.

However, a number of the users also proved us wrong – but in a good way: They were willing to pay for the app. We even found millennials that would be willing to pay for the app. Up until now, we had assumed that museums would need to foot the bill. Users on average were willing to pay $2-$4 because that’s what they pay for audio tours now. While we cannot be entirely sure that this feedback will continue to hold true, it is promising as we begin to think about the viability of our product.

Previously on Tour Sync:

How talking to strangers can be fun

The countdown has begun: Five weeks into Reese News Lab

Dear tourism professionals: A value proposition

My personal thank you to IRB

How might we make museums more interesting?

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