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Activation Station

UX Design Case Study

Exploring the creation, approval, and execution of "activations," and how a design system might improve the process.

How it all started

Meow Wolf Activations

From 2021 to 2023, I worked at Meow Wolf's permanent immersive art installation in Denver, "Convergence Station," as a Creative Operator. This meant I would roam all 5 levels of this wild exhibit in costume, entertaining and assisting guests. The role was 100% improvisational. To create more structure and guest satisfaction I, along with other Creative Operators, began creating "activations." These are pop-up events, games, quests, or activities. The success of these activations gained the acknowledgement of supervisors, who began to foster and support their creation. However, at the time I left, an official process for Activation creation, approval, and execution had still not been established.


So what is an "Activation?"

An Activation is any pop-up event, moment or activity designed to drive engagement, interaction, and understanding from guests. Beyond immersive art installations like Meow Wolf, activations are often used at museums, zoos, conferences, festivals, and more.

For Example: "The Chore Wheel"

This is the “Chore Wheel” Activation. Guests spin the wheel to be assigned a “chore.” Upon completion they receive a prize. “Chores” include listing groceries depicted in the artwork or folding a fitted sheet.

This is one of the activations I created while at Meow Wolf. Click here to read about it, and see more of my activations.

Why a UX Case Study?

I wanted to understand all of the existing procedures for creating, approving, and executing activations, beyond my own. I also wanted to investigate what roadblocks are inhibiting the process, and how a system could be designed to improve the effectiveness of activation creation, and the user experience of its creators.

Let's begin!



Discover what roadblocks prevent a smooth creation, approval, and execution process for activations so that we can create a system that avoids these issues.

  1. Competitive Analysis -- looking at other project and event management software.

  2. User Interviews -- talking at length with the employees to understand and empathize with their issues.

  3. Demographic Survey -- collecting basic demographic info from interviewees and other employees to further understand user base.

Competitive Analysis
My Takeaways

I compared the features of various project and event management software, of which there are many. They all offer really similar things with really similar UI. The scope of these programs is broad so that it can be the perfect fit for any project. There is both a benefit and burden in that what I’m designing for is much more specific. The benefit is that I don’t have to worry about maintaining generality, the burden is that there isn’t a lot of information about my specific niche.

Understanding the Users

I put out a demographic survey to current and former employees of Meow Wolf. I then conducted 7 user interviews to gain deeper qualitative understanding of the issue.

Interview Takeaways
There is no consensus about the official process

Every single interviewee had a different answer for what the official process was, and the most consistent answer was that there isn’t one. Overall, there was no consensus about what the official process is or what rubric an activation needs to follow.

Almost all of the creators of activations are also improvisational performers. There is a big advantage to relative freedom performers are given in their roles. Most of their activations start from observing their surroundings, listening to guests, and deciding to try something. This freedom creates a natural testing environment for ideas. While it’s useful to have a clear process and supervisor approval, there is definite sense that this freedom performer/creators have to ideate and test at will should be preserved even in an official process.

The freedom that performer/creators have to ideate and test at will should be preserved.
There are major breakdowns in communication and trust.

There are major breakdowns in communication and trust, and this gets in the way of creating effective, professional, and meaningful activations, as well as executing them on a regular basis. By extension, a lack of regularly executed, professional quality activations, discourages the company from investing time and money. A well designed interface will not solve all of these issues, but it can certainly ease them.


With my initial research complete, I started to expand on my takeaways to further synthesize my findings. I started by mapping out a collection of common statements and issues I heard while conducting interviews, and found that they fell into three main categories: clarity, communication and trust.


Considering these major categories, I composed several Point-Of-View statements to clarify the users needs. These were followed up with How-Might-We statements to begin creating the questions I would soon use to ideate with the information I had.


Combining these understandings with my interview takeaways and the demographic data collected, I crafted two basic personas. These two would come to define the primary functions of the website.


Considering the goals of these personas, in addition to the goals of the business and the technical considerations, I distilled the goals of the project.

goals (1).png

The Idea

During some initial brainstorming, I developed two ideas.

Name: Activation Builder


Who it’s for: Creators


What is it: A ground-up project managing website that breaks the process into fluid phases to preserve the freedom to create without expectations. 

First phase of a project is Idea, and all that the creator has to fill in is the title and a one sentence explanation. From there they can add as much or as little as they want, attaching documents, writing descriptions, linking to other content.

Second phase is Formulation, and this is where structure is introduced. Creators are shown specific qualifications they need to fill. As they fill out the form with more detailed information, the website autofills a pitch deck based not the input information. Once the creator is ready, they can book a review meeting to go over it with a supervisor.

Third phase is Evolution. This is where the project is tested and revised. The website keeps a log of each iteration, and the date it was made.

Final phase is Shipping. This is where the idea receives final approval to be run and scheduled whenever. The creator can still make iterations as necessary.


