User Research

Building a non-profit's first digital product 


Each year, Cool Culture partners with over 450 schools and early education programs to provide more than 50,000 historically marginalized families and their young children with free, unlimited admission to our network of 90 premiere museums, historical societies, zoos and botanical gardens throughout the New York City metro area.



At the beginning of every school year, Cool Culture distributes 50,000 paper passes to allow families to visit local museums for free. As staff, we knew there was a demand for a mobile pass from parents. We also knew that a digital prototype could help museums better understand the patterns of Cool Culture family visits.

Cool Culture was able to tackle this challenge through the Digital Prototype Opportunity. This award, an initiative led by the Blue Ridge Foundation, now Blue Ridge Labs @ Robinhood, provided four weeks of time from ThoughtWorks developers and designers. Out of 120 applicants, Cool Culture was one of two organizations selected for the award, which was valued at over $300,000.


"The folks at Cool Culture are out to make Manhattan's treasures more accessible to everyone."



ThoughtWorks donated four weeks of staff time, including a PM, two developers and one UI designer, to work on the project. To create a product in just a month, we kept to a tight schedule with a few reach goals. Initially, I was responsible for organizing UX tasks, including developing workshops and testing throughout the build.

UI Design: Aly Blenkin
Development: Greg Dutcher (lead)
Project Management: 



  • Individual interviews, including extreme users
  • Contextual inquiry
  • Participatory design
  • Design charrettes

We actively sought out parents to understand why they took their children to museums and the inconveniences they faced. They were happy to share their thoughts:

“At a glance, I want to easily view museum options and understand which one suits my needs.”

“I want to look at the application and know the closest subways, hours of operation and special events.”



Parents' feedback shaped our early strategy and initial wireframes. 

We created both low and high fidelity prototypes.

The beta version of the app was built in just four weeks and launched with the following features:

2.) Bring Parents Along
To build an engaged parent body, parents need to be lifted up along
the way.

● All of Cool Culture’s 90 partner museums are included in the app. Each museum profile includes hours of operation, transit directions, accessibility information, and Wi-Fi availability.

● Programming information is available, too. View what types of activities, like workshops and gallery tours are offered for young children and their families.

● Plan a museum visit by searching by your interest and location. In our beta version, families can search by borough and museum discipline, whether it’s art, science or history to find a new place to explore.

● Cool Culture families can check into museum using their digital pass. Families can check into museum using their individualized ID number to access their digitized Family Pass, which they can show to admission staff for entrance to the museum.

3.) Co-Create to Commit
Communities need to be invested in transformative interventions in order to find meaning, belonging & ensure longevity.

Key Finding
On the surface, communities can seem weak and fragmented. But looking more closely it's clear that when a community is collectively engaged, they have tremendous strength and capacity to co-create and facilitate positive change.

Supporting Data

  • NGO and international development projects that require shared investment to initiate are commonly successful in Liberia, including Community Health Committees, which helped end the Ebola outbreak.

Strategic Implications

  • By making people true partners, we create communities they desire to be a part of and a deep, enduring sense of engagement and ownership.


After the build was finished, I was responsible for communicating the roll out of the app to Cool Culture’s museum partners and families. Aside form managing the project, I helped secure partnerships with Datakind and New York Tech Meetup.

Why Don't More Poor Kids Get to See Art, NationSwell

Now That Everyone's Got Smart Phones, We Need Apps That Serve Low-Income Groups, Fast Company

Additional Work

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