Avoid Designing Process, Technology, or ANYTHING Like the American Museum of Natural History in NY

I recently visited the American Museum of Natural History in NY with friends+family and we really had a great time visiting the beautiful exhibits. There was a moment during the trip, however, that frustrated me a bit.

A member of the group was extremely excited about visiting the Hall of Gems. We knew we had to go, and as the trip neared its end without any sight of gems, we began to focus on finding it. Part of the group split off for a restroom break, while the rest of us began the quest. After a look at the maps and a less-than-quick confirmation from a museum guard, we were on our way (see pictures below)…

…through the Hall of African Mammals, elevator to the first floor, into North American Mammals, find some exits and navigate around some hallways, into Northwest Coast Indians, exit that exhibit and then right at the “big” canoe, into Human Origins, into Meteorites, exit into Minerals, and then into Gems.

I couldn’t help but wonder why each related exhibit could not be navigated from a central hall, a more “modular” design. Did I really need to go through mammals, American Indians, and Human Origins to reach something somewhat related to geology and gems? I couldn’t help but wonder how long it would take my wife and kids to find this place, and how we would need to sit there for 30 minutes to rest their legs before exiting back through the main lobby.

I understand that not every building can be designed like a hub-and-spoke technology architecture simply because there are logistical issues with physical limitations, though museums do have major renovations. My frustration would be tempered by a design with a large lobby that has all sections split off from a central spot like an airport.

Imagine getting to gate D36 by having to walk all the way through terminals A, B, and C first. Imagine having to navigate a 1,000 slide presentation in linear slide-by-slide order. Imagine having to manually step through steps 1 through 100 in a process, before getting to 101, which you need to go to directly all the time. Imagine having to execute 10 different linear code blocks, ignoring their outputs along the way, just to get to code block 11 that you need to execute all the time.

The crazy thing is, this happens ALL THE TIME in so many situations and solutions that people design every single day. So, take a step back…breathe…get some oxygen into the brain…and then…*think* for a few minutes. I bet you’ll have a more satisfied customer.

Appendix -Here’s how to get to the Hall of Gems from the Mail Lobby:
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