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A New Perspective on an Old Tradition




January - June 2019
Researcher, UX Designer, Visual Designer, Developer

An augmented reality app design created for a Capstone Class in partnership with the Pacific Bonsai Museum. This design allows visitors to easily connect to and understand the bonsai’s history, and bonsai as an art form.


The Problem

The Pacific Bonsai Museum displays 60 bonsai year round. When visitors step into the museum, they see the bonsai at one point in time and often miss the larger context bonsai exist within. Employee’s aren’t always available to speak with, and the written information can be missed, and may not be enough.

Bonsai relate to world history, graphic design, and artwork, but if visitors miss this larger context, they go home thinking that bonsai are just cute little trees.

sketches of three ideas


Each team member individually ideated based on the research findings and design requirements. When we regrouped, we presented each idea to each other. We then listed each idea and discussed the different options.

We decided on three mobile app ideas to pursue, decided on stories for each idea to explain how it would be used, and another team member sketched out the ideas and storyboards.

These three ideas were presented to the Pacific Bonsai Museum and the feedback we received led us to focus on the “little scenes” idea and the “touchpoints” idea.

information flows

We conducted two interviews with a parent and child who had previously been to the museum. We learned that the parent had less time to read the information in the museum because she had to entertain her child. This resulted in her taking home brochures and flyers to read later with her child.

The child did not like that her mom stopped to read the information and was concerned about the trees being sad that they couldn’t grow to be full size. The child was also very engaged with the groupings of trees or forests.


The “touchpoints” idea seemed like a better fit for the parent while the “little scenes” idea seemed like a better fit for the child. Ultimately, we decided that the “touchpoints” idea, was supported by the rest of our research. Our team decided that there is a need for a fully researched solution for children. However, within the scope of the project, we did not have the resources to fully research and design a solution for children.

bonsai sketch


We conducted informal interviews with employees at the museum, field observations in the museum, and a survey of previous visitors. The informal interviews focused on understanding the art form of bonsai. Our team came into this project with no previous knowledge of bonsai. We needed to understand the greater context before designing an application that intended to show visitors the greater context of bonsai. The field observations focused on visitors behaviour within the museum. Our guiding questions included “how are visitors using technology?”, “what are visitors talking about?”, “how do visitors move throughout the museum?”. The survey focused on what visitors did when they visited the museum, what visitors wanted to learn more about, and how visitors felt during their visit.

Key findings: 1. the museum invokes peacefulness. 2. Visitors prefer a visual learning style. 3. The museum environment affects visitor's experiences. 4. The museum content lacks context & cohesion despite a desire for connection. 5. Visitors use their smartphones to take photos.

We then established design requirements based on these five key findings. Our solution should be usable in all weather, be easily accessible to people of varying heights and technical abilities, allow users to easily take photos, be easily maintained by museum staff, stay in the general aesthetic of the museum, and be adaptable to the bonsai being moved throughout the museum.

criteria icons
photos of usability test
photos of feedback from bonsai museum staff

High Fidelity

One challenge was finding a program that allowed us to prototype augmented reality with the high fidelity that we wanted. Our team initially tried Framer X, but quickly realized that prototyping AR in Framer X was not as simple as we had initially thought. We decided to not prototype AR and used Sketch to create a high fidelity stagnant prototype.


Our team conducted five usability tests that consisted of a pre-test survey, three tasks, a post tasks survey, and an interview.

The high fidelity app was shown to employees at the Pacific Bonsai Museum. They expressed a desire to have a timeline of the individual bonsai included. We decided to include this feature on the general information page of each tree.


Coming into this project, our team acknowledged that we had very little development experience. I had previous experience using Unity for Virtual Reality (VR) development but had no experience developing for Augmented Reality. The code was relatively simple, the main obstacle was learning how Vuforia, an Augmented Reality engine that is integrated into Unity, worked with the code.

The Unity app is a proof of concept, rather than a building block for future development, as I’m not a developer.

poster created for the final showcase outlining the process and final solution

Presentation & Branding

Our team worked hard on the branding and presentation of the product. We wanted the branding to feel approachable and playful, since history and education can often feel boring and unapproachable. The name “Hi Bonsai” implies a casualness that’s approachable for users. The rounded shapes that form the likeness of a bonsai tree in the logo seem playful, making users feel excited to learn.

The Solution

The main screen is the Augmented Reality portion of the app. Users can view the different bonsai through their phone’s camera with “touchpoints” overlaid on top of the bonsai. Tapping on a touchpoint brings up more information, still overlaid on top of the bonsai, with an option to learn more. The augmented reality allows the user to stay in the museum while learning more information.

Tapping on “learn more” takes the user to a separate page with a longer description. Users can save these pages for later, in case they want to read the information after they leave the museum.

The timeline and map allows users to understand the larger context that bonsai exist within.

high fidelity protoype screens


I did not contribute to the high fidelity prototype design as we used Sketch and FramerX and could only have one teammate effectively work on it at one time. I wish I had contributed to the high fidelity prototype design as UX design is what I plan on pursuing for my career and I feel
as though I contributed a lot to research and development rather than design. While those are both valuable skills to have, it is also valuable to have experience creating a polished UI prototype design.

Our team could have been better at time management. We often did the majority of our reports the night before they were due and this resulted in a lot of stress. There were some initial issues with communication and expectations with our sponsors. We were not given a lot of information at the beginning, and key information was left out until the end of our capstone. Additionally, they were not aware of our timeline and needs. This was a result of a lack of communication on both ends. 


I enjoyed learning more about Unity and gaining experience with Augmented Reality development. Overall, I believe our project was successful. Our team created a product that fulfills users needs and is well designed.

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