What does it accomplish: This clarifies the creation process by streamlining it. It preserves creator freedom while giving supervisor oversight. It allows for easy scheduling and communication.


How does it accomplish this: Making the stages of development really clear. Implementing the quality assurance rubric directly into the process. Idea stage takes off the pressure of making something finished and polished. Built in feedback, scheduling and communication.

Name: Feedback Machine


Who it’s for: Supervisors


What is it: A feedback comment program built into the activation development website. There will be a clear quality rubric each activation has to meet. It comes built into the program, but can be modified by the supervisor. When giving feedback, the Supervisor will select which category of the rubric they are referencing (I.e. purpose, usability, feasibility, etc), and whether they are providing constructive criticism, or an endorsement. If the supervisor provides two criticisms, the system will encourage them to add an endorsement as well.


What does it accomplish: This adds a lot of clarity to the feedback, so creators know exactly what aspects they are doing well and what aspects need work. It encourages positive feedback in addition to criticism, so creators feel supported in their ideas. It simplifies the feedback process for supervisors.


How does it accomplish this: Streamlining, categorization, color coding, and system nudges.

These two ideas are part of the same whole, working together to meet the goals of both personas. I decided to move forward developing both ideas as part of one complete system. The project idea can be summarized as the following: 


A mobile-first website that streamlines the activation creation process, allows creators to freely ideate, and fosters trust through a structured supervisor feedback system.

How does this idea meet our established goals?

It will prove the business need and value of activations by generating analytics on how their use and impact, while also refining their presentation.

It will ensure quality standards by building those standards directly into the system and allowing supervisor support and oversight during more steps of the process.

It will streamline the activation process by creating an end to end system that includes all the tools creators need to be successful.

It will foster trust and support by establishing clear communication between creators and supervisors, ensuring creators know what’s required of them, showing transparent progress, and encouraging supervisors to show their support through feedback.


I began by mapping out the pages and features of the website, then creating a flow to understand the order and intention of the user's interaction.


From the user flow, I extracted three simplified task flows I wanted to focus on for the course of this project.


The idea I chose to develop for this project is expansive, requiring a fully functional project management website with dozens of features. I knew already that I wasn't going to be able to develop every aspect of the site due to time constraints. That's why I was careful to choose task flows that would be most relevant to the primary issues I'd uncovered during research.

I chose "start new idea" because it highlights how the system maintains the creator's freedom to ideate without pressure, which was a major takeaway from the interviews. Maintaining this freedom will also help to foster trust, one of the main project goals.

I chose "supervisor leaves feedback" because this showcases how one of my personas goals will be achieved, and the feedback mechanism is crucial for fostering trust and support for the team.

I chose "begin formulation" because it helps demonstrate how this system provides clarity about what is required and necessary for a good activation, which also ensures they meet quality standards.

So what makes a good activation?

I conducted an open card sorting activity asking participants to categorize the "criteria of a good activation." These criteria came from user interviews.

Each participant created unique categories with little to no overlap, so I created this visualization to map where common criteria was found.

Most common threads among responses assessed the criteria based on What, How, Why, and Who.

Participant 4 attempted to assess the criteria based on level of importance, but one category was consistent with the Why and Who threads from the others.


These categories will be used to create the structure of the "Formulation" phase on the website.


I began developing the wireframes focusing on a mobile-first framework. In interviews, some creators mentioned that their department only has one computer they can access, and it is not always available. Designing for mobile first would give users the flexibility to create on their own devices, while still being accessible on desktop.

Group 44.png

Above is the development of the "Formulation Phase" screen from low, mid, to high fidelity. This is the phase where creators are required to fill in specific information within each section in order to ensure everything important is accounted for in their activations. A progress bar on each section will inform the creator how close to completion they are, at which point they can move to the next phase.

I also began to develop the supervisor screens and the feedback system, but due to time constraints, I was unable to continue work on these screens past mid-fidelity.




Going into branding for the project, I decided to officially name it "Activation Station," evoking the imagery of trains. I think of the phases of the project as stops on the track leading to the ultimate destination. I used these images and vibes from my mood board to create a logo and select colors.

AS_Logo_Sketches 2.jpg
UI Components

I wanted the overall design to be colorful, soft and rounded, emphasizing simplicity where I could since I knew some sections might become complicated.

ui components-web.png


I conducted several usability tests on my two main task flows, "starting a new idea" and "begin formulation phase." The feedback I got was overall positive. Participants who are current activation creators at Meow Wolf displayed enthusiasm for the system as a whole, and it's potential to ease this creation process.


Next Steps

During this Case Study, I only had time to develop so much. Next steps would be to design the final project phases, evolution and shipping. Then, make and test the supervisor screens. Usability testing also inspired me to want to add more information to the header of the Formulation Phase card, but it wasn’t high priority.

Ideally, I will also further design and test the calendar and scheduling functions, as well as the living catalog of activations.

There is a lot of potential for this product to do good in the niche field it was made for.

Thanks for reading!
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